This is technically a repost, but for those interested it’s all in one spot.
2.) Kanye West
4.) Britney Spears
5.) Danger Mouse
6.) The Strokes
8.) Lil Wayne
9.) Green Day
10.) Death Cab For Cutie
The first time I heard Lil Wayne’s voice was on the song, “Barry Bonds” off of Kanye West’s Graduation in 2007. I knew of him, but never actually listened to him. When he appeared on the second verse on the song, in his thick syrup induced drawl, my head turned. “What the fuck is this?”, I thought in astonishment. It was unlike anything I heard in hip-hop. His flow seemed to work around the beat, as opposed to be linked to it. And then there were the bizarre lyrics: “my drink’s still pinker than the easter rabbit”; “stove on my waist turn beef to patties”. It was clear even then, that the dude followed his own path. Instead of following the normal rules, he seemed to be re-writing them as he went along.
His voice is everywhere these days – besides his own songs, it seems that he is on almost every single hip-hop song on the radio. It seems so commonplace, so it’s easy to forget how weird, bizarre, and how good he can be. Many rappers stick to a constant flow in the song, making it easy to rap along. In any one of his songs, Wayne takes detours that others would be afraid to take. His voice is not normal, and he often enunciates particular words that would otherwise be un-rhymeable – “I’m rare like mr clean with hair, No brake lights on my car rear” from “Phone Home”. “A Milli” is one of the strangest hip-hop songs to be released in the past few decades. There’s no hook, except for the statement, “motherfucker I’m ill”. From anything other rapper, the strange beats and repeated “a milli” voice in the background would have been annoying, but Wayne sees it as a challenge, delivering a tour de force of a song.
Prior to Tha Carter III, he built up a following with the albums 500 Degreez, and Tha Carter. But it was really his mix-tapes Dedication 2 and Da Drought 3 and his appearances on singles from Fat Joe (“Make it Rain”), Chris Brown (“Gimme That”) and Wyclef Jean (“Sweetest Girl (Dollar Bill)”) among numerous others in 2006 and 2007 that gained him a wider audience. When Tha Carter III was released in June 2008, it was clear that hip-hop belonged to Lil Wayne.
But being his unpredictable self, Wayne followed-up the blockbuster Carter III with the critically panned Rebirth, which was his much touted rock album. To some, Rebirth might be seen as mistake (and while it certainly is forgettable) it proves that Lil Wayne does whatever he wants, critics and detractors be damned.
Is Weezy, the best rapper alive, as he has often claimed? Perhaps. If nothing else he is without a doubt one of the most innovative, prolific, entertaining and wildest rappers out there.
“H.A.M.”, the first single from the Jay-Z and Kanye West collaboration Watch The Throne surfaced earlier today. The idea of the two hip-hop giants making an album together sounds exciting, but if H.A.M. is any indication of what direction Watch The Throne will take count me out. Both rappers sound uninspired, the beat is sub-par, and what’s with the weird 80s synth in the background? The final half of the song contains violins, and a choir. Kanye, dude you already did similar things with better results on “Power”.
What do you think of “H.A.M.”?
Jesus, it’s been a while hasn’t it? Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been kind of experiencing a bit of writer’s block lately. Not sure why. But since we’re at the end of the year, I thought I’d give out my picks for the best records of the year. And here we go! (Note: Re-issues, don’t count otherwise I would have had Dylan and Springsteen on my list.)
Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
“I’m living in the 21st century, doing something mean to it, do it better than anybody you ever seen do it,” He declares on “Power”. Sure he might be boasting, but when you deliver songs like “Runaway” with its haunting piano there’s a reason to. Sonically, the songs are all over the place – “All of the Lights” is rap/pop at its best, then there’s the slow-stoner burn of “Gorgeous” complete with a distorted guitars, and a song that uses a choir chanting endlessly in the background, plus a King Crimson sample should not work, but somehow “Power” does just that. Kanye West may be everyone’s favorite whipping boy at the moment, but he’s moved onto the future and everybody has to play catch up. As he says in “Monster”: “I’m living the future so the presence is my past. My presence is a present kiss my ass.”
The New Pornographers – Together
I admit I was actually bored by the NP’s last album, Challengers. It seemed to be lacking something, and I could never pin it down. Luckily, the band probably had the same idea, and discovered their love for power-pop with Together, while adding some new ideas into the mix with the Black Sabbath-esque riff of “Your Hands (Together)”. The hooks are there again, and the harmonies between Carl Newman and Neko Case never sounded sweeter as they do on songs such as “Silver Jenny Dollar” and “Moves”.
Elvis Costello – National Ransom
While the last few efforts by Costello have been of high quality (Momufuku, Secret Profane & Sugarcane) with National Ransom, Costello digs deep and delivers one of his best albums in years. Costello ever being the musical nerd (and this is a good thing) like Dylan in recent years draws on pre-rock influences – “My Lovely Jezebel” sounds it was written in the mid west, circa the late 1890s. Bluegrass also seems to be an influence on many of the songs as well particularly “Dr. Watson, I Presume”. Even the straight-up rock of the title track has an old-time feel to it. Costello may not rock like he used during the hey-day of the Attractions, but with albums such as National Ransom it’s clear he hasn’t entirely mellowed out.
Matt & Kim – Sidewalks
My girlfriend introduced me to Matt & Kim last year and at first I was not sure what to make of them. Was this mix of dance/punk serious or were they being ironic? I couldn’t tell despite liking some of their songs. But with this year’s Sidewalks, Matt & Kim have proved one thing: it’s okay to have poppy songs once in a while. Just make sure it’s covered in enough noise and irony so that that the hipsters don’t cry “Sell outs!”
Cee-Lo Green: The Lady Killer
Leave it to Cee-Lo to bring the old school R&B sound back, with a twist. “Fuck You” might be the album’s stand-out and quite possibly the best song of the year, but “Bright Lights, Bigger City” recalls 70s disco records. Throughout the album, Cee-lo’s voice stands out, not only because he is one of the few male stars that can actually sing, but he has conviction. Cee-Lo is believable in his updating of Motown, and that’s what makes it a success.
(Check tomorrow for best movies. I know this is a music blog, but it’s the end of the year.)
Kid Cudi’s sophomore effort, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager plays like a hip-hop version of In Utero – an artist gets big and decides that he doesn’t like what he’s seen. Since the release of Man on the Moon last year, Cudi developed a coke habit, eventually getting arrested this past summer.
There is no boasting about how great Cudi’s life was a coke-head (even though much of the album sounds like a hip-hop version of Dark Side of the Moon, especially Marijuana which has a Gilmour-like solo throughout). Cudi not only loves the darkness, he “wants to marry it.” “It is my cloak. It is my shield. It is my cape,” He declares in “Maniac” a haunting track featuring indie singer Saint Vincent. Elsewhere, “Wild’n Cuz I’m Young” sounds like it was recorded in a dark basement or underground. If this is what Cudi meant by marrying the darkness, he found it in this song. Unfortunately, what would have other-wise been an album highlight is marred by the use of Autotune. “Marijuana”
“Erase Me” finds Cudi taking on arena rock – it’s even got a softer verse and loud chorus which proves that Cudi seems to have a a better understanding of a rock song than Lil Wayne. Interestingly on the song where he actually does sing, he ditches the Autotune. The only problem with the song, is the inclusion of the usually reliable Kanye West, who seems sapped of his energy and his muse on his verse.
Some reviews have stated that this album is over indulgent but the blend of spaced-out rock and hip-hop elevates Man on the Moon II above Cudi’s indulgences and self-loathing. But the main flaw of the album isn’t Cudi using the album as catharsis, it’s that it doesn’t seem convincing. Cudi seems to like the darkness too much or is stoned too much to really break out and exorcise his demons. If only his delivery matched the music and the lyrics, Man on the Moon II could be hip-hop’s version of In Utero or Plastic Ono Band. As it is though, it’s an impressive effort from an emerging artist.
(Daily theme coming later. But I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Kanye lately- yeah sometimes he can be a jackass, but as far as rap/hip-hop goes, he’s still the best out there. Granted, I haven’t checked out his Good Friday digital downloads, so I’m perhaps a bit behind.)
My Top 10 Top Kanye West songs:
2.) Slow Jamz
3.) Get ‘Em High
4.) Diamonds From Sierra Leone
5.) Touch the Sky
6.) Barry Bonds
7.) Jesus Walks
9.) All Falls Down
10.) Through the Wire