Tag Archives: Tha Carter III

Is The Album Cover-Art a Dying Art Form?

 

I recently read an article in the New York Times that discussed the shrinking of album artwork. The piece argued that elaborate cover art seems to be out of fashion, and its in place artists are opting for simple designs that can be fully seen on computers and iPods. The close-up of Lady Gaga’s face for Born This Way, and the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s fly on a pill for I’m With You were cited as examples.

While cover-art certainly isn’t indicative of what the music is like, it does seem to be a lost art form. Has there been an album cover released in the past few years that has already become iconic? Pearl Jam’s cover for 2009’s Backspacer was pretty nifty with 9 different images from cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, but it didn’t seem to represent the music that was on the actual disc. The childhood portrait of Lil Wayne on the cover Tha Carter III is visually intriguing and tells an interesting story, but I always felt the typography seemed a bit off.  The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light seems too much like a throwback with its collage of portraits highlighted in different colors.

Perhaps the music industry and musicians themselves think that no one really cares, and they will only view it on their iPod (or perhaps not at all.) I’m not certain about anyone else, but I find it hard to listen to songs either on my computer (or iPod) if there is accompanying artwork to go with it. I recently started downloading the cover-art of albums whose covers I don’t have and then trying to import them into iTunes. It’s a long, laborious project and so far I’m only up to letter K.  I feel much better listening to The Beatles on my computer if I can actually see the cover for Revolver.

Still, graphic designers might set some of the blame on simpler cover-art. As a former student in Graphic Design, clean and simple design with lots of white space tend to gain more favor by professors and those in the actual field. While the cover of Sgt. Pepper is certainly iconic, I’m not entirely sure it would be looked on as the artistic achievement it is, if it were released now. I can also most hear somebody suggest that, “there is too much going on, your eye doesn’t know where to focus!”

As a kid, I was totally transfixed by the cover-art of certain albums. It could sometimes defined the way I listened to particular albums. I bought The Clash’s “London Calling” after reading how great it was in a British Magazine in high school. The image of Paul Simonon smashing his bass and the Elvis Presley reference in the typography was one of the coolest things I ever seen. When it came time to listen to the disc I was slightly disappointed that the music didn’t match Simonon’s anger and frustration. What was this reggae shit? It’s supposed to be punk!  (For the record, London Calling is one of my favorite albums of all time).

If album cover-art keeps “shrinking” as the Times referred to it, a valuable part of music will be lost. It’s just another casualty of the presence of digital music and furthers confirms my theory that music is becoming more and more of something to listen to in the background rather than actively listening to it for its own merits.

 

 

 

 

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The Ten Most Important Artists of the Last Decade: 8. Lil Wayne

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.

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CD Prices to Lower to $10?

Universal Record Group is planning to start selling records for under $10.  It’s about fucking time.  What other industry has been plotting its own demise for the last decade?  They light a match to their own house and then look at the neighbors down the street accusing them.  

This a direct turn around from their stance a few years ago when the record companies wanted to squeeze more money out of Apple’s Itunes suggesting that $10 was too low a price for an album.  The article from Rolling Stone states that in tested markets CD sales spiked when retailers started selling CDs for $10.  I can attest to that – I am a frequent patron to Baltimore’s Soundgarden.  I do most of my CD shopping there because I am a huge supporter of local music shops and vinyl.  I don’t doubt that I am the only person that goes specifically because of that, but I’m willing to be a majority of their business comes from the fact that most of their CDs sell for $9.99 or slightly over – even newer CDS.  

Selling a single CD for anything more than $13 is just absurd.  Especially since the actual artists and/or songwriters receive so little of the actual percentage of the sale.  Even DVDs sell lower.  When you go to Target for example – they have tons of DVDs for $5 or $ 7 in the bargain racks near the registers.  CDs are not placed there, or put in that price range.  

There are many reasons why people aren’t buying CDs.  I’m not going to pretend I know all of the issues involved.  The game has definitely changed, but people are still willing to buy albums by artists they feel invested in.  Take for instance, Lil Wayne.  Before he released Tha Carter III – he put out dozens of free mixtapes building up a fan-base that was almost certain to buy Tha Carter III when it came out.  (And the album sold around a million in a week when it came out in 2008.)  What is most interesting about Lil Wayne’s marketing plan was that the record companies were pissed when he was giving tons and tons of music for free, but it ended up paying off in the long-run.  By the time Tha Carter III was released people knew what they were getting for Lil Wayne and wanted more of it.  

But record companies still haven’t learned that there can be a market – it’s just that people don’t want to pay a high price rate for an album that only contains 5 good songs (The Fame withstanding.)

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