The “Become A Rapper” Meme

Through my recent rambling around on the grand old internet, I have come across a certain meme a few times, and it’s almost offensive — I feel like that might be too strong a word, although still appropriate. Here it is:

 

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I’m not sure about the significance of the duck, maybe an ode to stagnation or inaction, but the caption reads: “If you ever feel that you haven’t accomplished anything, there is someone in your home town still trying to become a rapper.” I have seen it so many times that I felt it necessary to voice my opinion on it, and really analyze it, because every time I see it I feel strongly about it.

My first point of attack so to speak, was to ask: given the many instances that it or an iteration of it gets shared, why is it that this particular collection of words provides comfort for someone? Why can they relate to that?

Answer: I think the first small part comes from the idea that the “rap industry” is pursued by people because they want money, and don’t usually get it. That is of course a huge generalization about motive, and is more than likely incorrect. But let’s assume it is correct, and it will fit in to the larger explanation. This analysis starts with the idea that rap has been widely considered a low form of art, apparently. Some of this perception I think is due to the less wholesome manifestations of capitalist ideology through rap: the money, hoes, cars, and clothes aspects being particularly prevalent in the last decade or so. But these examples, and the public figures who embody them, are just what I said: manifestations of an ideology through the vehicle of rap music. There is a whole large segment of rap that is “conscious”, a term that also gets thrown around ad nauseum, if only in hip hop circles, though perhaps for good reason. Rappers, or emcees, like Lupe Fiasco, Brother Ali, Kendrick Lamar, Shad, and many more have each produced intricate, nuanced bodies of work replete with lyrics that read more like college dissertations or critically-acclaimed novels than songs. Shad — full name Shadrach Kabango — the Canadian wordsmith who actually holds two university degrees and now works hard at his new job as the new host of ‘q’ on CBC Radio — made his name touring the country doing hip hop shows from small towns to festivals far and wide for almost the last decade. He is also arguably the best all-around hip hop lyricist in the nation (I acknowledge the bias of my opinion).

Yes, maybe Shad is the exception to this “Rapper Rule”, what with the industry success and academic chops to boot. But there are many people out there, myself included, who have a vision in their minds and a dream in their hearts to express their art to a wide audience. Or at least an audience. For me, it’s not about trying to “become a rapper” — granted, the amateur-to-professional transition hasn’t happened yet — but it is more about expressing creativity. The label doesn’t much matter, because again it’s about finding an avenue for art. For example, I rap, so does or doesn’t that already make me a rapper? It is also just one aspect of what I do within what can be considered art. I write every word I rap, and I am working on the instrumental side of things for works in progress, which includes playing instruments like acoustic guitar, hand drums, and a plain old singing voice — up until now I have just curated different pre-existing instrumentals, or “beats”, for my projects, commonly called “mixtapes”. I do all the corresponding visual artwork for these projects — sometimes for individual tracks as well — and there are other creative things in the future that I will be working on more, like making more music videos and short films (I have made one video so far). Is every person who raps doing this? No. Do they have to? Absolutely not. If they’re walking around saying they are a rapper just to say it, or thinking that they can pull cash from the title (very hard to do), but don’t have any intention or passion in their hearts, then that’s a different story. But personally, I sort of cringe at the word. Instead of a rapper, I’m an artist. Does that sound arrogant? Maybe. But that I think most accurately describes what I “try to” do through various media, whether it be music, illustration, or video. I know that I am at least competent (amateur) in all of these things, and I believe I will become excellent (professional) in all, or at least most, of these things.

But back to the original thought that prompted me writing this out. What might be most frustrating is that a sense of comfort about one’s position in life is being inferred from the shared meme, one that connotes a lower standing of the prospective “rapper” relative to the subject consuming the meme’s implied meaning. It is quite puzzling when you consider that this is in reference to an aspect, rap, of one of the most universal art forms — hip hop. Yes, hip hop is really the overarching umbrella that rap sits under, along with four other aspects, all of which make up the Five Elements: graffiti, turntables (DJing), beatboxing, and breakdancing. I digress for a short history lesson. Back to the point. What is confusing to me, both a consumer and creator, observer and subject, is how rap is perceived in some segments of culture. This meme probably wouldn’t work if you replaced rapper with actor, or painter, or writer, even though the latter is a title that most if not all rappers can lay claim to. Yet we have Drake, one of the biggest rappers/artists/performers at this time in history, selling out shows all over the world, putting on his own super-popular spectacular concert weekend, OVO Fest, all over his hometown Toronto. One could argue, well, he already had a name before the music fame. Let’s take a guy like J. Cole then. Sure, maybe not as well-known as Drake, but still very successful, very intelligent (degree from St. John’s University), who parlayed that intelligence, along with talent and above all hard work, and formed a budding career he enjoys today. Let’s not stop there. Let’s take a real local example for me; a guy by the name of Robbie G. I remember this guy putting on shows at my high school, at local arenas too for 20-30 people. He even did a speech on pursuing your dreams at the high school show. What does this dude do now? He flies overseas to perform hip hop shows. He just announced an upcoming Canada-wide tour. How crazy is that?!? On one hand, it is super crazy for him and those who know him, on another hand it probably should seem a lot less crazy to people looking from the outside. People who like to take comfort in and chuckle at this meme, for example.

Now, what if he would’ve seen that meme pop up on his Facebook back then?  Maybe he would have gotten discouraged. I know anyone can post almost anything on the internet without a second thought. As Joe Rogan has noted, that is the best thing about the internet and the worst thing about the internet. It would be interesting to know where that post originated. Maybe it was someone who was sitting there, procrastinating, thinking of all the things they wanted to try do in life but never did, and they typed that out to make themselves feel better. That’s the best, or worst, scenario I can think of. But its relative popularity (relative meaning I have seen it at least ten times) is at once unsurprising and sort of disturbing. It’s like, ‘Oh hey, I may be a guy who hates his job, doesn’t like his wife, dog, or life in general, but hey at least I’m not this guy trying to make his dreams a reality through art! Boy would that suck! *inaudible mumbling* *sobbing* *crying* *smashing plates and glasses*…

Between that scenario and ‘trying to become a rapper’, I’ll take the latter any day of the week.

There’s probably a lot more I can say on this topic, but I’ll stop it for now.

This song, Gossip Files by Kanye West, popped into my head as I was typing this out. There are some other video links from the artists mentioned above. And stay tuned to my SoundCloud page, things keep on cooking!

Might as well plug my t-shirt store too: http://neatproductions.bigcartel.com/

Peace!

 

 

 

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Fantasy Set List: Jay Z

Unless he continually puts on special performances like his upcoming B-Sides show, or there is a Watch The Throne 2, a Blueprint 4, or a Vol. 4, we probably won’t see Jay Z on a big stage in some time. For the aforementioned B-Sides set, Jay is putting on a contest through Tidal to pick 1,100 winners that put together the best curated, most diverse playlists imaginable. I decided instead (not for lack of interest, but due to geographical location) to arrange what I consider to be the ideal set list (with the input of my big bro) made up of songs from Jigga’s catalog and features. Without further ado, here’s how I see my ultimate Hov concert going.

1. The Prelude (Kingdom Come)
A voice speaks, “You know you got this fantasy in your head about getting out of the life, and setting the corporate world on its ear…”, a sample from the film Superfly. It aptly describes exactly what Jay has done in the years since that release. He steps forward through the smoke-covered stage to appear visible to the buzzing crowd. He starts his verse, a classic intro piece, just to get the party started. This short, off of the critically maligned Kingdom Come album, is one that flies under the radar and doesn’t spoil the excitement of the myriad of hits to follow. Keeping his head low and arms gesturing in the pocket like he’s on a roller coaster, Hov smoothly delivers drug-game-infused lines like, “Pantries full of arm and hammer, don’t take Nancy Drew to see what it do, I’m a damn G”  . Jay is in the drivers seat now, and is ready to take us on a trip back to Marcy.

 

2. December 4th (The Black Album)
The second track on The Black Album, named after his birth date, features vignettes spoken by his mother Gloria in place of the hook, with a grandiose melody flitting in the background. A subtly pulsing beat comes in coupled with an undulating string instrumental loop, and Jay fakes us out from the first two bars: “They say they never really miss you till you dead or you gone, so on that note I’m leaving after this song…” Fortunately, he’s not going anywhere. He’s here to tell his story of birth, growing up Brooklyn, and the ins and outs of a once-flourishing hustling career.

3. So Ghetto (Vol. 3… Life and Times of S. Carter)
In this historic collabo with the legendary DJ Premier, Jay bounces all over the beat with expert smoothness. The classic instrumental takes on a new life as he revisits the throwback joint. Some years ago, former Jay-co-signed artist Lupe Fiasco had a go at it on his Enemy of the State mixtape, and did not disappoint. On this live take, Sean Carter is quick to remind us who the originator is here.

4. Hard Knock Life (Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life)
We’re still posted up in Marcy Projects, or at least Brooklyn, for the time being, and that’s more than fine. Jay is comfortable as ever on the Annie-flipped beat, gliding effortlessly until,  “flow infinitely like the memory of my ni**a Biggie, ‘baby’.”  It’s the second song in a row that Jay spits a bar dedicated to his fallen friend. The beat stops.

5. Whatchu Want – The Commission (The Biggie Duets)

The unique voice of the Notorious B.I.G. blasts through the speakers. The track starts at his second verse, we can’t handle the “hard, hardcore” content of the first. Jay stands posted up, arms crossed, head bobbing, in the middle of the stage as a picture of Christopher Wallace appears on the large screen behind him

Most of crowd produces chills that match that of Mr. Carter, and he puts a bow on the track by delivering his verse. Everyone throws their peace sign in the air for Big, and then the show goes on.

6. Izzo – H.O.V.A. (The Blueprint)
We’re back to our regularly scheduled programming. Jay immediately hits us in the face with another… well, hit. He’s back to waxing nostalgic about his past hustle — “herbin’ them in the home of the Terrapins”  — and then bringing us into the current state of affairs (even though the song came out in 2001). The industry is still “Shady” — some say that was a thinly-veiled shot at Eminem — but it’s pretty safe to say the game is as much Jay as it is Em. And we can sense his industry aspirations by the end of the verse: “Pay us like you owe us for all the years that you hoe’d us/We can talk, but money talks, so talk mo’ bucks”. Then perhaps the most poignant bars come after the hook: “Ni**as acting like I sold you crack/ Like I told you sell drugs: no/ Hov did that so hopefully you won’t have to go through that”. He then gives more snapshots of Marcy, “the life”, and broken ghetto dreams. For a song with a catchy Jackson Five sample, Izzo’s lyrics are heavy, and Jay knows how to pack weight into every verse.

7. Public Service Announcement (The Black Album)
We experience another interruption, but it’s another one that we’re more than happy to sit and vibe through. This loud, grand, but short interlude-ish track was and is so impactful that, in my opinion, it overshadowed the song “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” when Jay paired the two in a music video. It is boisterous, and Hov performs it as such. Instead of cutting off after the first verse, as many hip hop performers do, Jay continues into the next verse to deliver that subtle yet clever line, “I’m like Che Guevara with bling on, I’m complex”. That personal favorite is a reference to his outfit during his MTV Unplugged set: the well-known Che tee with a gold chain draped around Jay’s neck and onto Che’s head. The line, which is delved into by Jay in his book Decoded, gives you some things to chew on — the capitalist success of a communist revolutionary’s likeness on consumer products, for example. So while Jay is busy spazzing out with flows that take you “back to the dude with the Lexus, fast forward the jewels and the necklace”, he also finds time to drop jewels in front of your eyes and ears.

8. Lyrical Exercise (The Blueprint)
At this point, Jay has done his laps, and then has come back around the track to talk shit to us. And we don’t mind this because it’s entertaining as fuck. We follow him into the proverbial weight room, where he makes it look effortless once again. He comes out with a heavy punch: “I jog in a graveyard, spar in the same ring/ that was housed by the building where Malcolm X was slain”. There’s that weight again. But he reminds the suckas, “getcha weight up, not ya hate up”. He’s at least throwing a lifeline for anyone who is even considering turning a particular shade of green. Plus, he is a staunch opponent of the “loser’s mentality”.

9. Renegade (The Blueprint)

Now that Jay is sufficiently warmed up, the brooding instrumental of ‘Renegade’ starts playing, and he pinballs expertly through the first verse. “Can’t step in my pants, can’t walk in my shoes…”. I call to mind a line from Kanye West, Jay’s protege: “If you can do it better than me then you do it!” Well, Eminem is featured on this track, and he could do it better than Jay, so he did it. The common consensus among hip hop heads is that Marshall completely annihilated this song. Which is not to say that Jay didn’t bring his too, it’s just that his didn’t measure up. For after describing critics’ claims that he is “a monger of hate, satanist, scatterbrained atheist” , Shady starts “waving the pistol at sixty Christians against me” , and there’s really no looking back after that. On this fantasy set list performance, Em tries and succeeds at matching the ferocity in his lyrics — trading verses with his contemporary — even though nowadays he claims to have a higher power.

10. No Hook (American Gangster)
The darkness continues, as nightmarish scenes from ghetto life come flashing back to Jay on No Hook. He harnesses that dark energy and turns it around on the song to express his disdain for commercial music, and scoffs at the audacious comparison of him to other rappers. “Compare me to trappers,” Jay says, “I’m more Frank Lucas than Ludacris”. The prominent Harlem-and-beyond drug kingpin in the 70’s, Lucas was ruthless and calculated in survival, a quality that both Denzel Washington, the legendary actor who played him, and Jay Z have in common with him in regard to their respective professions. That, along with discipline and consistency, is why we see the two artists where they are today. Hov half-leans-half-sits on a stool near the front of the stage, the tone of the song’s content weighing him down. The track fades out.

11. Lucifer (The Black Album)
The pull of D’Evils can be felt through the dark-stained, subdued bass-like guitar pluck, a plunging kick drum and eerie knock snare of a Kanye-crafted arrangement (“Kanyeezy you did it again, you a genius!”). A tenacious Jay comes out firing in the second verse with an eye-for-an-eye intention, igniting the fire of vengeance in the eyes of spectators. He promises those who wish him ill that he’ll “leave you in somebody’s cathedral for stuntin’ like Evel Knievel”. The build-up of hatred has to have a breaking point. As if he and Ye know what they’re doing, the bridge between second and third verse is chock full of repenting: “Man, I gotta get my soul right, I gotta get these devils out my life…”. And once again, the third verse leaves Jay the most vulnerable, as he pines for the opportunity to rewind the incident that left his friend, Rocafella co-founder Kareem “Biggs” Burke’s brother Bob, shot to death. The darkness creeps in again at the last moment, as Jay asks the lord if he feels he wants vengeance, to blame it on “the son of the morning”, aka Lucifer. Jay skulks to the back of the stage and out of view. Pablo Picasso’s painting of the devil is projected on the big screen just as Biggie’s picture was before it. Jay had bought the original painting a few weeks prior.

12. Picasso Baby (Magna Carta… Holy Grail)
We enter an entirely new, but not totally unfamiliar, vibe with the first offering of the night from his latest album. The graphic on the screen changes to a large white room with a white bench, to mimic the art project that was the Picasso Baby music video/short film. This is where, in my eyes, the most inspiration comes from. Yeah, Jay name drops more than The Game in this song. But it is not for trivial reasons. It is part of an effort to, consciously or unconsciously, raise the taste level that hip hop culture applies to other industries and that it expresses itself through. I believe that’s what is trying to be done with Tidal; the service being offered comes at a price, absolutely, but the enhanced consumer experience and value placed on artists is what is being heralded . Anyway, back to the show. Sonically, the tone of the Timbaland-produced banger echoes the qualities of the previous track. Lyrically, it exudes high class and a self-imposed need, or duty, for Jay to cement his legacy as the greatest.

13. Allure (The Black Album)
“I solemnly swear, to change my approach, stop shaving coke…” Much like the previous Black Album cut, this track deals with the evils that come with the game Jay has put himself in. The hustle game brings with it a rush that can’t be matched by drugs or women. Jay flashes a smirk under the brim of his Don C. designed Yankee cap as he reminisces on the rush of his previous hustle. The allure of the game can’t be explained, and Jay, joined by Pharrell playing a piano version of the loop on stage, echoes this thought on the hook.

14. Part II (On The Run) (Magna Carta… Holy Grail)
The cast of special guests continues with the queen B joining her husband to dominate this Bonnie and Clyde style track. Thematically, in the last four songs, Jay has gone from having flashbacks from his old life (No Hook), to resentfully attacking his detractors and seeking vengeance (Lucifer), then focusing on the ultimate success and the opulence that comes with it (Picasso Baby), to going back to getting caught up in The Life. Now, he and his love are on the run, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. Beyonce swoons, “I don’t care if they give me life, I get all of my life from you/ And if loving you is a crime, I would pay my life for you”: the definition of ‘ride or die’.

15. Already Home (The Blueprint 3)
Home free. This ode to success in the face of haters and hangers-on is a light, bouncy, and underrated offering from TB3. Jay is back at the crib, lamping on the couch surrounded by the spoils of victory, and commentating on the various ways his competition tries to get to him — to no avail. Kid Cudi appears on stage and lays down the poignant hook with adlibs from Jay: ” They want me to fall, fall from the top, they want me to drop, they want me to stop, they want me to go, I’m already gone…” They want him to stop, but he can’t. They want him to go ahead and disappear, but the fact is he’s already gone — into the stratosphere. He can’t be touched. And there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.

16. Encore (The Black Album)
We reach the end of our regularly scheduled programming. Jay Z goads the frantic crowd into a roaring ovation, and they oblige. With lines that culminate his rise in the industry, to his long reign, Mr. Carter flies in the face of all the detractors like “record companies [who] told me I couldn’t cut it”. Jay stands alone on the stage, looking out at the people he owes his success to. The moving instrumental decrescendos, and Jay gives a salute before walking slowly into the darkness.

 

 

 

17. Ni**as in Paris (Watch The Throne)
The people continue shouting “Encore!”, then begin to mill away from the stage. A voice comes back onto the mic. ” You thought I was gonna leave y’all like that?! DROP THAT SHIT!” The snippet of Will Ferrell in Blades of Glory comes on, and everyone who’s anyone knows what time it is. Jay and Kanye have performed the contagious 2011 release almost countless times, famously performing it a record 12 times in a row at one of their WTT tour stops. The energy for this song is no different here. Jay is feeling it, speaking the lines that flaunt his unfettered success — “The Nets could go 0 for 82 and I look at you like ‘this shit gravy'” — over the crowd. Ye jumps on stage like a banshee — in a black Been Trill crew sweater, black Margiela pants, and black Yeezy Boosts  — for the first “That Shit Cray”, and the crowd goes wild. He maniacally delivers his verse over the frenetic digitized instrumentals, with Jay playing hype man. They congregate at center stage for the song’s breakdown, getting the crowd to give them more. The two moguls look out in their iconic pose as the static instrumental fades…

18. Run This Town (The Blueprint 3)

All black everything. If the first half of the set was the regular season, this half is the all-star game and the playoffs combined. As soon as Rihanna’s ubiquitous voice comes in to sing the intro, it sets up the rest of the song that features a steadily explosive, guitar-laden instrumental. The three Roc Nation mainstays line up side by side, hyping Jay during his first verse. Rihanna, the clear standout of the song, slays the hook: “Life’s a game but it’s not fair, I break the rules so I don’t care”. All three have, if not broken the rules, completely reshaped them: Jay with the guidelines of what hip hop artists can do in the business world, laying out his own Blueprint; Ye finds new ways to express subversive art and speaking his mind when and where most don’t; Ri Ri redefines the idea of a pop songstress, moving out of the frame that she is “supposed to” fit in. We skip Jay’s second verse, and get straight to the Kanye verse that many know very well (I once rapped the entire thing on a crowded club dance floor, at the height of the song’s popularity — a proud moment). “What you think I rap for, to push a fuckin’ Rav-4?” Mr. West lets everyone know that he is certainly not averse to financial gains off his art. And there’s really no legitimate criticism of that motivation; if someone is driven to become a plumber for financial reasons, why not a rapper? This occupation alone is something that West has clearly moved past.

19. Holy Grail (Magna Carta… Holy Grail)

Oh hey, here’s a guy named Justin Timberlake too. In easily his grittiest, most raw vocal performance, JT trumpets out the sorrowful yet enchanting intro (and the chorus). The song comes back to the questions and issues that have been peppered throughout most of the songs in the set, things like the pull and the rush of the game, past traumas, and everything else culminating into the quest for meaning through the lens of fame. “One day you’re screaming you love me loud, the next day you’re so cold,” Justin reflects. He has seen his fair share of fickleness from the machine, as has Jay (see Kingdom Come, Blueprint 3, Tidal). Every move is scrutinized, every piece of being taken apart and magnified. Jay sheds light on the dichotomy of the bright lights: “Goddammit I like it, the bright light is enticing, but look what it did to Tyson”. The first verse ends off with a reference to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, calling to mind tortured frontman Kurt Cobain, whose battle with life through the filter of fame ended with a self-inflicted bullet to the head. The hook is offered again, and as the second verse starts, the instrumental elements drop away only to leave a snappy, echoing snare for Jay to go on. The crowd claps along, and the weight of his words amplifies even more than before. Timberlake comes back in to finish the job acapella. “One day you’re here, one day you’re there, you’re so unfair… Sipping from your cup till it runneth over, Holy Grail”.

 20. Made in America (Watch the Throne)

The incomparable Frank Ocean starts the song off how only he can, with an amazing intro hook. The journey is indescribable, from being made in America, to ni**as in Paris, to officially “making it” in America. It’s a beautiful thing. Ocean walks slowly to join Jay on front stage, and Kanye comes back reenergized to deliver his verse in incendiary and passionate form. This verse perhaps best tracks Ye’s rise from where and who he was to where his today, albeit in a condensed fashion. “I told my momma I was on the come up, she said ‘you’re going to school, I’ll give you a summer’, then she met No I.D. and gave me his number… Ten years later, she’s driving a Hummer.”  Imagine your mother meeting one of your eventual major mentors, the man to whom you owe a great portion of your success, where she initiates contact. Ye then gives insight into how he established a sense of loyalty with his adopted big brother: “Ni**as hustle every day for a beat from ‘Ye, and what’d I do, turn around give them beats to Jay/ And I’m rapping on the beast they were s’posed to buy, I guess I’m getting high off my own supply”. That first part is a big reason why there is such a relationship with the two: they took a different lane when a possibly better one was available, and made something really work. The product of that chemistry is the album which this song is on. Kanye had a hand in all but three beats on WTT, and Jay is featured delivering some of the more advanced rhymes in his catalog. He featured entirely new flows, mostly synthesized by running popular rap cadences through his own sonic and lyrical filter, to deliver arguably the most passionate and sharp verses he’s ever produced. In this verse, he follows the same pattern of detailing his first-person story in sixteen bars. The beat for Jay’s verse gets stripped away, much like the last song, and what’s left is the knock of the three bass kicks and the long, ethereal synth notes in the background. That’s all Jay needs to make the crowd’s collective heart beat, as he gets to the subtly powerful line: “I got my liberty, chopping grams up/ Street justice, I pray God understands us”. Frank plays the song out with his best instrument, and a spotlight encircles him in middle stage.

 21. Young Forever (The Blueprint 3)

Frank sticks around to put his own take on the iconic Alphaville sample, sung on TB3 by GOOD Music recruit Mr. Hudson. He has experimented with covers in the past. Again accompanied by the long synth keyboard notes, Ocean plays around with the melody with unparalleled originality, leading the track up to the start of Jay’s dream-like lyrics. The bass beat never kicks in, because it doesn’t have to. All we hear to accompany the wavy synth are a digital screech in place of the snare, and Jay Z’s voice. He half-talks, half-whispers the rhymes in recognizable fashion: “Leave a mark that can’t erase neither space nor time, so when the director yells cut I’ll be fine, I’m forever young”. The beat stops. Jay walks off, gives Frank dap on the way by

as Frank continues to sing the infectious chorus. The crowd is clapping and singing along with him, all the more amplified now that there is just a voice on stage. He improvises different ways to sing the same lyrics before chuckling and finally leaving the crowd, who continue to sing the looped hook. The stage goes dark. We burst into ovation: claps and whoops and screams. We have won the day.

RapGenius Links

The Writer Cover 1

On the heels of starting a new hip hop project, I decided to take my genius.com account to a new level and annotate the lyrics from my first project, “The Writer”. This digital lyric book describes meanings behind some of the lines in the verses, explaining some of the allusions and telling stories behind and between the lines.

Here are the links for the eight tracks:

Old Dell – http://genius.com/Ully-old-dell-lyrics#note-4715864

Lonely Writer – http://genius.com/Ully-lonely-writer-lyrics#note-4715933

Empire Remix (Kids of the Apocalypse) – http://genius.com/Ully-empire-remix-kids-of-the-apocalypse-lyrics#note-4716047

10 AM in Guelph – http://genius.com/Ully-10-am-in-guelph-lyrics#note-4716162

Trophies – http://genius.com/Ully-trophies-lyrics#note-4716289

Heart of the City – http://genius.com/Ully-heart-of-the-city-lyrics#note-4716379

Sun Stare – http://genius.com/Ully-sun-stare-lyrics#note-4716457

Soul Contol – http://genius.com/Ully-soul-control-lyrics#note-4716583

I’ve said before in regard to this project: my ambition far exceeded my talent when it came to actually rapping. It was my first foray into speaking these rhymes after consistently writing them, and others, down for at least five years prior. But it is good to look back, especially going into this new project, and know that you will do better going forward.

All the songs are embedded into the page, to listen while reading or whatever. If so inclined, sign up for a Genius account and add your own annotations.

Check it out!

Dreams aNd Extremes Synopsis and About Author

The lives of two young men overlap, and at times appear polar, as they navigate through their respective lives in the town of Marsh. The dreams that the George brothers, Sam and Saul, experience are peculiar, haunting, psychedelic and inspirational — sometimes all at once. They leave this dream world optimistic, cynical, and shamelessly idealistic — sometimes all at once. The chase of these dreams is on, along with romance and conspiracy, and they surrender to both the traps and wings of philosophical thought. Watch as they both run to and from the extremes of psychology and consciouness, in the end striving to find balance before reality closes in.

Dylan Ullman is a three-time college dropout, amateur writer and visual artist. “Dreams aNd Extremes” is his first short novel, and experiments with different mediums and styles which are brought together throughout the work. One of the concepts, the character DeeUllConshus and his hip-hop album “Dreams 4 Sale”, is in the process of production and will serve as an accompanying soundtrack. Updates will be posted regarding this project here at deeullconshus.wordpress.com . Ullman was born in Toronto, raised in Fergus, and currently resides in Guelph, Ontario.

Kanye West – Yeezus (Summary/Review) Part 2

I’m In It – Don’t play this song at work. Well, it depends on where you work, I guess. If you work from home, or in the adult entertainment industry, or both, then this just might be your jam. This is porn in song form. And were it composed and executed by any artist other than Kanye, it would probably be considered to be vapid. However, the honeymoon mentality of the piece attracts the ear and pulls you into the canvas of Yeezy. Dance hall artist Assassin delivers a bridge with a choppy, head-spinning flow over an ever changing beat track — from an erotic moan on the intro, to sirens and rumbling bass on breakdowns. On such a sexual song, Kanye somehow manages to reference the civil rights movement twice, exclaiming “your titties, let ’em out, free at last/ Thank God Almighty they’re free at last” , playing off of legendary activist Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, and with the clever yet overt: “Black girl sippin’ white wine, put my fist in her like a civil rights sign“. The artist projects the love he finds himself in as trap-like, and the lust too exquisite to give up. He says “I’m in it and I can’t get out“. Again, can’t has many meanings. He is not able to, he won’t, he doesn’t want to. The highlight for me comes with yet another appearance from Vernon, who goes back and forth with Kanye on another transition (the song has at least five complete breakdowns), featuring masterful songwriting coupled with a shivering falsetto. In the end, Ye alludes to being married to this zeitgeist, but starting a new movement, and then hits us with a new Kanye-ism in the last bar: “they don’t play what I’m playing/ They don’t see what I’m saying/ They be ballin’ in the D-League/ Uh, I be speaking Swaghili” . Yes , Swaghili. A new language is born. In fact, linguist and writer David Peterson laid the groundwork for this new native tongue, as explained in this Esquire Magazine article:

http://www.esquire.com/_mobile/blogs/culture/kanye-west-swaghili-game-of-thrones

Blood On The Leaves- As proven time and time again, Kanye knows how to choose and manipulate samples, and construct a song around a sample. It’s just what he does. This time, the foundation was Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit”. The intro simply presents a chilling cut from the song, chopped up beautifully before the piano strikes. If “I’m In It” was the lustful honeymoon, this song is the quick and messy divorce. An auto-tuned Kanye starts off solemn and vulnerable, explaining away to himself, “I just need to clear my mind now, it’s been racing since the summertime” , and answering everyone in his ear, quietly muttering “I’ma need a little more time now, cuz I ain’t got the money on me right now, and I told you to wait, yeah I told you to wait” before slowly exploding into a manic crescendo where he simply resigns, saying “let’s get on with it.” An argument that looks romantic on the surface is a call out to the industry; the music industry, hip hop specifically. He claims “we coulda been somebody/ was it on your first party, when you tried your first Molly” . Good old Molly, a drug that has accompanied a hazy new-school mindset and has recently infected hip hop culture. Rap legend Jay Z subtly decried this trend on his album Magna Carta… Holy Grail with the lyric, “I don’t pop Molly, I rock Tom Ford.” As the song progresses, it is clear that the narrative is conveying double meanings. It becomes harder and harder to distinguish between the issues of romance and industry, to the point that they melt into each other, and two concepts appear: the love of business, and the business of love. West cries, “Before you called lawyers, before they tried to destroy us/ how you gon’ lie to the lawyers? It’s like I don’t even know ya” , referring to either or both marriage/divorce litigation, and the experience of making a style of music that relies on sampling — digging in the crates if you will — in the confines of law, with wolves on both sides hungry for their money. An aggressive foghorn beats in the background over Holliday’s voice and the piano riff, as Ye rattles off rhymes about trappings of The Life: gold diggers “tryin’ to get a baby” , drugs, financial problems, alimony, and superficial matrimony (yeah, they rhyme). Then, as the song seemingly winds down, Kanye gets back on the mic and experiments with the vocoder to perform a cathartic musical ramble. This heavily primal outro is done much in the mold of Dark Fantasy‘s “Runaway” with emotional hums that play through different registers. The lyrics provide some closure here, as West cautions, “Breath, and breathe…. And live and learn” .

Guilt Trip – The dark feel on the album keeps up on this track, opening with a barely-audible Kanye somberly singing “I need to call it off, I need to make it known” before a mellow trap beat injects a little life into his flow. A chopped sample of Lords of the Undergound’s “Chief Rocka” speaks for itself and is utilized very well, giving the track a ghoulish bounce and feel. This setting feels like a rainy afternoon, hungover or blunted (or both) reflecting on a love lost, but still feeling like you’re That Dude. Ye exemplifies this mentality by a ready-for-the-club-again set of bars: “On to the next saga/ Focus on the future and let the crew knock her/ Star Wars fur, yeah I’m rockin’ Chewbacca/ The one Chief Rocka, number one Chief Rocka ohhh” . The screwed sample returns before the versatile Kid Cudi makes an appearance, desperately crooning “If you love me so much then why’d you let me go” repeatedly, a lyric that comes with a tinge of irony, given its performer; Cudi recently announced that he is no longer with Kanye’s GOOD Music label.

Send It Up – As expected, Yeezy makes his return to the club scene, with a vengeance, proclaiming, “This the greatest shit in the club, since In The Club/  It’s so packed I might ride around on my bodyguard’s back like Prince in the club” , referencing 50 Cent’s 2003 hit smash, and painting a visual worthy of a Chappelle’s Show skit. The track features a looping airhorn melody, and does not offer much in the way of lyrical content. But perhaps that’s the way it’s supposed to be, given the musical disclaimer on the first track (“Give us what we need, it may not be what we want”).

Bound 2 – Finally, the closing track is where Mr. West might have given many long-time fans what they wanted. An adorably triumphant vocal sample of Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s “Bound” is one of several foundations of this track. Kanye narrates a back-and-forth conversation in the club on a Thursday. He addresses stories of his character: “I know I got a bad reputation/ ‘Walk around always mad’ reputation/ ‘Leave a pretty girl sad’ reputation/ ‘Start a fight club’ , Brad reputation” . He explains himself to his love interest, as the magnanimous Charlie Wilson pipes in with the refrain, “I know you’re tired, of loving, of loving with nobody to love…” . As things progress, it looks like the two lovers seal the deal. And by the end of the third verse it becomes clear: “I’m tired, you tired, Jesus wept” he raps before Wilson returns with the powerful chorus and a rangy outro. Another union consummated from a dance floor slow song, another chance to reach new heights.

So what is next for Kanye West? Well, gathering from the new interview on BBC Radio, anything is possible. He seems like a man possessed, and when the creativity flows in a visionary person such as him, it’s hard to predict where that energy will lead to. It is clear that the battery in his back is fully charged, but that cell has the potential to explode in ugly fashion or power him through. Personally, I hope the motivation he feels will be concentrated into a noble effort, and I will continue to draw inspiration from the vision of people such as himself: people who are always pushing the limit of human capability, creativity and imagination.

Here are Parts 2 and 3 of Kanye’s BBC Radio Interview with Zane Lowe:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nx3X4r-eCYQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PED4zgjG3Ng&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Kanye West – Yeezus (Summary & Review)

Now that the latest mutant creation of the artist known as Kanye West, entitled Yeezus, has had some time to marinate in the minds of fans, critics, listeners and even haters, I will attempt to review it track-by-track and give my takes on the work. First off, it is such a diverse album with many different messages that it’s nearly impossible to touch on all of them, so I will be hitting on the few veins of perception I experienced on each track and the album as a whole, which includes lyrics, concept and meaning.

On Sight – Right from the moment you press play, you can tell this is a whole different Mr. West. A strobe-like, pulsing synth beat blasts through the speakers, and Kanye comes in with authority : “Yeezy season approachin’, fuck whatever y’all been hearin‘” . The initial verse makes me picture a kid storming through a house in a fit: knocking over lamps, jumping on the furniture (“Black Tims all on your couch again”) . Then, as the beat continues to freak and you think that we’ve lost Kanye forever, a haunting choir sample cuts in with perhaps an explanatory lyric: “Oh, you give us what we need… It may not be what we want,” . This likely best describes what you will experience for the next forty minutes.

Black Skinhead – Never one to shy away from the edge, Yeezy provides us a title that alone is provocative. The table is set perfectly for a marching, militant, yet dark, new-wave-sounding beat. The guts of the song, from the heavy-breathing rhythm to the way West invents his flow over it, set up what is actually being said to be taken in. It feels like a bumpy ride in the back of an el Camino and Kanye is beside you “ranting” about his encounters and outrage against critics. It’s noisy, so you can here what he’s saying, but not really. A lyric that came through to me on the first verse was , “if I don’t get ran down by Catholics, here comes some conservative Baptist/ claimin’ I’m overreactin’ like the Black kids in Chi-raq bitch” (Chi-raq is the nickname given to Chicago based on its warzone-like conditions). He ends the verses with a spiteful reflection: “If I knew what I knew in the past, I woulda been blacked out on yo’ ass“. Somewhat of a double entendre, Kanye would have been way darker, spazzed out way more and been much more driven to “fuck shit up” if he knew how things really worked before. Another interpretation is the reference to race: if he would have known how tightly locked the control system was, he would have gone way “blacker” from the jump. The song ends with a spiteful chant of “God, God, GOD”, which enters perfectly into the next track.

I Am A God – This is undoubtedly the point of no return of this album. If you’ve made it this far, then you’re in it until the end. If you haven’t, well, it happens. I heard this from Jay Z, but I’m not sure if he was the first to say it: “Great art is polarizing. If it’s not polarizing, it’s not great.” Kanye certainly spins most people to the poles on this one. A mellow grinding baseline intros into a understated, unconventional synth beat, with a sound that can be described as a demon moan. Then comes, “I am a God,” repeated before entering the first rant-ish verse.  Kanye ends the first verse with: “Until the day I get struck by lightning, I am a God”. He speaks on this concept in a new interview with BBC Radio’s Zane Lowe which I will link to, so I won’t reiterate too much of what he said here. But I think an important distinction needs to be made as to how one looks at this song’s meaning. If you listen and judge the artist, you wonder what planet he woke up on when he recorded it (or you may have a much more extreme view than that). But play this song and sing along with it, and suddenly, you are a God too. And doesn’t that feel a little empowering? My initial impression was that this was Kanye’s “David Icke move”. Mr. Icke was a musician and turned into a conspiracy theorist seemingly overnight. In the early 90’s, he appeared on a few television talk shows claiming to be the second coming of Jesus, but not only that, he had a handful of theories on the illuminati; the thirteen families who control the world as we know it; and, as he believes, the reptilian bloodline running through the global ruling class. The reason I think this is Kanye’s “David Icke move” is that while putting forth theories that expose mass organized control and conspiracy gets implanted into consciousness, calling yourself Jesus or God nullifies the validity of those theories for most, if not all, listeners. This is his setup for next track, the first single, whose video accompaniment was projected on sixty-six buildings worldwide. But we don’t escape the God cave without a visit from Justin Vernon, a previous ‘Ye collaborator, treating us with a haunting vow: “Ain’t no way I’m giving up, I’m a God.”

New Slaves – This is where the rhetorical shit hits the fan. Sonically, Kanye creates a curious cadence with his words over a Rick Rubin-reduced beat. This is musically in the same vein as Watch The Throne’s “Otis”, in that both songs rely on the artist(s) to really utilize their flow as a guide to the vibe of the song. Kanye’s rapping cadence shifts beautifully over the spooky electric keyboard stabs of the minimalist beat. The opening line, “my mama was raised in the era when/ clean water was only served to the fairer skin” , evokes the teeming frustration of racist policies experienced by his family. But that is really just the tip of the iceberg; by the second verse, Ye has called out corporate control with a visceral tirade, and posits that “the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] teamed up with the CCA [Corrections Corporation of America] /they tryin’ to lock niggas up, they tryin’ to make new slaves” . It’s not all that farfetched to think that he is speaking to an actual fact and a sick part of the paradigm in which we exist. In a recent performance on Later… With Jools Holland, Kanye riffed off of the original lyrics:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DR16DHB4hs&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Around the 1:40 mark, he broadens the concept of what a slave is when he sings: “New slaves… In your brand new car/ A new slave… With your brand new job/  You’re still a new slave… No matter who you are” . This deeply enforces idea that we as a society have moved from racism to class-ism, or “place-ism”. Now it is evident that, in his view, “nigga” is not solely referential to black people. He lays it all on the table and, at the end of the song, angrily wonders “what the fuck they gonna say now.” For me, the chilling part of the song comes at the end/interlude where the beat changes up and features a high-pitched Kanye Being Kanye. He catches me with an almost condescending lyric: “I can’t lose, I can’t lose, no I can’t lose/ but I can’t leave it to you/ so let’s get you high, get you high again“. I interpreted this as a spiteful challenge, looking at it as a creative person: to me, when he says “I can’t lose” , he’s not just saying I am too good to lose or I am just not able to lose, but that I will not lose. “I can’t leave it to you” is taking control and not leaving it to another person to advance creatively. So, “let’s get you high again” is his resignation to providing a spark of some kind of inspiration in the listener, to “get you high” with his music, his expression of excellence and idealism that happens to come through in the form of beats, rhymes, notes and keys.

Hold My Liquor- After the lucid, manic ramblings of the song (night) before, this song is a hangover anthem. A grovelling Justin Vernon returns with a signature voice before giving way to a heavily blunted Chief Keef, who exclaims “I can’t handle my liquor, but these bitches can’t handle me…” over the running tempo. Then the beat stops and Kanye is “back out his coma” with an instrumental screech. His lone verse is much like a half-drunk, one-sided phone conversation. The rest of the song features Vernon hazily crooning “calling up your uncle’s place, shit’s all over the place…”  and a freaky, squealing solo from what I can only assume is a guitar.  This song feels like a creation of Bon Iver (Vernon’s most notable music project) featuring Keef and Kanye, and obviously with West’s fingerprints all over it.

Part 1 of Yeezus review/summary: fin.

Here is Part 1 of the Kanye West BBC Radio interview with Zane Lowe:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2T0fMkZoMo&feature=youtube_gdata_player

The Two Faces of Hip Hop

(Disclaimer: Been a while… This post was sup”post” to be posted in Feb., shortly before my computer cord broke, so take this one for what it’s worth. Better late then never eh? I’m back now. Feels good.)

 

Looking through the latest blog entries on rapradar.com, I came upon the cover for the new issue of Vibe magazine (http://rapradar.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/bruno-wiz-bob-vibe.jpg). It features three up-and-comers in the music industry. B.o.B., the Atlanta native with ferocious flow (see “Beast Mode”) and southern swagger, is playing both sides of the hip hop game with relative ease (his recent mixtape, “No Genre”, was a street hit and he will be performing at the Grammys). Pictured on the left of the cover is the soul-singing, Michael Jackson-Elvis offspring, Bruno Mars. He was featured on arguably the biggest song of B.o.B’s career, “Nothin’ On You”. Appropriately stuck in the middle is the Pittsburgh Prince, Wiz Khalifa. He is well known for peaceful prose for potheads based around the party life, as well as the Taylor Gang, his following and his movement. He is now best known for the city-repping superhit, “Black and Yellow”, which just reached #1. The bottom right corner of the mag boldy screams, The New Pop Music. Reading this title as a hip hop fan is… Interesting. Awkward. Cringe-inducing. Perplexing. But, lamentably, true. Allow me to channel the Double Rainbow guy and ask, “What does this mean?” For hip hop? Many “heads” cringe when a hip hop act approaches the threshold of the pop branding. Rightfully so, because more times than not, once you go pop you don’t go back. On one hand, the title suggests a noticeable magnetic attachment of hip hop music to pop. We have seen many rappers’ recent adventures in the mainstream, notably Drake and Nicki Minaj (the latter’s debut album, Pink Friday, has been described as overwhelmingly pop). Which brings me to the other hand: are these artists “Pop” to begin with? Vibe is known as a predominantly Hip Hop and R&B publication, so to me the insinuation is that these artists represent where pop is headed. As encouraging as this is for the artists themselves (their faces are everywhere, songs played on the radio ad nauseum), the pop label can also be deemed as something of a curse. As a pop act, will Wiz still have the Taylor Gang? Will B.o.B still flood the streets with free mixtapes? Or perhaps the purists should take a step back and take it for what it’s worth: Hip Hop is popular. Even if the Wiz Khalifa’s and the B.o.B’s are *sigh* Pop, there is still a dividing line between the hip hop world and pop realm. That line may be thinning more than Coolio’s hair, but it is there. For every Sugarhill Gang, there’s an Eric B and Rakim. For every B.o.B, there’s a Wiz Khalifa. Wait…