Hugs and Thugs

Hip hop from the wall

David Broc Hip Hop By David Broc.

1. Barely three weeks after the last edition of this column, which was dedicated to honouring Guru and setting out the entire drama regarding Solar and behind the scenes activities in an orderly manner, the waters are still troubled. On the contrary, the plot thickens daily. I don’t want to turn this section into a mongraph on the subject, especially when our tribute to the late rapper is already up, written and published, and when the most important thing -the memory of one of the best MC’s of all time- is invoked often and with reverence. But a few days after hanging the column on our home page, a website was created dedicated body and soul to continuing to portray Solar as a sinister, Machiavellian lowlife trickster. It is, a splendid piece of work with research and documentation about him that doesn’t settle for becoming a sort of hooligan forum for the sole purpose of insulting and ridiculing. There is a ton of information here, archival material, interviews, and physical proof to demonstrate everything that is said or insinuated. It is updated regularly, always with juicy, fascinating information.A radical example of all of this: a few days ago, a hacker managed to access Solar’s e-mail, Twitter, and Myspace accounts and came up with e-mails, personal photos, bills, receipts, chat conversations, and other personal paraphernalia that, if its authenticity is confirmed, will certify all of the suspicions about him: his manoeuvres to make off with Guru’s economic and artistic legacy, his visceral hatred of DJ Premier, his extramarital affairs, his lies for his own benefit about the rapper’s physical condition, or his raging megalomania. In some of the documents, you even seen accusatory e-mails from MC’s like AZ or RZA, with his alias Bobby Digital, which Solar answers rudely, with thinly-veiled insults. The saga shows no sign of ending soon; and in the end, this publicity, however negative it may be, keeps Solar on the crest of a wave that he would never have dreamed of previously. The consolation for all of this is that DJ Premier has announced that he might publish a DVD with lots of unseen visual material existing from the Gang Starr period. It would be a good way to put an end to all of this.

2. Luckily, there has also been more entertaining and relaxing news lately in the black universe. My favourite, more than any news item, is a trend topic: rappers get along very well with American TV’s “housewife” types. The integration of hip hop and its icons into white American popular culture is so deep and so consolidated that the genre is thoroughly approved of and accepted on programmes presented by women and aimed mainly at a white female public aged 30 to 60. This is hard to extrapolate to other cultures. We often measure the commercial and popular assimilation of a musical genre by its artistic weight on sales lists, rotation on the most important radio stations, or its presence at award ceremonies, the personal tastes of celebrities, or media play. But what better sign of massive fraternisation is there than seeing a hip hop symbol like LL Cool J sitting with a group of ladies—with some real MILF’s I might add—chatting away about his exercise routine, eating habits, or personal grooming. We could see this on The View,” which is one of the most popular morning talk shows in the United States. It’s true that the reason for his visit, the presentation of his new book, “LL Cool J’s Platinum 360 Diet and Lifestyle: A Full-Circle Guide to Developing Your Mind, Body, and Soul” lent itself to this. After all, the book is a grotesque, hilarious manual about how to lose weight, get fit, and improve your concentration, all at once, and always following the artist’s metrosexual advice. But it is clear that the image of the author of “Radio” surrounded by a group of ladies, discussing his things is a real sign of the times.This is not a new phenomenon, for the record. Martha Stewart, one of the queens of the small screen, has invited rappers to her program relatively frequently; she is used to it—but even so, the freakiness of the presence of a black star on her show continues to shock and delight. A few days ago, for example, Big Boi, half of the Outkast duo, did not hesitate to cook lobster on the air, in the company of his mother and Stewart herself, a fantastic trio that made a wild scene, of the kind that you never entirely get used to, especially if you live outside of the United States. This round of television appearances was topped off by Common, who is presenting his film J ust Wright” and who appeared on-stage with Ellen DeGeneres to talk about it. It suits him: an afternoon talk show with a certain cultured, liberal air, very Common, very conscious, who competes with Oprah. Albums aren’t selling very well, and he’s got to promote them. Wherever. However. With whoever. What will be next? Everybody sets their own limit.3. One of the limits, already passed after the experiences of Flavor Flav, Run (de Run DMC), T.I., Coolio, or 50 Cent, would be reality shows, television fast-food that works like a quick, easy way to pump up your rep without having to work very hard. Nas and Kelis had one ready, whose aim was to provide an x-ray, camera in hand, of the everyday life of one of the fashionable couples on the urban scene. In reality, the program was done, filmed, and with an episode or two already edited, when the couple’s unfriendly break-up took place before it could air. It is understandable that the network didn’t broadcast it, for obvious reasons: what was the point of taking a closer look at the domestic home life of two stars it they aren’t together anymore? Even more so if you analyse how their separation went, with plenty of fighting. Fortunately for their fans, and for their haters, of course, these days a small sample of the show has been leaked, no one knows how or by whom. It’s a pity that they went their separate ways, because in barely a minute of material, we could already see perfectly well that Nas totally blew his wife off. Seeing this, does anybody wonder about the reasons for their separation? This was one of the hot items this month on Twitter.But if we’re talking about Twitter, public jokes, and the African-American microcosm, there is no doubt that the three names most frequently mentioned these days have been those of Lebron James, Jay Electronica and Jigganeesha. We’ll have plenty to say about Lebron, the elimination of the Cleveland Cavaliers and all of the controversy and rumours following the unhappy ending of the games against Boston in a few weeks in the magazine’s sports column; Jay Electronica has basically been talked about for his beef, later toned down and patched up, with DJ Kay Slay. It was silly, arising from a tiff in the wake of some statements that Slay made, talking with a certain disdain about Southern rappers, which ended up in a whirlwind of Tweets, misunderstandings, apologies, and final compliments. The moral of the story: think twice before you Tweet! But no, the biggest twitter earthquake in May has a name: Jigganeesha.Who is Jigganeesha? No one knows. In fact, the name doesn’t exist. Basically, it’s the nickname that DJ Babu has given to a woman who looks like Jay-Z’s twin sister. This double is so perfect, so precise, and looks so much like him, that there are still people today wondering whether it’s a doctored photograph. But no. She really exists. She could pass for the Jigga’s transvestite brother, or even for Jay-Z himself in a drag queen carnival, or as his illegitimate Puerto Rican or Dominican sister. But so far the only thing that we know is that this picture has caused outbursts of laughter and tears all over the world, making the most powerful MC on the planet into a national laughingstock. Nobody is safe.4. But we are in the middle of May, and this is one of the season’s biggest months. Frivolities aside, a lot of music is put out these days, free or paid, and it is a good idea to organise the selection of new items to save time, money, or megas. This month is practically all about mixtapes. It’s not that I have any particular interest in saving you a little money, you know that here we are very much in favour of people paying for music, like you pay to eat, dress, or watch a football game. But where it is really at with rap these days is in mixtape format, possibly because we are about to enter a month of many official launches—June is a hot spot on the calendar, and people are getting ready. Trouble has been stirred up by Trap Or Die II: By Any Means Necessary, the long-awaited reappearance of Young Jeezy, who is whetting his fans’ appetites a few months ahead of the appearance of his new album. The material is powerful, explosive, and reaffirming, crunk passed through the Jeezy grinder of amplified sounds, opulent rhythms, guerrilla lyrics, and almost apocalyptic emotion. I understand that it isn’t a type of hip hop that the old school likes, it’s a far cry from boom bap and orthodox underground, but in the context of the southern whirlwind of references, sub-styles, scenes, and currents, Young Jeezy still seems to me like one of the most outstanding names, an MC who has improved his aptitudes over time and who has never ended up giving in to crossover, like T.I. did, for example. It includes cameos by Clipse, Bun B, Scarface or Trick Daddy. It’s serious, hard, aggressive rap, one hundred percent southern; it’s worth hearing.Its appearance on the Internet coincides in time with that of The Camp Is Here 3”, the latest from Jadakiss, with the aid of Green Lantern and DJ Drama. Another very solid launch, this one in a more conciliating line, in which we find everything from eminently street pieces to clear attempts at a single to pull in the masses from the social networks, Internet, and the most famed radio stations in the United States, but always respecting his own identity and sound. Some time back, 50 Cent attacked Jadakiss by defining him as a local New York phenomenon, and time has continued to prove him right. The member of D-Block has never managed to explode commercially beyond the East Coast, and listening to this mixtape, you get the impression that this is enough for the MC, that this status does it for him. Something similar is the case with The Game : he is an eminently Californian thing, West Coast, although he did manage to widen his social network thanks to his first two albums, which received a great popular response from coast to coast. I’ve lost count of how many times the publication of “The R.E.D. Album,” his latest recording, has been put off; it seems that it is definitively planned for the middle of June, so the leaking of The Red Room, his latest mixtape aperitif has calmed people down and soothed their anxiety. We expect a lot from this album, every since we found out that Dr. Dre was going to work again with his ex-protégé, and especially after listening to “400 Bars,” the song that kicks off this mixtape. 20 minutes of incessant rhymes, with references to Gasol, Jay Electronica, 50 Cent, Just Blaze or Lil Wayne,over an exhilarating selection of the genre’s old and recent classics. An impressive exhibition, in the line of his previous “300 Bars And Runnin,’” but with more substance and an anthological selection of beats.This beginning makes the whole mixtape worth it, but the rest also sates your appetite. With the triple lead-in, we could get through the whole week, the three recordings have a lot of toppings; but since I know you always want more, let’s double the bet. Since last month we dedicated this section exclusively to Guru and I left you without the pertinent dose of new dope, I’ll take advantage to mention three more mixtapes that were left in my inkpot, and which I would hate to park or leave out. The first two go together. In the first place, Dilla Jawns”, the exciting homage of The Roots to J Dilla with a wonderful selection of instrumental band versions of some of the classics from the legacy of the Detroit producer. It sounds devilishly powerful and cool. It’s a job that only they could do, because it is so hard and so risky. The second, which complements the first: Dice, Dilla, Pregunta”, which is a vocal re-reading of these instrumental versions of The Roots done by Dice Raw, veteran underdog on the Philadelphia scene and the group’s old ally. Both are excellent, very heartfelt and sincere, precise, and highly suitable to Dilla’s imagination. Download ASAP.To wrap up the section dedicated to mixtapes, I’d like to make special mention of the Valencia group Cookin’ Soul. It is not my intention, nor will it ever be, to talk about Spanish hip hop in this corner, but what this group of producers is doing warrants my most sincere respect and admiration. Not only have they managed to work with New York rappers and groups as if they were any other referent in the rotation of Big Apple underground beatmakers, and with noteworthy results, but their sessions and mixtapes are real events outside of our borders, celebrated and disseminated on blogs all over the world. Another league. The latest that they have hung up is Teddy Pendergrass Tribute”, the title of which tells us everything we need to know about the contents. A vigorous homage to one of the voices of soul, with strength and emotion; the group mixes some of the singer’s classics with some rocks from contemporary rappers with subtlety and tact. As always, soulful essence, boom bap reminiscences, and high-grade musical criteria. Like every month, we have attached download links to all of them, so you have no excuse.

5. In any case, don’t think that this month you can get away with anything. The avalanche of free music deserves contrast and balance, after all, there is an industry and some artists who have to eat. Paying is good for your health, trust me. And with many more arguments if you buy great albums that fully justify their cost. This month, and for the time being this year, the winner in this category is Roc Marciano with “Marcberg,” but since this madness deserves its own chapter, we will deal with it and talk about it in-depth in the review section in the coming days. For now I can only say one thing: I doubt that there will be any better hip hop album this year. Meanwhile, we’ll have to look for a name to be runner-up. “Black Sabbath,” Blacastan’s official debut, is a firm candidate for climbing to the highest positions on the list at the end of the year. This Boston MC makes his intentions clear in “Crate Diggaz”: “Nothing in my style is commercial or pop, and the day I cross over is the day that I stop.” It’s easy to catch: radical boom bap, orthodox poster child, lead beats, the MPC going a mile a minute, protectionist mottos, rocky choruses, and productions without melodic concessions. Also supporting the mix are Mr. Green, Statik Selektah, Blue Sky Black Death and the great discovery of the month, ColomBeyond, who eats up 80% of the route. Keep an eye on him.The conclusion with “Black Sabbath” is that every year there is a superlative album with the clear, deliberate mission of vindicating rough underground hip hop, with a 90s essence and retro aesthetic. In 2009 this honour went to Marco Polo & Torae, and in 2010 my man, for the moment, is Blacastan. Don’t miss “Wild Cowboys II”, by Sadat X; without reaching the greatest heights of brilliance, is still his best recording in a decade. “Fonk”, the new piece by Declaime, delves more deeply into this line of smoke-filled, psychedelic, sci-fi funk that is his calling card, this time without Madlib , who is busy with his interminable record launches. And then there’s “Underground Forever”, the latest session with DJ Spinna. I personally yawn and fall asleep when Spinna gets too carried away with those rare grooves, or when he goes through phases with a certain nu soul obsession… but when he really down with underground hip hop then it’s a whole other story. On this overwhelming official mixtape, mixed with intensity and clean technique, Spinna puts together forgotten, hidden, or undervalued pearls of the 90’s and makes them into a journey into the past that gives those of us who grew up and matured musically with the period’s New York underground rap soundtrack goose bumps. This is caviar.I would hate to end without some anti-recommendations, which also have their value—it’s also a good idea to save money in these times of crisis and budget cuts. My advice is that you stay away from “Leftback,” Little Brother’s swan song, his worst album, and an incomprehensible aesthetic twist towards electronic beats that don’t stick, from the producer Khrysis; from “Rise Up,” an overproduced and inconsequential return to hip hop for Cypress Hill; and from “Fornever,”which is the correct but nothing-special return the studio of the duo made up of Murs and 9th Wonder, who also raps now. That’s what I call throwing a career away.

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