White Suburban Kid Reviews Classic Hip-Hop Albums

As seen on Kevin Reviews Things, earlier this month…

Well, Mr. Brown, I must say, I wasn’t aware you’d be influencing me, but alas… here we are. After reading your closing remarks on our last “White Suburban Review”, I’ll admit I was convinced I’d have to do my next one on the good doctor. And in so doing, I’d have to expand the “series”, if you will, to include not just the albums but the rappers behind them.

You could argue, for hours if you were so inclined and jobless, over which of Dre’s albums, Chronic or 2001 was the better record. I’d personally vote for 2001 for a number of reasons (didn’t sound as blatantly “West Coast”, was more in my wheelhouse of youth, had more enormous singles on it), but I think that’s missing the point.

The bigger point… in fact, the one I’ve tried to make to anyone that would listen when Andre Young’s alias would come up… is that Dr. Dre could be one of the most overrated artists in the rap game.

Dr. Dre – 2001

We should have all seen this coming, honestly.  The signs were everywhere on this album.

Seen what coming, you ask? Well, that Dre would basically disappear after 2001 to head back to his roots as a producer (artistically, good call) and taunt us with an album that’s never coming out (Detox) and become a peddler for overpriced, not-as-good-as-Bose headphones (financially, good call).

The truth is that Dr. Dre is an artist with a garbage flow and rhymes he doesn’t write himself. What does that leave? It leaves a guy who redefined the sound of music a few times over, brought out guys like 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg and Eminem, and produced two of the most classic albums in the genre’s history.

All of that is well and good (great, even)… but almost none of it happened in this century. Despite the title, this album came out in 1999. Eminem (who actually discovered 50 Cent) had two albums out by the time we got to the millennium. Curtis Jackson released his breakthrough album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, almost literally 10 years ago.

Imagine if Kobe Bryant won a ring in his rookie year, then one more 7 or 8 years later and that was it. Say in those two seasons, he was the MVP and the back-up players on the team went on to become great players under his tutelage.  However, that’s all he did. How would we remember his nearly 20 year career, at this point?

Anyway, rant aside, the signs were all over this album. A song called “Forgot About Dre”? That’s basically him saying, “Listen, do yourselves a favor and forget about me, because I’m not going to be doing much of anything after this, and especially after 2006″*.  The arrogance doesn’t stop there. There’s the taunting “Next Episode”, when we all now know there never were plans for any further episodes. Or, how about the blatantly obvious “Fuck You”? Has there ever been a clearer disregard for your fans?

What was it like when they went in to record this album, I wonder? Was this masterpiece created purposefully to piss fans off when nothing else ever came out again? I’d imagine Dre delivered a message to his team upon the recording of this album, something probably similar to this:

Hey guys, listen… I know we’re all really happy about that last album.  No, not the one with the bomb blowing up on the cover. What’s that, Calvin? Very funny. Yes, the album wasn’t commercially or critically successful, so the cover was, in fact, appropriate. ANYWAY… I was referring to my first solo effort… You know, the one about my chronic back problems. For some reason, the themes we stressed… understanding the importance of proper posture, the value of stretching before athletic competition, et. al… seemed to resonate with the kids. And with that in mind, I think it’s time we get together and make another really fantastic album. I don’t want to tell anyone, but I’d like this to be my last substantive effort for a while. No, scratch that. Forever. I’ll lie and say I’ve got another project in the works, we can call it Detox, as in, getting off the pain medications for my back. But you guys and I will always know that won’t ever come out. Every few years, we can have one of you do an interview and say it’s almost ready, or that you wrote a few of the tracks. Heck, I wouldn’t even mind releasing a few fake tracks**, but that’s as far as it’ll go.

So, with that said, here’s what I want to do. I want to load this album up with other people to hide my inferior skills on the mic. I’ll create some of the best beats around, we’ll call it 2001 so that when people look back on it years later, wondering what happened to me or my career as a rapper, they’ll think the album came out two years later than it actually did.

Alright, let’s get to work. Lunch is being catered by Salad Works.

Before we depart, I’d like to bring two tracks specifically into the cross-hairs

12. Let’s Get High (featuring Hittman, Ms. Roq, and Kurupt) – I want to say, first off, I love this song. Besides all the obvious classics on this CD, I think this is the one that gets missed most often. It’s not hard to figure out why. With a chorus of “All these n*ggas and all these hoes in here/Somebody here gon’ fuck!”, the song jumps off to an incredibly raucous start. The doctor’s verse isn’t much cleaner:

Yeah — I just took some Ecstasy
Ain’t no tellin what the side effects could be
All these fine bitches equal sex to me
Plus I got this bad bitch layin next to me
No doubt, sit back on the couch
Pants down, rubber on, set to turn that ass out
Laid the bitch out, then I put it in her mouth
Pulled out, nutted on a towel and passed out

Finally, Ms. Roq hops on to close the track out in what has to be her raunchiest (or, only) recorded verse. I honestly don’t want to even repeat any of it, because it’s that bad. Don’t get me wrong, I love this song and am not offended by a second of it, but I just can’t get over how over-the-top dirty this track is. It’s hard to listen to without laughing.

18. Pause 4 Porno (featuring actual pornographic actor, Jake Steed) – This one… what is there to say? It’s literally an audio track of an orgy. You get to hear the moaning, the cumming, the screaming, the panting. It’s quite possibly the funniest, most awkward track on a CD in the history of recorded music. Best part about it? When you’d be listening to 2001 on shuffle in the car with some of your friends and that track would come on. Always a fun time.

So, in closing: Great album, classic tracks. My issue isn’t with Dr. Dre or what he’s done, it’s with how he’s remembered.

*Go ahead, take a look at his production history and credits. Outside of a few noteworthy (albeit slept on) tracks on Eminem’s Relapse in ’09, the most recent big single he’s been behind was “Outta Control” with 50 and Mobb Deep. That came out in 2006.

**That’s the only explanation I can come up with for the following: “Under Pressure” with Jay-Z, “Kush” with Akon and Snoop, and “I Need A Doctor” with Eminem and Skylar Grey. Straight garbage, son. And, worst off, they’re barely even his songs.

The Art Of Holding On To A Lie

I’m just a wooden boy, I can’t be expected to know the difference between sugar and cinnamon.

You ever tell a lie so bold, so obvious, so ridiculous… and then stuck with it because you refused to admit you were lying?

This isn’t the normal lie, the one where you tell it and don’t get questioned. This isn’t, “Where were you?” “Oh I was out with my friends” “OK, get washed up for dinner”.  This is way deeper.

Well, let’s back it up a bit.

It’s not like I’m caught up in some sort of drug game or at the center of a Ponzi scheme. I don’t have a bounty on my head, I don’t gamble (unless you count fantasy baseball or my future), and I am not dating a bunch of women.

No, the story I’m talking about (which, SPOILER ALERT, I’ve already copped to) happened about three years ago. And it had only to do with cinnamon. And pasta.

congratulations? – Honest Review 5

The team behind congratulations? wanted to know how people were receiving the new novel. And so what better way to do that but to find out what those people are saying. What follows is honest, unadulterated truth… The fifth and final of a series, this honest review speaks one last time to the sister and brother-in-law. Bickering be damned, they bought the book:

More To Me Than Just A Digit

Sorry guys, that number won’t quite work.

I don’t remember when we (read: men) started doing it, but it’s definitely been a while. Frankly, as long as I can remember being sexually attracted to women, I can also remember either verbally or mentally rating those same women.

I’m not saying it’s OK or that men are the only ones who do it. Hell, they even made a movie about it, so it has to be socially acceptable, right?*

The point is, it’s 2013. We need to get beyond this one-through-ten system.

First off, I’ve always believed that there should be two scales, one for celebrities and one for the rest of us. Let’s be honest, the hottest girl (or guy) you’ve met isn’t shit compared to Denzel Washington or Scarlett Johansson. Those are 9, 10’s. Your version of that wouldn’t rate on the celebrity scale.  People like Jay Mohr and Hillary Swank on the other hand…

The second, more important variance, came to me about a year or so ago.  A cousin of mine brought up the Area Code Rating System. Every time he and I joke about it, I thank him for coming up with it and he insists (somehow, unaware I know he didn’t invent it) he was just passing it on from someone else.

For those of you unaware, this has apparently been around for a while. You assign a three digit rating to each girl… just like (wait for it!) an area code. Ludacris is rolling over in his proverbial grave**. Digit one is 0-9 for the face, digit two is binary for whether you would (1) or wouldn’t (0) have sex with her/him, and digit three is 0-9 for the body.

Roll that around for a minute, because it’s really a pretty good system.

The only issue I could find with it is that I can’t have a girl from my home area code. I’d imagine that getting your home area code, if even only to say you saw her, is a crowning achievement. However, I’m sad to report that I’m from a 9-0-8, which has to be an impossibility. You’re not going to run into some incredibly hot chick that you refuse to have sex with. Just won’t happen.

The only way*** I could figure that to work would be if Kate Upton had some sort of sexually transmitted disease. And even then, I’d imagine someone will give it a shot: “If it’s good enough for Justin Verlander…”

Before anyone reading this considers it over-the-top sexist, let me just say issue this last PSA: women may not rate men as crudely as I’ve described men doing the reverse, but they do it just the same.

OK, have fun.

*A few words about that movie, if I may… While I really did enjoy it and found it to be a truly original (cast-wise) and funny movie, I left the theater very annoyed. Why, you ask? Because I couldn’t stand that this fucking guy ended up with this woman. I get it, it’s a movie, but this is just too much. She’s not just out of his league, she out of his sport. The tagline is, “How can a 10 go for a 5?”  Really? How about, “Why would a 15 go for 5? How rich does this 5 need to be? Is the 15 mentally handicapped?”  Here’s the cherry on top… It’s not like Alice Eve’s character is a moron. No. Besides her incredible looks, she’s also independently wealthy, smart, and… You get the point. [Editor’s note: After reading this over I realized, it paints me as a whiny bitch. However, seeing as how that’s what I am, I decided to leave it in.]

**You could argue, based on his career at this point, it’s not exactly proverbial.

***You know who else could fit under that umbrella? Disney characters.

congratulations? – Honest Review 4

The team behind congratulations? wanted to know how people were receiving the new novel. And so what better way to do that but to find out what those people are saying. What follows is honest, unadulterated truth… The fourth in a series, this honest review speaks again to the sister and brother-in-law. One of whom wasn’t even sure which book he was being interviewed about:

Five Thoughts Longer Than 140 Characters

The following are scattered thoughts too long for twitter and too long for their own post.  They are presented in no particular order of importance or design.

1. I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that I’m a pretty big fan of people named Earl.  In two straight “Five Thoughts” entries, I’ve detailed my love of Earl Simmons (to you and yours as DMX) so I think we’re pretty clear where I stand there. Recently, another Earl from my younger days came back to the forefront. This one is a Clark and (at least as of now) plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Earl Clark, rangy power forward with athleticism and enough shooting range to make you respect it, played his college ball at Louisville (back when I gave a shit about college ball), was drafted by Phoenix, spent a few years on Orlando, and prior to the top three big men on LA getting hurt*, he was basically watching his career get flushed down the toilet. I didn’t get it then, still don’t now. At least he’s getting a shot and doing something with it. Good on ya, Earl.

2. For the first time in a long time recently I listened to music on the radio. Power 105.1 in New York City, to be specific. To be more specific, the Midnight Mix, with DJ Self. I had been told by a friend that they play some great old school** rap/hip-hop at that time, so I tuned in on a drive home. In short, I was blown away. When I first heard R. Kelly and Cassidy’s “Hotel”, I was amped but skeptical. There still were the ridiculous earmarks of what we all hate about DJs on hip-hop stations (the incessant shouting over tracks, the insatiable need to continuously restart songs, the awful habit of simply playing 30 seconds of a song before moving on, those horn sound effects). In no order though, the hits kept coming. Some Mobb Deep, some In Essence, some Biggie. By the drive’s end, I was literally sitting in my garage under my apartment in my parked car because I didn’t want to leave. However, the moment of the mix came after he shouted, “I GOT SOMETHING FOR ALL Y’ALL 90’s BABIES!!! HOLLER AT ME IF YOU WERE COMIN’ UP IN THE 90’s!!! YOU AIN’T HEARD THIS IN A MINUTE!!!”  This was what came next and I went ballistic. From the street it looked like a rave was going on in my car, what with me shouting every word of the song and dancing around like a lunatic. I was in my glory. Well done music radio, well done.

3. When you have a kid, you should have to go to the Town Hall wherever you live and clear the name you plan on giving your child. That sounds like a joke, and I suppose it is on some level, but mainly I’m serious. No more of this bullshit. OK, so that one definitely is a joke. But, a week or so after I had seen that sketch, I see these two names on the ESPN ticker (1 and 2). When is enough enough? Just because Jay-Z and Beyonce have more money and fame than is humanly conceivable, it doesn’t make it OK for them to name a child Blue Ivy. If my plan was in place, they’d have gone to Mayor Bloomberg, suggested Blue Ivy, he’d have laughed, they’d have laughed that laugh you do when something you were serious about isn’t taken as such so you play it off as if you were kidding the whole time, and then they’d name it anything else. That’s what I want.

4. What am I missing about marathons? When did this become the go-to bucket list item for people? Why? Not to be that guy (but what follows will certainly paint me as such), but are these folks aware of how actually bad those things are for your knees? Why not save yourself (and your friends… more in a second) the time and just have the cartilage removed from your knee? And the whole while, you’ll save your friends the trouble of having to congratulate you on running… and not stopping. And of having to watch you run. Watching a marathon live could be one of the most boring things I can think of. Hockey even tops it. It’s not that completing a marathon isn’t a great accomplishment, but I’d much rather watch you run 26.2 on a treadmill. At least there I’d get to see more than a flash of you in a crowd for 30 seconds. Lastly, a little history lesson.  The term marathon comes from Ancient Greece, when a messenger ran from the town of Marathon to Athens to let them know who won. He got there alright. Then he dropped dead. Good luck, folks.

“When you come at the king, you best not miss.”

5. This just happened to me, with The Wire. I finished it this Saturday, but I ran into the same problem that Gaffigan talked about there. The show ended almost five years ago at this point, so while there’s no short supply of people to chat about with it now that I’ve finished, I can’t have that “Holy shit, can you believe Omar just got got!” convo with anyone. And yes, I talk like that about The Wire. You try watching five seasons (it’s about 65 hours of television) about inner city Baltimore and tell me you don’t come out picking up some of that shit (On the flip side, the Snoop character—a real person in literally almost every way—had/has the most grating voice of all-time). Either way, obviously loved the show. I think, in a way, my love of it was hurt by how much it had been hyped up by my friends (and anyone I’d ask). I’d detail my issues with it, but as it’s no longer 2008, I think we can move on.

*Jordan Hill, by the way, is one of those big men. How on this Earth he qualifies for way more playing time than Earl is beyond my comprehension. Prior to the injury: Hill – 16 minutes a night in 29 games     Clark – 37 minutes total on the season.

**That time period, for me, is between 1992 and 2004. Give or take a year or two.

White Suburban Kid Reviews Classic Hip-Hop Albums

As seen originally on Kevin Review’s Things last week…

I got the idea for this post (nay, series of posts) while jerking around on Spotify one afternoon. I have a playlist called “Mo Money Mo Problems” because that’s the name of the first song I put in there, way back when (mid-May ’12). The idea was for the playlist to contain all my favorite “old-school” rap and hip-hop tracks I grew up with. As this list expanded, I realized two things: that music was way (way) better back then and that I listen to an inordinate amount of hip-hop and rap for a white kid that grew up (post-4th grade) in as suburban an area (read: white) as is possible.

There’s always been this feeling, at least I’ve felt, that while it’s not outright a problem that I like rap, it’s not exactly for me. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I suppose it’s fine. I will say, I’ve always argued against this idea that the lyrical content of rap songs isn’t relatable for someone like myself and it’s really just about listening to what you enjoy. That said, I’m the same guy that will turn down “Shook Ones” from deafening to barely-audible-in-backseat if I’m driving through a city somewhere.

So, with this all in mind, I decided to review some classic albums. I won’t bore you with comments like, “Jigga’s hard flow melts over the pounding synths and rhythmic timing of the bridge.”  Not only do we not know what that means, but you get nothing from it.

Jay-Z – Reasonable Doubt

I’ll say this, I reasonably doubt anyone could prove to me that this isn’t Shawn Carter’s best album. Ever. Limited in features, Reasonable Doubt runs just under an hour with 14 tracks. Of those, 13 are beyond listenable and 10 are classic. Let’s take a look at the tracklist.

  1. Can’t Knock the Hustle (featuring Mary J. Blige) – You want to talk about ingenuity, the opening shot from the album is the place to begin. Going in a direction no one could see coming, Jay-Z opens his debut album with a sampled conversation from Scarface. Rappers, prior to Reasonable Doubt, had been sampling Pretty Woman, Philadelphia, and Back to the Future almost exclusively. No rapper, then or since, has ever had the foresight to align him(or her)self with gangsters of any kind.  Kudos, Shawn.
  2. Politics as Usual – Here we have Jay-Z flexing his political muscle, expressing joy over the impending campaign season (and ultimate victory) for incumbent President Bill Clinton. Jay-Z predicts Clinton won’t have much trouble gaining re-election, because hey, it’s “politics as usual”.
  3. Brooklyn’s Finest (featuring Notorious B.I.G.) – Truly a pairing of the two greats to ever come out of Brooklyn, Christopher Wallace and Shawn Carter. You know, if I told you I had two friends with those names, would you ever guess the two of them were the best rappers of all-time (or in the conversation?) What happened to names like Kanye West and Led Zeppelin?
  4. Dead Presidents II – There’s been great debate about this track. Is Jay-Z openly and arrogantly talking about assassinating our highest ranking political figure? Would he be so brazen as to openly talk that way about such a serious crime? If he’s not talking about assassination, what on Earth is he talking about? Which came first, the movie of the same name or the song? If this is Dead Presidents II, has he already killed a president and we just missed out on it? Did Jay-Z kill JFK? Does he own a DeLorean? Trust me folks, I’ve heard it all when it comes to this one. I’m here to set the record straight: the song is about money (Get it? You see, on the face of every piece of US currency is the face of a dead… president… Clear?)
  5. Feelin’ It (featuring Mecca) – In yet another bold, unprecedented move, Jay-Z dedicates an entire track to bragging about his financial status. Cars, women, sex symbol status, rap prowess… nothing is off limits in this bragadocious track. Also, I believe there are several lightly veiled references to marijuana, or Mary Jane.
  6. D’evils – Honestly, this song is some deep shit. Check it out.
  7. 22 Two’s – In yet another interesting spin on things, Jay-Z devotes a track to honor his favorite number (2) and the top 22 athletes in rhyming order who have (or will) wear them. Kyrie Irving, Alex English, Eddy Curry, Derek Jeter, etc. At one point he even rhymes Thabo Sefolosha and DeShawn Stevenson. Remarkable, but true.
  8. Can I Live – This song can honestly be described as a cry for help. Literally. Legend has it the song was recorded and laid down all while Jay-Z and producer Irv Gotti were being robbed at gun point.
  9. Ain’t No (Racial Epithet) (featuring Foxy Brown and Big Jaz) – Jay-Z and Foxy Brown trade verses on a track dedicated solely to alerting society to a real problem: The lack of African-American men in the National Hockey League.
  10. Friend or Foe and
  11. Coming of Age (featuring Memphis Bleek)  I wanted to group these tracks together because as a kid listening to this album I remember loving these tracks. Looking back, the meanings of these songs really went hand in hand with what I was going through at the time. I was arguing with a kid in my social studies class, Daniel Friedman, about whether or not he should get to lead the line for recess after lunch. My argument was that he got to all last marking period and that I was taller, he argued that he was smarter and that his last (and first) name came before mine in the dictionary. After several weeks of vicious dispute (we didn’t pick the other in gym dodgeball once the entire time), we ultimately grew up and agreed to go every other day. We came of age, not too long after his status as my friend was in doubt.
  12. Cashmere Thoughts – Jay-Z talks right off the top about how he “talks jewels and spits diamonds”, which I have to hope (for both his and his intestine’s sake) is hyperbole. Outside of that, I know my mom would love this song as he waxes poetic about that softest and smoothest of fabrics–cashmere. It should be noted here, the song was supposed to be called “Expounding on the Value of Linen” but the song’s producer Clark Kent nixed that immediately.
  13. Bring It On (featuring Sauce Money and Big Jaz) – This was the one song I didn’t like. Sorry, nothing cute here.
  14. Regrets – Here we find Jay-Z at his most introspective, thinking back on living with regrets. Among the musings:  “Why did I think having Taco Bell for lunch before playing basketball would be a good idea?”, “Should I have named the album The Subpoena… or I Hold Myself in Contempt?”, “What am I going to say to  people when they find out my first name isn’t Jay and my last name doesn’t start with a Z?”, “Have I ever met anyone with a last name starting with a Z?”

There you have it. An incredible album, from top to bottom, reviewed honestly. I remember my older brother buying the tape and sneaking away during Hebrew School to listen to it as often as I could (which was pretty often, considering I only went to Hebrew School once a week for 3 hours, but that’s neither here nor there).  Jay-Z has had some pretty fantastic LPs since his debut, but as the saying goes, sometimes they save the best for first.

Or something like that. That can’t be right. I think it’s something about impressions? You get the point.