What a stallion. This review will be in the Winter 2009 issue of Emmie.
ROYCE DA 5’9 Street Hop [One Records] 7,112
Pathos in hip-hop: it doesn’t happen often. But while listening to Royce da 5’9’s Street Hop, I shed many (figurative) tears of sorrow for the Detroit MC’s uncertain future. For over three years, rumors spread of a fourth studio release from Royce, despite a year-long prison sentence for parole violation and uncertainty regarding longtime collaborator DJ Premier’s involvement in the album’s production. The first pangs of dismay came when it was confirmed that Premier would only executively produce Street Hop, limiting his involvement to beat selection as opposed to composition. Nonetheless, Royce was poised to impress with his lyrical virtuosity, having done so over the summer in a collaborative release with Joe Budden, Joell Ortiz, and Crooked I entitled Slaughterhouse. Upon release, it’s clear that Street Hop is paralyzed by a lack of artistic unity, preventing the album from becoming anything beyond an underground hit reminiscent of a mixtape.
Notwithstanding, many of the songs on Street Hop are gems. “Count For Nothing” is a bloodthirsty monster of a track where Royce invites the listener to “name whoever you want/ Wayne…’Ye…Jay” because he’s “just playin’ wit 'em.” His razor-edged flow is a finely tuned mix of internal rhyme, punchline, and meter that devastates the horn sample-based beat used by producer Nottz to build a frenzied pace. Royce delivers a heavy lyrical blow when he claims that “it ain’t an arm when it’s tucked in my box/ this is Lindsay Lohan, niggas call me firecrotch.” The subsequent series of internal rhymes are unrelenting in their ferocity: “I’m seein' clear like a MyBot/ I drop my coupe, black shoes, black Noob Saibot/ I spit fire like Izod, why not.” This peppering of similes, all tied in rhyme, are a fury of lyrical stabs that leave the listener stunned. Even though it falters collectively, expect this type of splendid delivery throughout many parts of Street Hop. Royce da 5’9 can doubtlessly murder any number of tracks; now he must focus on linking these to create a polished product.
So my LIS 201 professor asked us to go a week without using social networking websites (Twitter/Facebook/YouTube being the trifecta). I genuinely considered doing this for a good ten minutes before I tweeted about how I wasn't going to do it. I'll try to consider this objectively: If I stopped using these social networking tools, I'd most likely be upset for a few days that I couldn't use them as an escape from everyday reality. After all, that's why I enjoy Twitter and Facebook so much. It gives an individual the freedom to explore new data about the world around them, but at a heightened pace and with less control. The lack of control on the Internet is thrilling; there are days when I learn about something I had no idea existed the day before. The real world can't do that for me; more often than not I have to seek out new information if I want it. Why would I deny myself that pleasure? I am a firm believer in the fact that the Internet can only improve me as a person, because I know to wield it responsibly. Not sure everyone can say that, though.
And now, for your viewing pleasure. You'll recognize the sample used in "Poker Face" by Lady GaGa.
Here is a review I wrote of the new Raekwon album for Emmie. It will be in the Fall issue.
RAEKWON Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II [Ice H2O Records] 7,987
As hip-hop manages to survive in spite of a stagnant record industry, “true fans” often complain about derivative musical content rife with hyperbole. It seems to be a growing trend where a questionable number of major-label rappers also just happen to be the heads of their own personal drug cartels. On Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon continues the crack-rap tradition without fail, but does so with precise execution. Each song’s careful construction and contribution to the cohesion of the album prove that while Rae hasn’t changed much in terms of style since the first Cuban Linx, the Brooklyn MC has noticeably honed his craft in the last fourteen years.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II is rich in detail. Production credits vary from the late great J Dilla to Wu-Tang beat exemplar RZA, and even includes a contribution from gangster maestro Dr. Dre. This assortment creates a sonic patchwork that is hemmed by Raekwon’s fluid and effortless flow. The 24-track strong album fields a veritable army of lyricists that predictably includes the greater part of the Wu-Gambinos (the mafioso aliases of the Wu-Tang Clan) and is further bolstered by heavy-hitters such as Busta Rhymes, Jadakiss, and Styles P.
The assortment of beats and rhymes on Cuban Linx II seems occasionally crowded, but for the most part Rae steadfastly saunters through the album, forging a solid base off which other MCs create a lyrical counterpoint. On the fervent “House of Flying Daggers,” he coolly boasts “my resume is straight-up live, I shank niggas for larger E’s/ and speak with the youth in the spot, eat the fresh fruit in the crop”. Raekwon’s delivery is forceful, but not ferocious. It lends credence to his Wu-Gambino namesake of “The Chef,” which Ghostface Killah references during his verse on the same track: “Rae job is to make sure the coke is fluffy/ While I politic his birthday bash with Puffy.” All of the MCs on Cuban Linx II understand that they are only part of a greater whole, Raekwon included. It appears that teamwork is the secret ingredient in the recipe for a classic hip-hop album.
Today I watched Miller's Crossing, a 1990 crime film directed by the Coen brothers. It's dense. There are many supporting characters with complex tangential links that the viewer is expected to infer with little explanation. To add to this, the plot is intricate and rarely presents all details to the viewer clearly. All of this complexity demands careful attention while watching, but it's quite rewarding.
As with most Coen brothers films, the dialogue is spot-on; it's accurate given the historical period but also polished. The cinematography could distract some, as it is different from what is characteristically considered film noir, but overall it helps to establish rhythm throughout the entire work. The noir elements that are present in Miller's Crossing include the cynical dialogue and most of the character archetypes that are typical of this style: a prize fighter, organized crime bosses and enforcers, corrupt politicians and police officers, etc. What separates it from most other films in this style, however, is the depth of the characters. Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) is dark and brooding in a way that makes one anxious to know what he is thinking at all times. John Turturo and Jon Polito's characters act as foils to Byrne's reserved, wily resolve, which results in great chemistry onscreen.
One thing that really stood out to me was how often Reagan got beat up. This guy gets the shit kicked out of him at least once every 15-20 minutes throughout this entire movie, by almost everyone else in the cast. Except for that and a few other scenes, the film's action is sparse but in a way that suits the tempo of the film. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to watch a crime film and is not afraid to be mentally engaged.
This trailer is pretty bad, but try and look past that.