Posted tagged ‘catchphrase’

Sage Francis “Li(f)e” – Album Review

May 24, 2010

"Life is just a 'Lie' with an 'F' in it."

Rapper Sage Francis has been something of a one-man Noah’s Arc in the flooded indie hip-hop landscape. First appearing a decade ago during what many consider underground hip-hop’s peak, he’s weathered the storm by not only surviving, but staying afloat with a career that, as Public Enemy’s Chuck D put it, created his own niche. At a time when many of his contemporaries are inactive and their labels have all but folded, Sage remains as unfliching as ever with the release of his new album, Li(f)e. The first Hip-Hop artist signed to Punk label Epitaph, Sage has been no stranger to bending, or should I say blending, genres. From his 2004 collaboration with Bad Religion to his work with Mark Isham for the Pride and Glory soundtrack, he’s exercised a discretion that has lead to a much higher level of quality control than most rap-based musical experiments. Entirely produced by Brian Deck (Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica , Iron and Wine’s Our Endless Numbered Days) Li(f)e shows Sage’s rap roots remaining strong even when the breeze more closely resembles “Liu Kang Wins” than his “video games” freestyle.

The easy comparison here is to lump Li(f)e in with the ever-growing number of recent indie Hip-Hop releases that have attempted to dabble in indie rock. The main difference here is that Sage isn’t trying to recreate his favorite non-rap songs by sampling them and then attempting to sing. Instead, he’s enlisted the genre’s professionals, not for instant “cred,” but to genuinely add to his ever-evolving soundscape. Among those joining the party are Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie, Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, and the late Mark Linkous. Deck’s production gives the album a cohesiveness that allows these guests to play to Sage’s strengths. For someone who has never had another rapper appear on any of his official albums, the extensive guestlist seems somewhat daunting. However, their participation helps elevate the record above other rap records that have tried to emulate the indie-rock sound. Li(f)e is not a record that tries. It is a record that does.

That being said, it is far and away the single most esoteric music that Sage has ever released. Prior to Li(f)e, Sage’s most recent output was his 2009 Sick of Wasting mixtape that was strikingly his most straightforward rap release since 2003’s Hope. While Wasting did reaffirm that Sage’s Hip-Hop credentials were up to date, Li(f)e features Sage using many of these same skills in a dramatically different soundscape that, after repeat listens, display how talented he truly is. With organized religion and its direct and inadvertent effects on everyone’s everyday lives as the album’s central theme, Sage takes a much more subtle approach than many of his cantankerous conspiratorial contemporaries, choosing instead to make his points through some of the sharpest storytelling of his career. Beginning with “Little Houdini,” based on the true story of Christopher Daniel Gay who escaped prison twice to visit dying family members, the song seems like Li(f)e’s opening Bond scene, an action packed narrative that acts as an overture for what lies ahead. “The Baby Stays,” which tells the story of an unplanned conception, with each verse from the perspective of the father, mother, and unborn baby, is another highlight showing that the album’s boundary pushing isn’t merely restricted to the soundscape. Folks, what we have here is in every way the exact opposite of a DC Talk record.

But the album’s brightest moment comes from “The Best of Times,” a collaboration with Amélie composer Yann Tiersen. While Sage has previously tackled career-retrospective rap on “Underground for Dummies” and most of his 2007 album Human the Death Dance, “Best of Times” instead fills us in on everything non-rap related that made Sage who he is. As honest and vulnerable as anything he’s ever written, it’s a tremendous crescendo that’s still as hard to get into as a scotch-taped grade school love note. It, like the album, is challenging but exudes such a high level of professionalism that you’re either on board with it or have to step back saying “yeah, this is not for me.” Moments like that for me were the screaming children on the chorus of “London Bridge” and the background wailing on “Diamonds and Pearls.” I can appreciate why they’re there, but they just weren’t enjoyable within my listening experience.

Sage Francis presents his After-Sunday School special.

With many Francis loyalists considering his 2001 debut Personal Journals to be his best work, they will be pleased with how many of its favored elements are taken to an elaborate extreme here. If Journals was the micro-budgeted cult classic horror film, Li(f)e is its million dollar Hollywood remake that stays true to the original’s spirit while updating it to be relevant and fittingly flashy for today’s audiences. It’s not for everybody, but Sage’s performance and Deck’s production make it an album for a very definitive somebody. Yes, Li(f)e is polarizing, but over time those who warm up to it will have something that resonates with them that only comes once in a li(f)etime.

We give Li(f)e a Four Out of Five

So until next time…let’s agree to agree!

“Macho Man” Randy Savage’s Rap Career – The Definitive Guide

May 17, 2010

Randy Savage's Rap Album. Yes, this is a thing.

In retrospect, 2003 was a pretty important year for Hip-Hop. Over one 12-month span we had the debuts of 50 Cent and Kanye West, the utter domination of Roc-a-Fella as Jay-Z’s biggest retirement pushed him into a new level of superstardom, indie labels like Rhymesayers and Definitive Jux finally landing releases in the Billboard 200 and Outkast releasing the certified diamond Speakerboxxx/The Love Below the only rap album ever to win a Grammy*. A midst this hoopla, however, one commercial wound up cutting through the Hip-Hop soundscape like a hot chainsaw through Slim Jims:

Yes, a year after necrophilia sufficiently ended the wrestling “boom,” former grappling great “Macho Man” Randy Savage was set to release Be A Man, a rap album. The man had most recently been seen as “Bonesaw McGraw” in Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, so his mainstream presence seemed just enough to make maybe a book a novelty rap album seem like a worthwhile investment. With Big 3 Records (Carnie Wilson, Stryper) at the helm, Earth was set to become the first planet in the galaxy to host a Randy Savage rap album. However, Randy’s rap debut was in actuality a decade earlier…

Speaking From the Heart (1993):

Produced by “American Idol’s” Simon Cowell (not a joke) “Speaking From the Heart” was the first single off of Wrestlemania: The Album, a roster-wide musical endeavor that also boasted a Bret Hart ballad and an Undertaker disco endeavor. Here, not unlike the recording of the final Doors album, Savage seemingly has his rambling about planets or whatever edited and matched to an original composition giving the single some semblance of a song. It’s completely non-sensical, although if you listen closely to Savage’s promises to “be with you when it happens” and “climb that mountain together” it’s clear the song is him comforting his loved one at an abortion clinic. There’s also an accompanying music video that omits half of Savage’s second verse as Vince McMahon was probably wary of the ‘MATCH-O’ Man infringing copyrights left and right.

Randy Savage Gets 50 Cent’s Co-Sign:

A decade later this happened. The media blitz began and soon every media outlet across all age brackets was alive with the sound of Savage. From Nickelodeon to BET and everywhere in between Be A Man was about to snap into your psyche. I remember sneaking over to rap websites my senior year of high school with the sound off during Journalism class, only to have the Macho Man pop-up TURN THE SOUND BACK ON and echo throughout the computer lab a reminder that “Ooooooooh yeah, head over to MachoMan.com and check out my new CD!” Truly this was an event that everyone, including Dr. Kay, had to know about. Finally on October 7th, 2003 the fateful day arrived and since this was the week I was taking part in the National Youth Leadership Council, I had to do my part as one of the America’s top young minds and invest in its glory.

Be a Man (2003):

The title track and first single, “Be A Man” was Randy Savage putting one-time wrestling and all-time real life rival Hulk Hogan on blast in a dis record that would be scathing had its existence not been so absurd. While his actual reasons for wanting to “kick him in the butt and wash his mouth out with soap” are vague, claiming he cussed out the Senior Savage over the phone or refused to actually fight him for charity, Savage let his seething anger become the focal point of the album’s entire promotional campaign. A friend of mine went to Savage’s album signing at Minnesota’s Mall of America around this time and casually mentioned he liked the episode of “Baywatch” Savage was in. Randy half-mumbled replied “Yeah…too bad Hogan was in it.”

Hit the Floor (2003):

Unlike most rap albums of the posse-heavy post-No Limit era, the Be A Man’s sole guest appearance came from DJ Kool of “Let Me Clear My Throat” fame. The Lil Jon of his time, Kool was known for yelling all over other people’s records and therefore making them better. Here he and Macho go totally insane and, honestly, get the party started. Perhaps what’s most surprising about Be A Man is how adequate-to-passable Savage’s rapping is. Songs like “I’m Back” and “Remember Me” (where he reveals and breaks down the “MACHO MAN” acronym) are self-aware, well produced and about as good as something like this could be. He’s rapping about all the wrestling he’s done, how much he loves rapping and how he’s a ‘butt kicking’ wrestling rapper. When he deviates from this path is where things begin to get awkward. Case in point this LL Cool J-esqe next number.

What’s It All About (2003):

By now I’m certain my female readership is (understandably) wondering what a romantic relationship with Randy Savage would be like. Well if “What’s It All About” is any indication “the feeling’s deep, come home, make love and fall fast asleep.” My personal favorite cut, I challenge all of you who’ve never heard it to roundup everyone in the workplace and play this song see how long you can last without exploding in laughter. If you make it past the female appearance at 2:02, you’re a more Macho Man than I.

Perfect Friend (2003):

Closing the album is Savage’s tribute to my biological father his close friend Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig. Co-written by his brother Lanny ‘the Genius’ Poffo, “Perfect Friend” seems genuine, heartfelt and poignant. At least it does in comparison to Hulk Hogan’s obscenely self-indulgent “Hulkster in Heaven,” a song about a Make-a-Wish Foundation child whose name Hogan neglects in favor of mentioning his own several more times. Also, unlike any of Hogan’s music, “Perfect Friend” wound up having an impact on the pop charts when an interpolation of it reappeared three years later as a Justin Timberlake song.

Randy Savage Garden

Despite being critically acclaimed, Be A Man wound up moving only 3,000 units and went quietly out-of-print within a year of its release. Savage has yet to return to rapping, but with Lil Wayne’s recent obsession with the man it’s clear he can’t leave rap alone, the game needs him**.

We Give Be A Man a SLIM JIM! ART THOU BORED? SNAP INTO IT!

So until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!

*LAURYN HILL DOESN’T COUNT!

**BONUS BEAT – A remix of Kanye West’s “Champion” completely comprised of Randy Savage quotes.

When Did Commercials Get Super Weird?

May 12, 2010

Can it be it was all so simple then?

Has anyone else noticed that the average commercial is super friggin’ weird these days? As a product of the 80s, I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side believing that the entire point of a promotional tool was to get the consumer to purchase a product. These days, as the mega-conglomerates would have you believe, not so much. They just want your attention and want you to think it doesn’t matter whether you buy it or not because they’re just that cool. Did it begin with the Quizno’s hideous Sponge-Monkies or Pepsi’s strategy to trap children in their bottles? Regardless, we’ve become a generation who wants whatever weirdness on top of weirdness you can throw at us in order to fork over the hard-earned cash we don’t have for your awful product that we don’t need. Quite frankly, this is why we are all dead on the inside the greatest country in the world. Here’s some example of how far into the abyss we’ve descended.

Pledge “Glass Box”

Beginning our journey is a reminder that modern commercials exist with the rational of the irrational and completely illogistical logistics. Without delving too far into NYUnicorn cultural studies post-modernist “othering” rhetoric, you’ll most often find cleaning products ads targeted toward women. Therefore, what better way to remind them of what they were put on this Earth to do than make the act of cleaning the most demeaning task possible? In a commercial that had to be directed by Sardu, a woman is “trapped” in a glass box and forced to clean it without so much as a protest or a plea. While this isn’t as bad as the one where a woman is screaming to be let out of the box at the end of it (not a joke), which has conveniently vanished from YouTube, the disembodied male voice gives the entire spot a bizarre misogynistic repressive sadomasochist vibe all from cleaning allergens. Did they really need to say the woman was “trapped?” At the risk of sounding oversensitive, when a woman is trapped in a glass house I have to throw stones and ask “Who is this supposed to appeal to?”

The Chicas Project “Sharing”

Whereas the last commercial brought up the possibility of the commercial not having a clear target audience, this one for Mun2’s The Chicas Project appears to be deliberately pursuing the wrong one. I first caught this in the summer of 2008 while channeling surfing and the image of siamese twins caught my attention. Two girls who enjoyed partying enough with each other to SURGICALLY SHARE THE SAME BODY?! This is the stuff that great 70s exploitation films are made of. AND THEY CHOKE EACH OTHER OUT IN FRONT OF THE PIZZA MAN? Sign me up, ring the alarm and sell me a t-shirt – I have a new favorite show. Even the name The Chicas Project gave the whole thing a jovial but morbid edge. Imagine my disappointment when the promo turned out to be just an attention-grabbing one-off for another reality show about two girls trying different crazy things! Im sure for what it is, this show on the youth-orientated Telemundo sister-station is fine, but it’s saddening such a bizarre premise seemingly raised on so much organic free-range awesome has gone to a 30 second waste.

Old Spice “P-P-P-P-P-POWER!”

Just when people thought time-tested deodorant Old Spice couldn’t go any further off the creative deep end than their I’m On A Horse Super Bowl ad comes this series, directed by the ambassadors of absurd Tim Heidecker and Eric Weirheim. Starring one of my Honest-to-Gosh favorite actor’s, Terry Crews AKA President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, Tim and Eric at least want to convey to you that Old Spice’s body wash is a quality product. What’s crazy is, unlike their Absolut ads, this isn’t a viral campaign. This is a nationally prime time syndicated commercial seen by every single demographic. While I love these ads, as does my Father who coincidentally was born a generation before me, I have to wonder if these are really going to catch on with everybody the way a Wasssssup or Can You Hear Me Now did and if so, where do we go from here?

I'm so gaffing the pilot episode for this series.

If anything, my greatest hope is that such outside the box factory thinking can expand beyond commercials into more standard programming. Sometimes cult followings crossover, and when that happens we’ve historically been all the better not only for better art, but the seeds planted for future generations that continue to defy convictions while managing to not suck. Abbbbbbdominals.

So until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!

Kick Ass – Movie Review

April 19, 2010

Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire

Kick Ass is the story of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson, Shanghai Nights), an awkward high school senior who, out of sheer teenage impulse, becomes a masked vigilante “superhero” named ‘Kick Ass’ that winds up in the middle of an actual hero’s conflict with New York’s biggest drug cartel. A shot at post-modernist hero lore, the film attempts to posture itself outside of traditional comic book movies by basing the character in a more “realistic” portrayal of New York City. The film’s R-Rating allows it to ground this reality in keeping the action sequences gun-centric and the dialogue four-letter friendly. Bad guys die, good guys get hurt, both sides cuss and the citizens watch it all unfold on YouTube. Yet, for a film so specific on what its aims are, the results are vague, plodding and genuinely unentertaining.

The film’s become something of an internet meme after film critic and Twitter enthusiast Roger Ebert panned it on the inherit morality (or lack thereof) of Kick Ass’ fellow superhero ‘Hit Girl’ (Chloe Moretz, Big Momma’s House 2), an eleven-year-old who exercises her itchy trigger-finger and rapidfire foulmouth just about every time she is onscreen. Raised and trained by her father ‘Big Daddy’ (Nicolas Cage, Face/Off) a framed policeman looking to bring down the corrupt system that sent him to prison and caused his wife’s suicide, at no point is the concept of vigilante justice or its consequences discussed between the two of them. While its absence isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there’s still a void that doesn’t explain where they go from wanting retribution to foregoing proper justice to “kill everyone now.” Both performances are great, particularly Cage who seems to be the only one aware of the sheer ludicrousness of the film he’s in and, to coin a phrase, “Cages Out” – maximizing all of his over-the-top acting abilities and holding the audience’s hand as we walk through an otherwise barren cinematic wasteland together.

As someone who grew up on Mortal Kombat and Rap Music, there’s just about nothing I love more than profanity and violence. When either is taken to the extreme in a jovial expression of one-upsmanship, the inherent hilarity is a feast for the senses and a triumph of human achievement. That being said, explicit language and violence is only as strong as the conviction behind it. Even if that conviction is just to be the most violent, profane thing ever, that’s still a valid reason to go to a particular extreme. Kick Ass director Matthew Vaughn gives us a preteen girl who jumps, jives and wails a relatively-plausible arsenal and drops s-,f-, and c-bombs without batting a glittery eyelash. I find it painfully disinteresting and not because I’m offended, but rather because I’m underwhelmed. As a New York High School teacher, I’ve seen kids who were more violent and vulgar than anything on-screen in Kick Ass and honestly significantly more entertaining. The problem with Hit Girl is that Vaughn thinks having a cutesy eleven-year-old girl who swears and kills is enough to make a character work and it honestly isn’t*. A good starting point, yes, but for two hours he does nothing with her. Compare that to the three on-screen minutes of Kill Bill‘s “Gogo” and you get everything you would hope for from Hit Girl in a fortieth of the time.

A midst the misfires, the film does reach a few goals exceedingly well. Dave’s pulsating teenage hormones guide the him through the teenage lust for classmate Katie (Lyndsy Fonseca) and the awkward tension before finally sliding into second base is among the best handled I’ve seen on-screen. Fonseca really nails the subtle aspects of walking the line between “I’m concerned for my boyfriend’s health” and “I’m awesomely hooking-up with the local celebrity” Also shining is Superbad‘s Christopher Mintz-Plasse who shows the darker elements of the rich loner awkward kid, a much-different side of the same roles he and his ilk have been coasting in since their debuts. But such a talented cast firing on all cylinders just makes the flaccid final film all the more frustrating.

"Let's say you're a big fan of the original comic book, and you think the movie does it justice. You know what? You inhabit a world I am so very not interested in." - Roger Ebert

Vaughn’s biggest misstep with Kick-Ass is that he’s trying to make sure so many elements of the film’s story seem like they could take place in real-life, but attempts to propel the film with a fantasy comic-book energy that, as a result, doesn’t exist. You can’t have your Layer Cake and eat it too. Regardless the source-material or genre, a motion picture requires at least one complete thought, even if that thought is “Let’s have a bunch of stuff blow up so sexy people can look back at it and say something funny.” Kick Ass lacks the momentum to even let me turn my brain off and just revel in the carnage. By trying to define itself so much by what it’s not, Kick Ass forgets to tell us what it is over the course of two un-engaging hours where nothing happens. It’s baffling a film can do so little with so much and as a fan of foul-mouthed on-screen brutalities, I’m offended.

We give Kick Ass a Two out of Five

So until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!

*And the fact that she does it to THIS SONG makes it all the more cringe-worthy.

Great Moments in “Edited for Television”

April 16, 2010

STOP SWEARING AT ME!

You know what’s truly wonderful about Television? Everything. No seriously, from the good things, to the great things, to even the bad things – it’s all awesome. The past decade has seen the medium flourish with premium channels taking cutting edge comedy and the story-archs of episodic drama to new heights. As memorable and culturally enriching as such programming is, the ever increasing demand for content has made countless hours of television an oozing sore awaiting treatment. TV has often cast its dolphin mutilating tuna net into other mediums like a master-of-ceremonies needing to fill time fishes for semi-relevant anecdotes. More often than not, networks will air movies to fill the gap. Seeing as it’s an upstanding respectable arena, these works of art will often be made more palatable for all audiences’ benefit. By removing all the foul language and violence, the films are neutered made better. Here’s some of the worst them .

WARNING: The language in these clips range from explicit to fluffy.

The Big Lebowski (1998)
This was the first real absurd overdubbing I recall seeing. If you’ve ever walked up and down Hennipan Avenue or strolled through Greenwich Village, you’d recognize that every line of this film without question has been memorized by every human being ever born. Surely broadcast television doesn’t need to protect us from ourselves? Well, maybe a little:

Scarface (1980)
As a rap artist, I am legally required to not only like this movie, but reference it ad-nauseum. The way Al Pachino’s character goes from nothing to amassing a fortune* has struck a chord with most of Hip-Hop’s elite including No Limit Soldier Silkk the Shocker who, in an edition of MTV Cribs, showcased his “Scarface Room” which had no less than NINE televisions playing the movie on a loop at different times so if he ever wanted to see a certain part, it would always be coming up.** One could only imagine the horror that Mr. The Shocker would have if he ever sat down and saw his spiritual guide modified to…well…this:

Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Let’s be honest, this entire movie exists for this scene. A joke of a movie that wound up proving how powerful and unimportant the internet truly was, this exhibition of everything wonderfully wrong with Hollywood cared so much about delivering to its loyal fans who perpetuated its phenomenon by reshooting an entire scene to include something people jokingly knew would never be in any movie. Well, when television plays the internet’s movie, the cosmos align to bequeath a series of trump cards turning the simple concept of movie dialogue into complete and utter unintelligible gibberish. Avert your eyes, children:

OK, what was that? Look, we’ve all seen this film so we know SPOILER ALERT that at NO POINT is the concept of snakes, or anyone, fighting monkeys mentioned. The more I think about it, the more it confounds me. Do monkey fighters exist? I’m all too-familiar with monkey knife fighting***, but the participants in those are recognized by the Nevada State Athletic Commission as “fighting monkeys,” NOT “monkey fighters.” To add to that, what possible flight could last Monday-to-Friday? “But Chaz,” you say, and I say “What?” and you say “maybe he means flights that wouldn’t be on the weekends?” No, the term for those is “Weekday Flights.” How dare you.

Die Hard 2 (1990)
Sometimes the dubbing gets so bizarre it just adds numerous entire dimentions to the movie that shouldn’t exist. There are no words:

Pallies (1996)
Probably the cornerstone of unfortunate editing. Or masterpiece. Depending on context:

Alright, I have to go swear now.

Until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*Then losing everything, including his life, at the end of the movie proving a wholly hedonistic material lifestyle is unfulfilling and frivolous, but don’t ever tell a rapper that as most of us never made it to the end since it’s really long and once we see he has a huge gun OF COURSE he’s going to be OK so let’s just rewind it and quote along with it, K?

**NOT A JOKE!

***My Church group holds one in the basement of Immaculate Conception every third Sunday. It’s also tortilla night. You should come.


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