Posted tagged ‘Classic Chaz!’

CLASSIC CHAZ: Standing in the Shadow of Fallen Giants

February 11, 2011

NOTE: I originally wrote this at the end of February 2009. I was working in a Virgin Megastore at the time and, because of both the Biggie biopic Notorious and the never-ending string of Hip-Hop memorials, found myself discussing rap deaths on a daily basis. Now that it’s February again, it seemed fitting to start the month off with this discussion. This is only slightly changed from how it originally appeared on my Tumblr, but those are just mere corrections of spelling/grammar/bad writing.

Is this tasteless? As in, does this slap the taste out of my mouth?

Since “The Message,” the subject of death has often interjected itself as the most polarizing but popular party guest in the Hip-Hop lexicon. Whether a cautionary mention, braggadocios write-off or absurd glorification, it exists as the point of reference that every artist and listener can relate to. If taken literally, as some of the genre’s most vocal critics love to do, the music contains a record of thousands upon thousands of homicides, genocides and suicides that most listeners accept as (gee whiz) as aspect of the art and aren’t particularly phased by it. But along with the nameless body counts, you have those who deaths remain focal points for very different reasons.

While rap had lost plenty of pioneers and artists throughout its first twenty-five years, a select few became almost canonized by their passing. Scott la Rock of Boogie Down Productions is often seen as the first of this phenomenon, and the mid-90s had the passings of 2Pac and Biggie that signaled a defining moment for the genre’s place within American culture. But even in the wake of rappers dying at a pace currently only rivaled by professional wrestlers, February particularly stands out as the cruelest month of unfortunate losses. From J Dilla, who succumbed to lupus as his popularity was peaking, to Professor X, who died shortly before a planned and eventually successful X-Clan reunion, the shortest month has often ended with the burning out of some of the genre’s brightest rising stars.

Big L: Recoated.

Last weekend marks a decade since the passing of Big L. One-time Children of the Corn member, L developed a large cult following in the late 90s from his charismatic punchlines and vivid storytelling. Songs like “Ebonics,” a simple concept executed to perfection, “No Endz No Skinz,” where L’s penchant for punchline-after-punchline songwriting provides jaw-dropping moments build upon each other as to not peak too quickly and draw the listener in further and “Put It On” where L’s delivery compliments a series of perfectly constructed multiples to the point where the rhyme arch seems almost effortless as if any syllable would have been the first written garnered him the attention and respect from all rap audiences. While his death was the result of mistaken identity, his legacy begs the question of a misplaced one.

The same goes for Big Pun, who passed almost exactly one year after L. One of the largest artists to touch the mic, Pun’s best remembered for striking the perfect balance of, to use terms of the time, “jiggy” and “lyricism” with songs like “Still Not a Player” and arguably the greatest two bars in the genre in “Twinz ‘98.” (“Dead in the middle of Little Italy / little did we know that we riddled some middle-men who didn’t do diddly,” and that was ONE TAKE) While both were mourned and are still memorialized by their contemporaries and those they’ve influenced, they’re often left off of “Greatest Rappers of All Time” lists despite having just as much recorded material as staple Biggie Smalls.

This is what I saw when I first arrived on Ellis Island.

While many attribute this to label politics or Pun’s nationality, I feel the real difference is that Biggie got the chance to make Ready to Die, which will always be a go-to cornerstone of the genre. It’s the definitive testament to how great he was, and remains a realized vision of what he was capable of doing. He got the chance to make his masterpiece and although he was taken far too soon, his legacy isn’t as haunted by what-ifs.

Pun and, to an arguably greater extent, L never got the chance to make their masterpiece. Pun had all the talent, but his addiction to food and circle of enablers (leaving him, at one point, 900 lbs.) created an impossible filter of limitations that stopped him from really reaching his potential. While he still could murder a song he recorded in a booth laying on a mattress (“Leatherface”) and did indeed lose 100 lbs. trying to live, he never got to make that flawless full-length in an era where legends were made by “flawless full-lengths.”

The same goes for L who, if the sessions that became The Big Picture are any indication, was right on the cusp of changing the rap world. He had the charisma, look, style, sound, and writing ability of a champion but was murdered unexpectedly. Had a full album of “Ebonics” been realized, rap would be in a much different place for at least the early part of the last decade.

Yeah, this never gets old.

Basically, B.I.G. came out the gate with something iconic and refined to the point of perfection. As good as Capital Punishment and Lifestylez ov da Poor and Dangerouz are, they came from artists who hadn’t quite peaked yet and, by the somewhat unfair comparison of what could have been, are the reason why they are often denied G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) status.

So as another February draws to a close, and another tribute get made, at the end of the day it should be what these artists DID achieve, rather than what others remember them for, that should be celebrated. Will we ever get a Big L biopic? Or a Big Pun action figure? Probably not. Did they have a cutting-room floor full of acapellas allowing for a new generation of posthumous collaborations with artists who didn’t know who they were while they were alive? Thankfully, no. What they did leave were some of the greatest rap performances ever committed to wax, and that’s all an MC should ever hope for.

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

CLASSIC CHAZ: El-P “I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead” – Music Review

August 5, 2010

It's a bird, OK?!

With this week’s release of El-P’s Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 and my review of it over at Spectrum Culture, I thought now would be a good time to up a review I did of El’s previous album that originally ran in March, 2007 for the now defunct DropMagazine. They had me rate things on scale of 1.0 to 10.0 where this originally received a 9.5, but I’ve modified it to match the strict 1-5 motif of our little playhouse. Enjoy!

“This is the sound of what you don’t know killing you” begins the chorus of “Tasmanian Pain Coaster,” the opening track from MC/Producer El-P’s highly anticipated 2007 album I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. Easily the best publicized independent release of the year thus far, with promotional campaigns involving the likes of the New York Times, iTunes, and the Cartoon network’s Adult Swim programming block, the former Company Flow frontman managed to bright Definitive Jux to the Billboard promised land, debuting at #78 on the top 200 and moving 11,417 units in its first week at a time when rap releases are being outsold by a two-to-one ratio by Dane Cook. With his previous release, 2002’s Fantastic Damage peaking at #198 and the label’s previous highest charter, Aesop Rock’s 2003 album Bazooka Tooth, only reaching #112, it seems the Definitive Jux bulldozer is continuing to roll strongly, picking up new fans with each go-round.

This should come as no surprise as, in the five years between releases, El has remained quite the busy beaver. While some have mistakenly referred to this time as a hiatus, El has been quite active through releasing a jazz album, overseeing the production on albums from flagship artists Cage and Mr. Lif, launching a digital download website for his label, and contributing remixes to such high-profile artists as Beck and Nine Inch Nails. Such efforts, as well as changing times, have seemingly impacted his soundscape. While he retains his trademark wall-of-sound production ethos, the transitions are far less jarring and his song structure, such as the verse-chorus-verse lyrics of “EMG” and “Up All Night,” has evolved to become somewhat more linear.

But it is the very limitation that El places himself in that allows I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead to function as such a wonderfully executed experiment of a record. Painstakingly orchestrated in the format of an actual album, a process forgotten by most in today’s ever-changing digital-music landscape, each of the albums 13 tracks not only maintain, but emphasized the project’s progressive momentum simply by being organized next to one another. And with El-P’s verses, as well as two guest appearances by Cage and Aesop Rock and countless blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameo ranging from Trent Reznor to Cat Power to Slug from Atmosphere to former Company Flow DJ Mr. Len, all mixed as part of the presentation, instead of just at the forefront, and you have an almost daunting finished product that, on realized ambition alone, stands head-and-shoulders over any rap release in recent memory.

One of my favorite promo images.

Such layers gives not only the album a fully flourished final product, but gives the listener several options regarding how to approach ingesting it. At face value, one is treated to vivid storytelling (El encountering a ravaged acquaintance on the subway in “Tasmanian Pain Coaster,” finding love on a futuristic prison ship in “Habeas Corpses”), inspired ranting (taking Mayor Bloomberg and rappers who “went from battle rap to gun talk like we ain’t notice the change” to task on “Smithereens,” listing things more plausible than his participation in military service on “Dead Sirs”) and unpretentious coming-of-age realizations (the pitfalls of a May-December romance on “The Overly Dramatic Truth,” coping with addiction on “Poisonville Kids No Wins”). Further analyzation reveals numerous possible interpretations and gems buried within the soundscape (it took me at least a dozen listens to recognize the distorted Tickle-Me-Elmo laughter in “Tasmanian Pain Coaster”) to the point where those interested in further listening with be handsomely rewarded.

Despite all this album has going for it, there are some flaws. The least of which, is how certain songs only work within the confines of the album itself and fails to stand on their own. Yet, since this album was designed to be listened to as a whole, one can’t hold that against it. Otherwise, after such a tour-de-force, the album’s ultimate conclusion at the end of “Poisonville Kids No Wins” just seems anticlimactic, and not in a manner that falls in line with the rest of the album’s painfully bleak tone. I’d imagine El was going for the effect of having such a complex release slowly stripping itself of each layer to the point of nothing to give contrast and a certain space to breathe again following the journey, but such an ending just doesn’t function perhaps due to it’s rather quick speed after such a tumultuous journey.

Still, that’s truly knit-picking and shouldn’t dissuade you in the least from one of the most important, and enjoyable, releases our genre has seen in quite sometime. The album is intelligent, intellectual, inventive, intentionally humorous, and most importantly sounds great. Truly an outstanding effort on the part of El-Producto that he will no longer have to lose sleep over.

We give I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead a Four Out of Five

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

What is Circuit City, but the People? (J.I.L.S.)

March 17, 2010

The Circuit City of Angels.

Editor’s Note – As part of our ongoing Journeys in Liquidation Sales series here at Popular Opinions, it only seemed right to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Circuit City’s demise where much of JILS‘s inventory came from. This piece originally appeared somewhere else but I decide to have it remixed and digitally remastered with pictures, spun-back cusswords and the most nostalgic and absurd Circuit City clips the internet had to offer, including the in-store only complete Circuit City rap seen below.

“All cities are mad: but the madness is gallant. All cities are beautiful: but the beauty is grim.” ~ Christopher Morley, Where the Blue Begins

“I have a CD in stores, just in time for people to not give a kcuf about CD stores anymore.” ~ Mitch Hedberg

In three more days Circuit City, once the second largest electronic retailer in the United States, will close its doors forever. The latest mega-conglomerate to collapse, its slow burial beneath six feet of unsold Hancock and The Dark Knight DVDs has been met with an almost ‘told-you-so’ indifference and bitter obscenities due to, at a time when the store hasn’t received any new product for a month and has its entire inventory marked to 80% off, Johnny McBargainBin’s anger that he can’t find any of today’s hottest hits. The “Everything Must Go” signs adorn the walls like funeral wreaths, as EuroJungleHouseTrance echos an ominously repetitive requiem.

It’s March, 2009. Every industry, save tent manufacturers and repo men, is struggling. With the entertainment industry continuing to have problems, this latest loss is almost eclipsed by the announcement last week that Virgin will be closing all of its stores by June and Best Buy, while not closing, will be shutting down almost two-hundred locations within the next month. It’s hard to believe that just nine years after the industry (as well as downloading) hit an absolute pinnacle, the game shows no real hope for any commercially available physical media.

Circuit Breaker Heartbreaker

As much as I love the 29 CDs and 4 DVDs that I got for a combined total of under $100.00 during this retail trail of tears, it deeply saddens me that (without hyperbole) the physical music business is truly coming to an end. It’s over. Done. Ghost like Swayze. Outie 5000. And it all went so fast, too. I remember the summer of 2000 when the Mall of America had 5 different flourishing music stores inside of its gigantic singular complex. When I returned two years ago, all that remained was an single FYE that had bought out the last Sam Goody in the entire state and was having a “going out of business” sale. I felt a similar shock when I realized that since moving to New York City four years ago, 15 local music stores closed down. Come June, that number increases to 20 with Manhattan solely relying on FatBeats as its only non-electronics based music outlet. Otherwise we have J&R (who are probably not going anywhere as in 1971 they flatout bought the property for their location) and Best Buy (who are also doing-away with their music section but will be gone soon too) and that’s it.

But instead of placing blame, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on some of the great things Circuit City did. When Tower Records, the last strictly-music chain (Tower Video was always a separate entity) fell in 2006, music fans with a taste for more than “today’s hottest hits” were forced to find a new source for our more obscure cravings. While it never came close to Tower’s cornucopia of regional-rap, Circuit City did stand out for its emphasis on 1) selection and 2) catalog titles. New York does have its hip-hop stops, but with the East Coast bias nobody will admit to, and even Minnesota’s own hesitance on getting it’s hands dirty with some of the filthier parts of the south, Circuit City allowed a nationwide accessibility for everything from Eightball & MJG’s debut to Turf Talk and Lil Boosie mixtapes to every single project Cappadonna attached his name to.

They also were the only chain to reach out to the larger indie and overlooked major-label artists for nationwide promotions. The Clipse’s Hell Hath No Fury was given a ridiculously discounted price, drop taken as a hit to the store, its first week of release and thus moved the bulk of its units there. It’s also the only store major OR mom-and-pop I know of that offered free t-shirts from the like of T.I., Scarface AND Tech N9ne if you purchased their albums the week of release. And unlike Best Buy, “The City” (As it’s unfortunately titled pedestrian-friendly 2007 makeover redubbed it) kept its prices low, even after it had buried its competition. To its dying day*, new releases were $11.99, recent hits were $12.99 and extended catalog titles were $9.88. Did this policy drop help or hurt it? Who knows? The bells have been tolling since the industry eliminate the maxi-single in 2001 and the dominos have been falling ever since.

So, what can be done now? I’d suggest we ride the wave back to the shore. It’s labor day weekend, and we have a long autumn ahead of us. All CDs/DVDs are 80% off and there’s some quality stuff you might have your last chance ever to get in there. You may never have another opportunity to get Tech N9ne, Project Pat, UGK and BG’s entire discography for under $50.00 combined. So g’head. Remember as a kid when you saw the Nickelodeon Toy-Run Sweepstakes? Now’s your only chance to live it. TOO LATE! SEE YOU IN HELL! FROM HEAVEN!

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

*Or at least until it was put on Death Row.