Posted tagged ‘RIP’

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!

Remembering Leslie Nielsen

December 1, 2010

RIP Leslie Nielsen 1926 - 2010

Where does one even begin with a tribute to absolute master-craftsman Leslie Nielsen? Probably with an opening paragraph. Leslie Nielsen was a brilliant actor. He began his career playing very specific serious genre roles, and launched himself into superstardom parodying those exact parts with the most dead-on satirical accuracy the medium has ever seen. You may think I’m being hyperbolic here, but surely I’m not. Nielsen was as in touch with the nuances of genre-pictures enough to make the most absurd exaggeration seem subtle and deliver a hearty belly-laugh in kids aged one to 92.

As a product of the 80s, I can’t be alone in having many of my first comedy memories being glimpses of Nielsen in his many endlessly-rewatchable classics. The steam-roller gag from the ending of the first Naked Gun is my earliest recollection of slapstick comedy. I fondly remember its sequels as being the movies that delighted both my grandparents and I on days I was home sick from school. I even vividly recall Easter weekend 1996 when my Dad thought I was finally old enough to appreciate the Airplane movies and we watched them both over a weekend where I first discovered quoting something that makes one laugh will make one laugh once again.

But along with Nielsen’s celebrated classics, there’s even something endearing about his performances in his lesser films. No matter what the material he was laced with, he always gave it his all to get as many laughs as possible. Even working lowbrow, the man was nothing short of a class act to the very end. One of the best to ever to do it, he leaves behind a rightfully celebrated legacy whose complexities and endless re-playability will ensure his body of work will be around forever.

And now, my favorite Nielsen-isms:

“Who are you and how did you get in here?” – “I’m a locksmith. And, I’m a locksmith.”

“What was it we had for dinner tonight?” “Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.” “Yes, yes, I remember, I had lasagna.”

“Women and me are like water and fire: wet and flammable.”

“Don’t move. I’ve got a gun. Not here, but I got one.”

“Your lies are like bananas. They come in big yellow bunches.”

“We can go away right now. I pack light. Everything we need is right here in my pants.”

“When you shot me at point blank range, I knew you loved me.”

“The Beatles said it best…’She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah’.”

“It’s true what they say: Cops and women don’t mix. It’s like eating a spoonful of Drano; sure, it’ll clean you out, but it’ll leave you hollow inside.”

“It’s a topsy-turvy world, and maybe the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans. But this is our hill. And these are our beans!”

“I’d known her for years. We used to go to all the police functions together. Ah, how I loved her, but she had her music. I think she had her music. She’d hang out with the Chicago Male Chorus and Symphony. I don’t recall her playing an instrument or being able to carry a tune. Yet she was on the road 300 days of the year. In fact, I bought her a harp for Christmas. She asked me what it was.”

“Like a midget at a urinal, I was going to have to stay on my toes.”

“Like a blind man at an orgy, I was going to have to feel my way through.”

“Kinky. But I like my sex the way I play basketball, one on one with as little dribbling as possible.”

“Hey! You call this slop? Real slop has got chunks in it! This is more like gruel! And this Château le Blanc ’68 is supposed to be served slightly chilled! This is room temperature! What do you think we are, animals?”

“I’m sorry I can’t be more optimistic, Doctor, but we’ve got a long road ahead of us. It’s like having sex. It’s a painstaking and arduous task that seems to go on and on forever, and just when you think things are going your way, nothing happens.”

“Now, Jane, what can you tell us about the man you saw last night?” “He’s Caucasian.” “Caucasian?” “Yeah, you know, a white guy. A moustache. About six-foot-three.” “Awfully big moustache.”

“I see a lot of familiar face-lifts.”

“I want a world where Frank junior and all the Frank juniors can sit under a shady tree, breathe the air, swim in the ocean, and go into a 7-11 without an interpreter.”

“I’m single! I love being single! I haven’t had this much sex since I was a Boy Scout leader!”

“I couldn’t believe it was her. It was like a dream. But there she was, just as I remembered her. That delicately beautiful face. And a body that could melt a cheese sandwich from across the room. And breasts that seemed to say…’Hey! Look at these!’ She was the kind of woman who made you want to drop to your knees and thank God you were a man! She reminded me of my mother, all right. No doubt about it.”

“You spend every possible waking moment together, while I’m out running around with a bunch of twenty year olds who only want a good time and cheap sex sex sex. Girls who can’t say no. Girls who can’t get enough. ‘More, more, more. It’s your turn now to wear the handcuffs’…”

“Looks like the cows have come home to roost.”

“This is Frank Drebin, Police Squad. Throw down your guns, and come on out with your hands up. Or come on out, then throw down your guns, whichever way you wanna do it. Just remember the two key elements here: one, guns to be thrown down; two, come on out!”

“There, there. You had no way of knowing the man you were dating was a vicious, murdering sociopath.”

“A parachute not opening… that’s a way to die. Getting caught in the gears of a combine… having your nuts bit off by a Laplander, that’s the way I wanna go!”

“I wouldn’t wait until the last minute to fill out those organ donor cards.”

We give Leslie Nielsen a Five Out of Five

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

Drake’s Letter to Aaliyah – Letter Review

August 31, 2010

I know way too many people here right now who had songs on the Dr. Dolittle soundtrack. What am I doing?

Last week marks nine years since the death of sultry songstress Aaliyah. Moved by her body of work in life and in the years following her death, rapper Drake (AKA “Wheelchair Jimmy”) publicly expressed how much the singer meant to him in a way that touched some and offended others. He writes:

Dear Dana,

I’ve never lost a parent, a friend, or a lover but I will never forget this day for the rest of my life. I remember getting the news that you had passed and it connected with my heart like a clean shot from Muhammad Ali. I was crushed. Not only was I one of your biggest fans but I was truly in love with you. I loved the way you carried yourself, the way you dressed, the confidence with which you addressed passion and relationships in your music. I said to myself that even if we never met, I wanted a woman in my life just like you. I am pained that we will never get to connect now that music ended up being my career path. But you should know, we all listen to you everyday and we remain inspired and moved by all that you’ve given the world. I hope I make the right life choices so I can end up in heaven where I know you rest your head. I’ll continue to make music in your honor until the day we finally meet. Dinner’s on me!

Love you always and forever,

Drake

Right off the bat he addresses the the R&B Princess posthumously by her middle name ‘Dana.’ Now remember that this kid never met Aaliyah once during his life, and was all of 14-years-old when she died, but feels intimate enough with her to address her by a name that she was never once referred to by any public figure. Balls. He goes on to express that he’s never had to deal with the concept or reality of death at any point in his life, so we might as well be reading Drake’s letter about his time playing water polo with dinosaurs in space. Yes, the death of a celebrity he’s never had any interaction with or connection to is the absolute worst thing to ever happen to Drake in his life, and he’s about to tell us about it.

Or is he?

The next line, where Drake actually uses the word “like” in a simile, suggests someone else may have written it for him. If you’ve ever heard a Drake song, you know he’s somehow incapable of using this word and instead substitutes it with a dramatic pause. (SIMULATED DRAKE LYRIC: “Haters be all up in my ass (dramatic pause) colon / they need to get up off my dick (dramatic pause) foreskin”) Lucky for us, we’re soon reassured Drake’s holding the pen by his hyperbolic high-school heart hemorrhaging the sentence “I was truly in love with you.” At the risk of sounding cheesy, Drake fell for the girl on TV. He then states how his inner-turmoil for never having an Aaliyah to his own is compounded now that’s he’s wound up in the music industry. This is followed by him adding a royal touch by suddenly jumping to the first-person plural perspective, stating “we all listen to you everyday and we remain inspired and moved by all that you’ve given the world.” I know age ain’t nothin’ but a number, but I’m pretty sure most would agree that numbers are, in fact, numbers. So either Drake is suggesting both he and Aaliyah’s ghost are still listening, inspired and moved by HER OWN MUSIC or he’s returning to the writing device that can now only be referred to as “Drakeperbole.”

Aren't you that somebody from the wheelchair from that kids' show?

The letter closes by proving Drake really thinks he’s (that?) somebody. He states with no real certainty or confidence that he hopes he “made the right life choices” so that he could end up in a lower-case “heaven” (must be the generic off-brand afterlife) where he knows she is. He then dedicates the rest of his career to her and asks her, CEO Dame Dash’s dead fiancee, to dinner. Again, balls. Not only does Drake believe that when he’s truly so far gone he’ll wind up somewhere that isn’t a proper noun BUT it’s a place where even despite his celebrity he’s expected to pay for food.

Best I Never Met.

While the sentiment is strong, the numerous errors and overindulgence within the letter really takes away from any beyond-the-grave quality or impact it might have. Furthermore, it’s troubling that this letter is eerily similar to one I wrote to early 20th-century bluesman Blind Willie McTell earlier this year:

Dear Bill,

I’ve never lost a parent, but I have lost grandparents, close friends, a choir teacher, a gerbil, a hamster, and a beta fish. Still, I will never forget the day I found out you died twenty-six years before I was born. I remember getting the news that you had been very dead for a long time and it burned me like a George Foreman Grill. I was smushed. Not only was I one of your biggest fans but I would use your name as an inarguable trump card when hooking up with guitar-enthusiast music snob girls in college. I loved the way you carried yourself, the way you dressed, the confidence with which you addressed beating your triflin’ woman in your music. I said to myself that even if we never met, I wanted a woman in my life to know her southern can belonged to me. I am pained that we will never get to connect now that music ended up being what I’ve convinced my former high school classmates I’m doing with my life. But you should know, we all listen to you everyday and we remain inspired and moved by all that you’ve given the world. I hope I make the right life choices so I can end up with you where the good lord sends women down. I’ll continue to make music in your honor until the day we finally meet. Hope you like Taco Bell!

Yours in dated misogyny,

Chaz

We give Drake’s Letter to Aaliyah a Two out of Five

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