Your boy Jesse D is eligible for all kinds of institutionalized love right about now, and some of it you can help him (me) achieve! Here's what's up...
1 - East Coast Music Association Award Nominee - Best Urban/Hip-Hop Single Track
I am nominated for the track Outfox'd from Inter Alia, produced by Dexter Doolittle and with cuts by Uncle Fester. This is only voted on by the membership of the ECMA, so the only way you can help me is to pray that Classified drops out of the race for some reason.
You can come show your support, though, at any of the ECMA events I'll be performing at! The big one is at the Delta Halifax Hotel on Barrington Street, February 16th. It's $10 and features famous rapper Classified as well as me and Fester, Muzz Marshall and Trobiz, Spesh K, Ghettosocks and DJ Y-Rush. This will be the final appearance of Fester and Jesse D as a performing duo before they pursue an amicable separation to explore other partners. Wow!
2 - The Coast Magazine's Best of Music 2007 Poll
I've never asked anyone to vote for me in this before, more because I kept forgetting than because I am too principled. Last year I forgot to even get my vote in at all (I was voting for Apt anyway), but somehow I managed to win. Now that I've had a taste of that glory and validation, I can't go back to being a nobody. I WON'T! So if you can think of nominees for nine other categories in a Halifax area Best Of Music poll, I invite you to go and prove that I am the best and no-one is better than me. If I don't win, I have all your e-mail addresses and I can track you down and cry and make you uncomfortable. Head to http://thecoast.ns.ca and click the voting banner! Make me proud... of myself!
3 - CKDU 88.1fm Radio Awards 2007
As you may know, I host a weekly hip-hop programme on CKDU radio called The Pavement Show which airs Tuesday nights from 10:30pm 'til midnight AST. I inherited it from Skratch Bastid who inherited from Buck 65 (DJ Critical). It's hip-hop arcana and obscurities, local and Canadian artists up front and the history in sharp focus. If you like, tune in either throught the airwaves or by visiting http://ckdu.dal.ca and streaming the show tonight (past episodes are also available for download if you enter in the time of broadcast) and check my claim out... then if you're feeling it, vote for me here:
You’ve no doubt read everyone else’s 2006 wrap-up/overview by now. Mine is late, because James Brown died and then the next week I got so sick with barfing that I thought I was going to join him. But it’s fitting that I come at the end of the train, because my 2006 column is going to be full of the best possible opinions and authoritative final words. I have to really cram them in because despite the fact that nobody bought any of them, quite a few excellent records were released in the last one-tenth of a decade.
I don’t know how label politics went for music that isn’t rap, but as far as rap is concerned, 2006 was utterly owned by Def Jam. Despite the fact that until the very dying moments of the year, only T.I.’s King on Atlantic records had gone platinum, in those moments it was joined by Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come and Ludacris’ Release Therapy, both on Def Jam. I’m not one to hang a lot of critical weight on record sales one way or the other, but it’s been a long time since a year saw so few platinum hip hop records, so it lends a little extra weight to the distinction when it happens.
Def Jam also squeezed out records by Method Man (his being my favourite of the year), The Roots, Lady Sovereign, Nas and not one but two by Ghostface Killah. In addition to those notably excellent albums (I know she looks out of place in a list of veterans but Sov really raps her ass off), Def Jam cranked out potboilers from Rick Ross and Young Jeezy. In this torpid consumer climate, it was their ringtones that went platinum. The music biz is only getting weirder, kids.
My favourite non-rap record of 2006 was El Perro Del Mar, a lonely Swedish damsel’s melancholy debut. It sounds like if Lesley Gore just saw her boyfriend making out with her best friend at her mom’s wake. Pretty and bleak. My other favourite non-rap this year is the joyous, psychedelic, Christian-in-a-good-way indie pop rock orchestra, Danielson, with their new Ships record. The stand-out number is called Did I Step On Your Trumpet and features an abstract lyric on the theme of trying to please everyone all the time wherein the back-up singers subtly contradict the lead. It sounds like if The Pixies really, really liked everybody.
Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere was the best and most ambitious non-rap made by rap guys. Johnny Cash broke hearts and froze blood with his last American recording. The Decemberists went prog on The Crane Wife but stayed smirking and failed to disappoint anyone. Thom Yorke went solo and it could have fit anywhere in the last five years of Radiohead records, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a transcendent little nugget of mopetronica. A completely legal Beatles mash-up album was created by George Martin himself and he saw that it was good. Hawksley Workman released his first acceptable, to say nothing of being exquisite, album since For Him and the Girls. Jolie Holand’s Spring Time Can Kill You would have had the most outstanding title track of 2006 if Jay-Z’s Kingdom Come wasn’t such a devastating banger. Kimya Dawson’s Remember That I Love You is devastating on a whole nother level, it’s so earnest and vulnerable that I can’t even listen to the songs on it that aren’t about the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami without crying like a busload of little girls. TV on the Radio sounded like a busload of Peter Gabriels on a surfin’ safari to planet Jupiter. Out of Hamilton, Ontario’s disproportionate population of hilarious solo acts, two had not-to-be-missed releases in 2006: B.A. Johnston with Call Me When Old and Fat Is the New Young and Sexy (a concept record about 80s shock comedies and pathetic semi-romance), and Wax Mannequin with The Orchard (a concept record about some kind of majestic war where the allegiance of animals will be the tipping factor). I could almost get used to this world of non-rap music. It’s not all as bad as you might think at first.
Paris Hilton and Kevin Federline released their respective debuts in 2006. I’m of the opinion that so-called “useless” celebrities are only retained in the public consciousness by the melodramatic griping of gossip junkies who can’t get over how someone is technically famous for no apparent justifiable reason and oh my god also did you hear the latest undignified thing they supposedly did, and I think that’s as frustratingly perpetual as it is amusingly ironic so I don’t have anything to say about them except that it seems to me that a couple execs were just anxious to see if certain names could move CD’s as fast as they move People Magazine and Us Weekly. No sale.
BEST OF RAP
Some people think Ghostface’s Fishscale was the best rap record this year, and some other people think More Fish was even better than that, but both those kinds of people are wrong. More Fish has gems but it’s a hasty mess, padded out with lacklustre guest spots from the Theodore Unit crew, and Fishscale tricks everybody by being generally very good and featuring the unbelievably fresh Pete Rock produced single Be Easy. But Ghost’s Wu-Tang alma mater produced a more flat-out superlative record with Method Man’s clunkily titled 4/21: The Day After. It’s just the hungriest raps of the year over a range of the grittiest beats. It hasn’t sold well or gotten the press it deserves, but I think time will get my back on this one once the dust clears.
Jay-Z obviously had the year’s most discussed comeback, but while Kingdom Come has more than its share of inspired and inspiring moments, it’s not the end-to-end burner that such a notable (if notably hasty) return to the booth warrants. Likewise, if only Black Sheep’s first new album in twelve years (and first good one in fifteen) had all been as good as the ecstatically hype lead single, B-Boy’s Theme, then 8WM/Novakane (how do these titles get off the drawing board?) would be comeback of the century. As it stands, both of those comebacks are welcome but stand out as outstanding in the context of a field including DMC of Run DMC’s Checks, Thugs and Rock’n’Roll – a comeback effort so dismal that its most memorable moment is the sublime awfulness of a song with its hook sung by Sarah MacLachlan to the tune of Harry Chapin’s Cats In The Cradle. That would have been the very darkest moment of music in 2006 if DJ Shadow hadn’t turned in The Outsider.
Despite his defensive conceit flashed in interviews, people don’t hate The Outsider because they’re not ready for something different from DJ Shadow. Entroducing was fully ten years ago, people are scarcely ready to remember what would be the same from DJ Shadow. The Outsider is a despicable collection by any measure – it flops spastically between insipid and airy artronica, soulless robo-punk and hyphy-by-the-numbers. If you have no idea what I just said, don’t worry about it. You’ll sleep better.
The Juggaknots’ Use Your Confusion has a cover that displays three different images depending upon what angle you view it from, but that’s nothing compared to how multifaceted and intricate the content is. Breezly Brewin is one of the best rappers ever produced by New York, and his sister Queen Herawin can most definitely hang. Whether they’re trotting out a guest spot from the legendary Slick Rick or cramming their 12/8 indie pop/hip hop crossover jam full of all the grit and grime needed to stick to the discerning listener’s shoes but good, they’re the most thoroughly satisfying returning champs to drop a bona fide comeback record in 2006. Thank goodness for them.
RAP IN GENERAL
Busta Rhymes put out a record that apparently was pretty good but I didn’t hear it, I only heard him getting arrested for assault over and over again. The Roots’ Game Theory was easily one of the year’s top contenders but apparently no-one heard it but me. Rhymefest’s album really was almost as witty, insightful and indispensable as one might have hoped; it’s secretly better than Lupe Fiasco’s serviceable debut. West Coast Wu-Tang affiliate The Holocaust almost only raps about spooky arcana and ghost pirates so his self-titled album is worth taking in if you can overlook what is quite obviously the worst rap name in history. Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s posthumous comeback has a few undeniable bright points, but it still exemplifies the cliché “too little, too late.” Producer JEL from Anticon scored a coup by having Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers grace the single from Soft Money. Speaking of coups, The Coup’s Pick a Bigger Weapon disappointed devotee and casual fan alike. Bubba Sparxxx somehow went from the most fronted on southern rapper to the most hated on southern rapper on the strength of one lousy single that misrepresented his otherwise reasonably fresh third album, The Charm. Camp Lo snuck out a brilliant third effort under the guise of a “mixtape” (that just happened to have all new, original beats and rhymes) due to what one can only assume must have been ugly label issues akin to those that inspired Joe Budden to do the same thing with his Mood Muzik 2. Too bad for Budden, because anyone who got the impression he was an especially unsophisticated club rapper from his official release would have had their minds changed hard by the deeply compassionate storytelling and lucid personal examination on that so-called mixtape.
And finally, how did Canadian rap hold up its end of the bargain in 2006? Admirably. The west coast saw Birdapres and Evil drop Get It Done and Call Me Evil respectively, each shot through with high contrast ratios of personal honesty and tough guy swagger. Bird drops what is subtly the nation’s best anti-war jam and Evil turns a simple admission of alcoholic instability into a sample-infused ode to imbibing that even a teetotaller like Jesse D can’t not love. Scott da Ros’ freakish rap Frankenstein Another Kind Of Dead End turned heads from Sackville to Scandinavia. Buck 65 made hearts skip a beat with his Strong Arm mixtape, proving he still has the chops to kick devastating rap flows. My fellow members of the Backburner collective unleashed a slew of critical successes – More or Les’s b-boy reality check The Truth About Rap, Wordburglar’s comic opus Burglaritis and Thesis Sahib’s post-rap smorgasbord Loved Ones only further embossed the crew’s credentials amongst careful listeners and half-asleep potheads. In Halifax, Classified’s Hitch Hiking Music is selling to make hotcakes look like a flash in the pan. Ghettosocks’ Get Some Friends is my local pick of the year, with its 8 bit melodies and choose-your-own-adventurism. And Spesh K? Why, his Media Coverage album is so obviously poised to blow up that if it somehow manages not to, it’ll be your first sign that the Twilight Zone was a reality series.
The city is booming, the country is booming, hip hop is booming, music is booming. Amazing records are being released all over the place at an alarming rate. Major label, independent, homemade, nothing is a guaranteed impediment to quality. CD’s are frequently fantastic and almost uniformly unpurchased. Good fruit is going rotten on the branch. I’m already beside myself with anticipation for six or seven records slated to drop in early 2007, but I’d be willing to see them hold off a minute if people would take that time to catch up and put some dinner in the bellies of all the hard working artists and industry middlepersons who made 2006 such a lush forest of good music that no-one thought to pick the trees up.
It's not just a song lyric. Fifteen years after L.A. Style hit the charts with their baffling techno anthem, James Brown really is dead.
This week, I wanted to give you a rundown of the albums I thought were best in 2006, but I'll save that for the New Year because right now, James Brown is dead. He died in the wee hours of Christmas morning while my sugarplum visions still danced. I didn't find out until I got home late that night and it knocked the wind right out of my sails. I'm still getting used to the thing about being an adult, which is that your childhood icons drop like flies.
James Brown has long been a complicated figure for me. As a kid, I used to faithfully study my mom's copy of the Good Morning, Vietnam soundtrack, and I Feel Good was a centrepiece thereof. Despite the slow, curvilinear and ultimately immobile arc of his stylistic development, the genius of his heyday compositions is undeniable by anyone who knows how music works.
He contributed principally to a revolution in rhythm and blues.
Also when I was a kid, rap producers started sampling James Brown for drums and rhythm tracks. One of the most frequently sampled drum breaks of all time is in the unadorned bars which open Funky Drummer, a driving double-sided single from Brown's In The Jungle Groove album.
A good part of the credit for the unique quality of that percussive groove rests with Brown's erstwhile drummer, Clyde Stubblefield, who himself only cheated death lately, and who knows for how long. Brown's arrangements and production were tightly governed and if it hadn't been what he wanted, it wouldn't have been there.
Those drums, so difficult to emulate by hand, are easily sampled and looped and now form the foundation of literally thousands of different tracks by artists ranging from Eric B & Rakim to Sinead O'Connor. Edan the DJ has compiled a mixtape comprised entirely of several dozen rap tracks using those drums.
Hip hop would quite likely have a very different rhythmic character if not for Funky Drummer.
Brown's personality informed the rap persona, too. That's a mixed blessing - his energy, raw masculinity and deeply emotional wild side when emulated give rappers a passionate edge to contrast a cool that sometimes verges upon catatonia, but with the cult of celebrity you can't just consider the artist as an artist, and James Brown the man was a terrible role model.
Never mind the rap charts, his rap sheet is as long as your arm. Ordinarily, I wouldn't hold a few scrapes with Johnny Law against a guy, but there's so much domestic abuse out there. Maybe I'd be the least popular guy at his wake, but when I saw the "Free James Brown!" T-shirts people wore when he was incarcerated for brutalizing his old lady, I wanted to secede from hip hop. I couldn't have him for a hero then.
So my feelings have been split. I missed his Metro Centre appearance in 2004 because I'd decided it would likely be a meal of warmed-over funky pablum, a glossy but dull tribute to the music as it once stood, and also because I wasn't feeling cool about the Godfather of Soul as a human being.
By all reports, I played myself. By all reports, it was a knock-down, drag-'em-out soul epic that went on for hours. I felt a twinge of regret when I heard that. I feel a stronger one now. He was older than 70 - did I really think he was gonna come back some time?
This season at the record store, one of the staff favourites to play was James Brown's Funky Christmas. It's a breathtaking record, especially when it slows down. Brown had distilled the exultant spirit of Little Richard's trademark yelps and whoops to a palette of gut-punching grunts and razor-keen shrieks which could convey desolate longing as well as celebration.
He's become such a familiar figure that it's easy to think of those idiosyncrasies as just quirky trademarks instead of the hallmarks of a renovated avenue of musical language, but when you really tune in and listen to James Brown vocalize, you can't stave the goosebumps off, certainly not now.
As we watch 2006 recede and mourn the passing of yet another modern music legend, I hope this column finds you happy, healthy and well. I hope you get 2007 off on the good foot and never fail to get up, get into it and get involved. Remember to accent the one beat, whether by emphasis or omission. That's where the funk lives.
Posted on 2006.11.20 at 12:31 Current Music: Yes They Love Me!
Mostly this one is only gonna affect Nova Scotians, but any aspiring unofficial biographers are also invited to read along and take notes!
Tuesday, November 21st - STAGE NINE! - $5 1567 Grafton Street
Not only will I be playing, along with my stalwart rap companion the Wordburglar, but Halifax's trip hop sensation Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees has put the night together and will be performing themselves, as well as Hamilton Ontario's Hunter Eves. Another god damn artist from Hamilton, the city must be CRAWLING with them. Anyway, that's going to be a great show. Dexter Doolittle on the mixing board all night!
Wednesday, November 22nd - The Speakeasy - $3 5640 Spring Garden Road
LOOSE! is a semi-monthly indie dance night, and organizer Simon Thibeault has invited me to come down and spin some records. He has also made a very saucy poster for the event that features me with no clothes on. Ahem! I don't know everything I'll be playing, some combination of hip hop and indie rock and other things which are on vinyl. Come watch the trainwreck!
Friday, November 24th - Maple Leaf Lounge (Sydney)
If there's one thing I love to do in Cape Breton... you might think I'm going to say be dragged behind a bus up the Cabot Trail, but I'm not... it's play a show at the Maple Leaf Lounge and Family Restaurant. I hear the pizza is amazing during the day, but by night all I've ever seen there is slamming raps. My old pal from the career I used to have, April, who probably had her baby by now come to think of it, she grew up in Sydney and when I told her I was playing there she kinda wrinkled her nose at me like... gross. With that in mind, I'll be appearing with Ghettosocks (promoting his amazing new record, Get Some Friends), Rez Villain, Mischif, CBLA and Fi Sci. Fester will of course be my DJ because he'll be back from Toronto. Yes sir.
Saturday, November 25th - FRED - $3 2606 Agricola Street 9pm - 1am
EyeLevel Gallery (2128 Gottingen St) is having their annual fundraising shindig, Pet Spectacle. A whole bunch of local artists are contributing works of art about their pets to be sold in support of the Gallery, and also a compilation CD of local artists doing songs about their pets or other people's pets will be sold. I recorded a song called "Yes They Love Me" about my girlfriend's cats, Zoe and Sam. It is the very first time I've written and recorded a REAL song and not just a rap, and now I see what Buck65 and Andre 3000 and all those pouftards were talking about and I'm leaving hip hop behind for greener pastures. PSYCH. But I'm really happy with the song, so I hope you come to the bash and buy the CD. Oh, and some other people are on it too... probably.
That's it for my upcoming calendar. The weekend before last was Music Nova Scotia's annual industry awards, and although I was nominated in both the Best Urban Recording and Best Male Sex God categories, those awards were taken home by Classified and J.P. Cormier this year. Bastards. I mean congratulations.
I was born in October, 1979. Coincidentally, I was born the same month that Sugarhill Records released Rapper’s Delight – a 12” single featuring a fifteen minute A-side and the first hip hop record of all time. I just celebrated my twenty-seventh birthday with an ice cream cake and balloons, but I don’t feel like a kid anymore. I don’t feel exactly like a real adult, either. I’m in this kind of extended youthful limbo that our culture allows for childless young adults without careers. It’s sort of a summer jobs forever lifestyle, and being a writer and a musician only compounds the juvenility of it all.
I’m not sure when I did feel quite like a kid, though. It’s a difficult thing for me to tap into. I know that most people of the last few generations use music to transport them to the halcyon days of their teens, but I think I listened to all the wrong music for that to really work.
I’m just a few years young to have quite caught the tail end of a high school career scored in New Wave. I hear records now by The Cure, Joy Division, Violent Femmes, The Smiths and Blondie and although I’ve finally matured to the point where I can hear the expert songcraft through the dense layers of 1980’s production, they don’t transport me anywhere. Those bruisable melodies and romantic sentiments describe to so many people just kicking off their second Saturn cycle exactly what it was like for them to be young, to feel nascent love and lust, to be hurt or buoyed by the other kids they had crushes on, to be at parties, to forge friendships and rivalries that were supposed to stay strong forever and I can’t get there that way. It just wasn’t me.
Young Jesse D listened to rap music, from age ten onward. It’s a whole different emotional palette; I didn’t get home after school and go upstairs and listen to Morrissey on headphones and empathize with other sad, shy white boys, corners of my eyes sparkling because I know what it’s like to have girls not notice me. I got home and went upstairs and blasted Cypress Hill or Das EFX and if I got at all lachrymose over the sentiments in the music, it was because someone’s homie was dead or the ghetto was a never-ending spiral of grief and peril and the youth were drawn inexorably to the shine of the game or the solidarity of the gangs. They were things outside of my experience, but I culturally adopted them as my concerns just because that was the music whose language I’d learned.
I watch movies now like Marie Antoinette, and I criticize it for things like casting two actors in their mid-20’s to play characters who start at fourteen and finish near forty without endeavouring to age them in one direction or the other, but I know that although she shares that criticism, my 30-year-old girlfriend had an entirely different experience at that film than I did. And it’s because she recognized the Siouxsie and the Banshees song, among others, and because the overall era and genre of the soundtrack spoke to her adolescence. It drew her in and framed the film for her as a tale of another’s adolescence, an experience that can’t be considered universal across centuries and borders, but which has and shall ever find its foundation in roughly the same hormonal soup.
And she and I each saw 8 Mile back in its day, and we saw different films then, too. We both saw a dull and underperformed tale of endeavour and accomplishment, but for me it was of utmost significance that it took place amongst hip hop fans in 1995. That music was the music I wove my consciousness from, in those days. I knew exactly how all those characters felt about the Wu-Tang on the TV behind them, about the OC (Omar Credle, not Orange County) and Mobb Deep instrumentals they were rapping over. Even though I found the film lacklustre and uninspiring, I could identify with the characters’ inspiration, as drawn from the records that made me want to be anybody at all.
I’m led to understand that 8 Mile was no Wonder Boys, and I can tell you for certain that Marie Antoinette was no Lost In Translation, but that’s not my point. Cinema is a confluence of sensory media, and whether by design or by accident, pop music becomes an integral strand among those from which the fabric of our personalities are woven. Its usefulness in concocting a simulacrum of individual transportation is almost wholly dependent upon its reaching an audience with the appropriate tracks behind them.
It could be that I made a mistake and got off on some wrong stop somewhere when I was a kid. I don’t feel comfortable with my relationship to mopey white kid music of the 80s and 90s; it’s like running into cousins you never really got close to… except not cousins, maybe, because you wish you were making out with them. So not cousins, and also “making out” is a really foreign concept to you because rappers don’t “make out”. Rappers ice grill and front, rappers get paid and flip scripts… and erotically, rappers “smack it up, flip it [and] rub it down.” Seriously, the romantic enterprise is so commonly vague and unconvincing in rap lyrics that I’m not sure all the flouncy girls in our videos aren’t to cover for the fact that rappers in general have no direct vocabulary for what goes on between people at any time after eye contact and before orgasm.
Maybe if rappers would make out with someone from science class at dumb parties and accidentally talk until the sun came up and feel like crying when girls or boys dance with someone else, I would have a fighting chance at ever knowing what my life was supposed to be like.
But I’m twenty-seven now, long past those impressionable years. It doesn’t matter anymore how I should have been, and it never will again.