Tuesday, June 22, 2004


not a hip-hop heroine

This interview with Nellie McKay came to my attention via SF/J. After months of reading how McKay was the next big thing, I finally broke down and bought her CD (Get Away From Me) - nicely priced down to $4.95 at my local Amoeba.

I admit, close-minded as I am, I only really liked McKay's more convetional jazz ballads which, content-wise, are anything but conventional. She reminds me a little bit like the late Susannah McCorkle only with a better, lower voice and far more sardonic wit. This is from, "Won't U Please B Nice?":
    Stop with your jazz oratory
    I only listen to top forty
    N'Sync rules
    isn't it nice
    together we'll always live
    no sacrifice
    we'll vote conservative
    if you run I'll pull a gun
    give me head or you'll be dead
    salute the flag or I'll call you a fag
    oh won't you please be nice
Just imagine this with Diana Krall's band playing back-up and you get the idea. I'm with it on the five or so songs where McKay puts on her sweet act while singing daggers at you though I can imagine that the schtick would get thin after a while. McKay doesn't strike me as someone who would sing, "In a Sentimental Mood," un-ironically but that's why I have Ella CDs for.

Anyways, in the McKay interview, she has this to say about hip-hop (yes, Spidey, that tingling sense of danger is accurate):
    "O: You rap a little on your album. Do you listen to much hip-hop?

    NM: I don't listen to much rap, really. I can rarely listen to a whole record of it, because musically, it's very formulaic, and oftentimes it doesn't have the best hooks on every track. I like my music to be very musical, you know? In terms of content, a lot of it's crap, with all the sexism and homophobic bullshit. It's incredible how rappers are always preaching nonconformity—you know, "I'm just gonna go my own way and be my own man and blah blah blah"—but they're the first ones to do so many things that they have to do. They have to do that hip-hop thing, a certain way of walking, and it's so conformist. I mean, way to buck the system! But I do think there's a great deal of politics mixed in. Their reference to the real world is much better than most, particularly a lot of women who seem like all they do is sing about love. Love is such a fleeting emotion. It's such a small part of the things you do in your life. I don't understand why that's all they concentrate on, except that that's what they're encouraged to do, because if you keep thinking about love, you'll be less of a challenge. I like that about rap. It's got power to it.
The shame is that McKay actually seems pretty intelligent everywhere else but then again, a lot of very smart people say some really stupid things about hip-hop. McKay is hardly the worst violator in this regard but it's surprising that an artist who is so cross-genre in her own musical tastes could so easily generalize about hip-hop. "Musically, it's very formulaic"? "In terms of content, a lot of it's crap"? "Their reference to the real world is much better than most, particularly a lot of women who seem like all they do is sing about love"?

Any single of these comments, in the right context, might actually not be that problematic but taken as a whole, in one single paragraph, and it would appear that McKay knows as much about hip-hop as I do about death metal. Which is to say, not much at all. Hopefully, she can stick to penning sarcastic torch songs rather than opining on subjects where her disdain drips off that pretty little nose of hers.

  • CORRECTION: As an antidote to the music criticism that we don't like, thank goodiness for Sasha Frere-Jones who revives creates a singles column in The New Yorker. If memory serves, the last time something like this popped up was when Nick Hornby wrote a "Top Ten" piece but rather than muse on songs he was enjoying or found important, it was more like "Top Ten Reasons Nick Hornby is suffering from middle-aged angst and therefore is only capable of complaining loudly about the ineptitude of modern pop music and bemoaning how nothing sounds as good as when he was a wee lad instead of the salty curmudgeon he apparently has turned into."

    In contrast, S to the F to the jigga-jigga-J actually decides to write on music he likes (yes, amazing, I know) which happens to currently include Nina Sky's "Move Ya Body" (currently in competition to be this summer's "Uh Oh" but hopefully with better songwriting and singing ability), Hoobastank's "The Reason," and an obscure rap/R&B crossover tune called "Yeah" by some guys named Usher and Little Jonathan. I hear that last one could be kind of hot.

    My only point of curiosity with his column was that he refers to Sky's song as using a Jamaican "rhythm," which I always presumed was better known to most as a "riddim" but Mr. Jones informs me that Greensleeves spells it proper like and who are we to argue? By the way, according to the Man himself, this singles column is going to be a recurring piece in The New Yorker, which is just another reason why SF/J is godly. He can expect to find every indie and major label on the planet now sending him their new 12"s. Too bad for Sasha, there's no Amoeba in Manhattan.

  • Two items spotted at Catchdubs.com):

  • The iconoclast in me wants to say otherwise but seriously, Kanye West's videos have been consistently kick ass. He hits a new point with the video for "Jesus Walks" which includes, among other things, a chain gang filmed in B&W (literally and metaphorically), Kanye masquerading as an angel, and most incredibly, a KKK member carrying a cross while lit on fire.

    I've said this before, but I'm not religious and in general, I mistrust Christianity given it's questionable historical alliance with colonialism but whatever - "Jesus Walks" is an amazing song. I played this at the club the other night and it's like the best thing ever. It's just too bad that Kanye also has to get behind tacky shit like this.

    (Apparently, there are three versions of the video, just so you know).
    (credit: Pickin' Boogers)

  • Last (and probably least): Trunk Monkeys. It's the new big thing.
    (credit: Pickin' Boogers)