Pop Life

Saturday, January 24, 2004


ghostface drops that stanky funk flavor

Let's start by saying that Ghostface (regardless if he keeps the "Killah" in his name) is the best reason for any hip-hop fan to wake-up in the morning and feel like everything's going to be alright. I forget this from time to time because unlike folks like Nas, 50 or Jay-Z, Ghost doesn't try to stay on radio 365 days a year - he just drops that science when he feels like it, taking 2-3 years between albums and keeping his appearances to a minimum otherwise. When he comes back, he comes BACK with a vengeance, sweeping in with songs that get you so amped off his flamboyant personality that even a jaded MFer like me is getting excited for the release date on The Pretty Tony album. Meanwhile, you have some incredible cuts to keep you company:
  • "Run"-Yeah, you know the goddamn deal. This is one of the hypest songs we've heard in the last year - "when you see me coming/get the fuck out the entrance!" Dude had me screaming like Howard Dean.
  • "Beatles"-This will never get cleared but Ghost raps over an instrumental version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." I gently wept listening to it.
  • "Ghost Heard It All Before"-It's Ghostface over Sunshine Anderson's "I Heard It All Before." Dumb hot.
  • "Ghostface"-Dumber hot. That beat is more amped than speakers plugged into the third rail. Or something like that - seriously, it's just that good. (more Ghost goodness available at Wu Tang Corp.Com)

DJ Nu-Mark has a new solo album due out in the spring - Blend Crafters, his long-awaited chance to shine on his own after his many years with Jurassic 5 (he's not leaving the group, just doing his own thang for a minute). His production just keeps improving - folks have slept on dude for way too long. Peep his work for Chali 2na's upcoming Fish Out Of Water album, a song called "Comin' Thru" (you need to scroll down to find it). Nu-Mark will also be releasing a mix-CD through Sequence called Hands On in the Spring, sometime after Blend Crafters comes out.

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Friday, January 23, 2004


Seriously, it's stuff like this that convinces me there is a benevolent God out there somewhere, looking down upon us and smiling. Check out this brilliant video remix of "Hey Ya." (originally spotted by J-Smooth)
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Thursday, January 22, 2004


this is what I wore to prom
(ok, not really, see below re: Shogun)

  • More Black Album remix nuttiness. Check out Amiri's The Blackprint Album. This joins the steadily growing list that includes: The White Album, Brown Album, Grey Album, Black and Tan Album, Black Jays Album and whatever else is coming down the pipe. I hope to god this fad burns itself out soon even though I'm enjoying some of the mixes out there. Amiri's remix of "What More Can I Say" uses this great loop from the Sylvers that I always thought would make a dope beat.

  • The Mingering Mike saga continues - he's alive and well and you can read the update here and it includes photos of his albums.

  • That was fast - there's already a book out about Yao Ming, written by my namesake, Oliver Chin. It's The Tao of Yao.

  • Speaking of crazy remixes - here's Lil Jon Meets Howard Dean. Is this the new anthem for the Democrunk Party? (originally spotted at different kitchen)

  • Check out this North Korean anti-American propaganda ad called "Fucking USA". Love how they keep morphing Dubya into both a devil and hairy ape. I didn't even know North Korea had anyone trained in CGI. If you want something less political, here's a video of North Korean athletic dancing for kids.(originally seen via Sharon's blog)

  • It's the Year of the Monkey (forget that Gregorian calender crap) - Jeff Chang points out that based on historical precedent, we might be in for a helluva ride.

  • Just as The Source Magazine is undergoing a melt-down of unprecedented proportions (and well overdue I might add), Jay Smooth reviews the real history of the magazine.

  • Damn, Jin better watch his back, Shogun is here. (Peep: dude is Chinese but calls himself Shogun - how's that for pan-Asian solidarity?) (originally clowned by Catchdubs)

  • The Worst of the Twin Cities. Hey, how come more cities don't have this as an annual publication? (originally spotted at fimoculous)

  • Dizzee Rascal love.

  • Dizzee Rascal hate.
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  • Wednesday, January 21, 2004


    bump 'n' grind

    This comes a little late in the game but in the December 1, 2003 issue of The New Yorker, Peter Hessler writes a profile on basketball player Yao Ming.* For the most part, the piece is good. Hessler covers ground that many other profiles I've read haven't dealt with - for example, situating Yao within the social politics of Shanghai and Chinese society writ large and including a side story about Yao's teammate Juaquin Hawkins who played in China for part of his pre-NBA career.

    What annoys me in Hessler's story is this small part where he goes to Houston's Chinatown to discover what the interest in Yao is among "Houston's Chinese" and Hessler is operating with several assumptions, all of which I find lazy at best. The first is the idea that "athletics has meant little to most Chinese American communities" - a specious statement that Hessler does not support in the least. He goes on to argue that Chinese (and it should be noted, Hessler makes very little distinction between the Chinese and Chinese Americans) have little interest in basketball, conveniently using a local shop owner, David Chang, as his native informant who claims that "because of their size," the Chinese have no interest in b-balling.

    This must come to considerable surprise to Chinese American youth everywhere who hit the blacktop every afternoon and weekend, trying to catch a pick-up game against any opponent willing to take them on. Anyone who's ever known about the byzantine politics of Chinese and Japanese American basketball leagues in Los Angeles and the Bay Area would also shoot a quizzical glance at the idea that APIs aren't into basketball. In fact, I can't think of a sport where more Asian Americans participate in (insert your badminton jokes here).

    Moreover, the fact that Houston's Chinatown might turn up little Mao paraphenalia means little, especially considering that if Houston at all resembles every other major Asian American metropolis in the nation, Chinatown is a poor place to try to locate the whole of the Chinese American "community." Especially given that he states the economic mobility enjoyed by sectors of the Chinese American population, it makes much more sense to travel to the Houston suburbs where most of the middle class Asian American population resides. I mean, you don't go to NYC Chinatown to get the "Chinese community" sense of things - you go to Flushing. In the Bay Area, you go to San Mateo, or the Sunset district, anywhere but Chinatown.

    These small things irk me because they suggest a real lack of engagement and thought from an author who is otherwise quite thoughtful. It also goes to show that in most American media, more is known about China than is known (or cared) about Chinese America. I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater - this WAS a very, very good piece but I felt like I needed to address this one part.

    *Hessler also has an exclusive online Q&A about his Yao Ming story
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    Tuesday, January 20, 2004


    Ok - most of ya'll could give a flying $%() about the travails that a music journalist has to suffer through, but I really have to get this off my chest: labels and publicists really need to rethink this whole "copyright protected CDs" that won't play in anything besides a standard CD player (i.e. even MP3 equipped CD players won't work with these CDs). Yeah, I know that everyone is crazy paranoid about digital piracy but this is NOT the solution.

    I barely know any critics who don't listen to CDs on a computer, or at least a device that that is MP3-enabled. That is the state of technology today and the fact that certain segments of the record industry don't seem to understand that is just the sort of example of how their fears are actually part of their undoing. Let's just point out that for some artists - who are in ACTUAL danger of being bootlegged out the wazoo (50 Cent anyone? Kanye West?) pre-release tons of their material on mix-CDs already. I won't bother naming the current advance that I just got in the mail that's giving me grief, but suffice to say, they are not a hip-hop group known to be in hot, hot demand along Canal St.

    What's even more ridiculous is that they also watermarked the CD, meaning that if this were somehow to leak to the Internet, they could track it back to me - but I'm thinking: why are you watermarking a CD that can't even be loaded onto a computer to begin with?

    Like I said, for most of you out there, this means absolutely nothing but it's making the job of journalists that much more difficult and it's actually probably harming the artist in the long run. If I can't easily listen to an album, it makes my enthusiasm for reviewing it that much less, especially when the artist in question isn't doing the kind of platinum numbers that warrants reviews everywhere. I mean, these cats in particular could really use more shine but I know that I won't be the only writer who decides, "eh, it's not worth the trouble." If you're at a record label or a publicist reading this - please seriously consider finding another way to protect your product. I have no problems with the desire to prevent rampant piracy but the current means is actually a far greater detriment than piracy itself.

    Ok, rant over.
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    kanye shows you how to do
    "itsy bitsy spider"

      "first ni**a with a Benz and a backpack" - "Breathe In, Breathe Out", Kanye West

    Here's the deal: Roc-A-Fella finds itself at a tricky crossroads. Presuming Jay-Z stays retired, even if only for two years (see this month's Vibe where he admits, his "retirement" may be shorter than most presumed), the Roc still needs to figure out how to maintain label visibility without having their flagship artist.

    Def Jam has practically mastered this over the years and without a doubt, the Roc wants to have that kind of longevity/flexibility. The problem is: who on the Roc is going to step up like that? Cam'ron and Dipset are too busy trying to get their own empire started. Young Gunz are unproven despite one hot single. MOP, Dirt McGirt, Freeway and Beanie Siegel all have great followings and they're proven performers, but they're the sideshow, not the main event. As for Memphis Bleek... (sound of crickets chirping)

    So where does Kanye West fit into this? He's not going to be the next Jay-Z (no one is, right now) but he's also not the next Free/Beans/Bleek/Juelz/etc. He's unlike anyone else on the label yet fits in perfectly. Think of Hova's constant appeals to sincerity ("Song Cry", "December 4", etc.) but then mix that with someone who seems far more genuinely humble, dash in entertaining and funny, and sh*t - we know dude can produce b/c he's Kanye West. End conclusion about his College Dropout? West up!

    I was initially skeptical about K's chances - after all, I always thought of him as a producer and not an MC. But then came "Two Words" and "Living Through the Wire" and suddenly, I'm putting him somewhere ahead of Pete Rock and behind Lord Finesse on the producers-who-rhyme/vice versa list. He's not an incredible rapper but as Hua notes in his blog, K is funny as hell as those who've enjoyed "Slow Jamz" have noted. (Personally, one of my favorite lines comes from "Through the Wire":

      My dogs couldn't tell if/I look like Tom Cruise on Vanilla Sky
      it was televised.
      There's been an accident like Geico
      they thought I was burnt up like Pepsi did Michael

    Here's the thing: many of you have already heard 80% (if not more) of the album since Kanye's managed to slip tracks from it onto all his 592 mix-CDs released thus far. Yet, it says a lot about how likable College Dropout (coming out in mid-Feb) is that I had heard half the songs already yet I still enjoy the album as if it were the first time.

    What strikes me about K's appeal is that he really is this combination of nerdy hip-hop head refashioned as nouveau-riche baller and he doesn't try to overload either image. Sure, on a song like "Breathe In, Breathe Out," he apologies to Mos Def and Kweli for making a song about ice, but you never feel like West is overplaying the card. Likewise, on a song like "Self-Conscious"* (aka "All Falls Down"), West crafts a song that is convincingly sincere and moving in its depictions of why people hustle - himself especially. Yeah, it's partly an excuse for his materialism but I never felt like he was being disingenous about it (unlike K's big boss at the Roc).

    Actually, on that note - take a song like Kanye's "My Way" and compare it to what Jay-Z did with the concept. In Hova's hands, "My Way" was entirely self-serving - it got over partially just b/c Jay has such a massive cult of personality going for him but under the West treatment, his "My Way" feels so much less masturbatory and much more of the affirming anthem it inspires to be. Effectively, Kanye West is dropping "conscious rap" without wearing that label on its sleeve, something that dead prez still hasn't figured out and that Common has turned into a cliche by now.

    The hot track on College Dropout though is "Jesus Walks". I can't really stand the Christian church but dude has me feeling the Holy Ghost on this one. Seriously, when's the last time you heard a rapper (ok, a rapper NOT from the South) really give it up to Jesus and make you feel like you're really FEELING something and not just being preached to? Backed-up by the Harlem's Boy Choir, Kanye drops an unlikely candidate for club status but damn, believe me, it'd sound GREAT on the parquet floor. To the chuuuuuurch and back like Snoop dizzle. And just peep his lines:

      "they say you can rap about anything/except for Jesus/
      that means sex, lies and videotape/but if I talk about God/my record won't get played/huh?!
      well, if that takes away from spins/which will probably take away from ends
      then I hope it takes away from sins/and bring about that day I've been dreaming 'bout
      next time/I'm in the club/everybody screaming out/"Jesus walks!"

    Kanye's got me holding my head like dude from the old school Krazy Glue commercials.

    Check College Dropout out when it drops (even if you already own all 1293 Kanye West mix-CDs. It won't change your life but it might change your day and I'm more than happy to settle for that.

    Oh, just for a bonus - here's one of the zillion Kanye freestyles floating out there. This one with Kanye rhyming over the "Milkshake" beat.

    *Quick aside: Can I just say that I can't get enough of listening to "Self-Conscious"? That Lauryn Hill guitar loop he has running through just kills me everytime and it really, really, really makes me miss L-Boogie's presence in hip-hop. Is she done being crazy yet?

    (shout out to JP for you-know-what)

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    way too deep

    Plug! I got a new mix-CD out: Deep Covers. Peep the description there. Buy it here.
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