Pop Life

Saturday, February 14, 2004


iron bamboo: straight outta taipei?

Saw this one over at Hiphopmusic.com - it's a Taipei Times article about Iron Bamboo, a pseudo-gangsta rap group that's blowing up in Taiwan. What I noticed about this article, beyond just the profile of the group itself, is how snarky and condescending the author, Max Woodworth is. This isn't meant to be a music column or review but dude is actually penning a hit piece masquerading as reporting. Foul ball. Iron Bamboo might be faker than a bootleg VCD sold in a Taipei night market but Woodworth's approach is so self-aggrandizing in its attitude, he might as well just interviewed himself instead.
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Friday, February 13, 2004


too cool for college, kanye's not
too cool to bare his inner teddy

This is likely going to be a major conversation piece as more people listen to Kanye West's College Dropout album. West, who is the son of the former head of English at Chicago State, lampoons the quest for higher education (i.e. college and beyond) on this new album and this is ruffling quite a few feathers, including my own. The digs mostly come on two or three tracks, the most egregious being on the "School Spirit 2" and "Lil Jimmy Skit".

I noticed over on the 10 Reasons Why Hip-Hop Is Dead, the convo has already begun. Here's my two cents - as someone who used to work with working class and inner city youth at a job training center, I know that four year universities are not a realistic goal for a lot of teens and that there's not enough training available to help them find work in the labor market that isn't dead-end, minimum wage crap. Preaching about college is a great ideal but that shouldn't overtake a larger social agenda that also includes real options for youth who opt (or are unable) to attend college.

At the same time, Kanye's not really talking about an alternative - dude just seems to be really bitter at the idea of college, and makes pursuing higher ed seem like a fool's errand. Actually, worse than that, he makes it seem like going for your masters, even your BA, is selfish when you could already be out there, earning for your family. I know the skits are meant to be hyperbole, but he's not making a joke of it though, at least not that I can tell.

Listen. Decide. Return. Discuss. Please!

This is in the comments section but was worth upgrading to the posting. Says Milo: "Kanye, nobody coulda' put a wire in your jaw with just a high school diploma."
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This is a first. I've been called onto the carpet, not for something I wrote in this blog, but for something I didn't write. Clyde, over at Hip Hop Logic posted this criticism of me and J-Smooth for being late-comers on the story about the Native American protest over Andre 3000's Grammy performance:
    You know, Jay Smooth and Oliver Wang have been my twin stars in the constellation of hip hop bloggers, in part because they almost always come correct on the political tip. So when I heard that Outkast was being brought to task by Native American groups for their bullshit appropriation of Native symbols, I knew these guys would be on it. But they weren't.
What kills me is that Clyde admits he didn't post on it sooner because he didn't actually watch the Grammys. Well dude, neither did I - I read the results, heard some stories (like the 50 Cent thing) and wrote my post based on that. If I didn't report on the protests, maybe it's because 1) I noted that a lot of other bloggers already did and 2) I don't report on every possible thing I could post on. All this aside, Clyde also tries to pull my racial card with this little dagger:
    We won't discuss the fact that if Justin did blackface or some other loser showed up with fake slanty eyes, these brothers would be all over it.
Well, there's currently a petition trying to censure Lost in Translation for stereotyping Japanese and I didn't post about that before (ok, until now) and that's about "my people."

BUT, now you all know that Native Americans think Andre 3000 is a bastard and Asian Americans think Lost In Translation sucks so I think that means I've done my blogging duty for the day.

  • Let me also add that Justin Timberlake is catching a bad one for being a punk little coward for back-stabbing Janet. (seen on Hua's blog).
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  • Wednesday, February 11, 2004


    Ok, I swear I'll stop plugging this album soon but my review of DJ Danger Mouse and his now infamous Grey Album is in the S.F. Bay Guardian as of this week. (the irony though, of course, is that Danger Mouse got hit with a "cease and desist" order. Read my man Joseph Patel's MTV story on it - he was probably the first to break it.)

    Update: The folks at Illegal Art have done an immense public service by posting the entire Grey Album online. This is hot - they manage to throw up the middle finger at both EMI and RIAA. (as seen on hiphopmusic.com)

    Also, if you want to read a reaaaaaalllly long-winded interview about yours truly, Tadah over at Urban Smarts interviewed me last week and the full long transcript is available now.

    I also forgot about this this interview on Rawbeats.com from last fall.
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    Tuesday, February 10, 2004


    Here's the poll's home page. Read. Return.
    Personal observations:
      1) I'm horribly out of step with the critical mainstream. Out of the top 50, I haven't even heard 39 of the LPs. I'm a lil' more with the masses on the singles though (25 out of 50).

      2) I would have thought "Rock Your Body" would have scored higher. It
      has that same kind of infectious pop appeal as Beyonce but maybe it
      was a lil too bubblegum? Or maybe just too old?

      3) What I really can't believe is that "Frontin" scored so low - that was massive! Every club I was in last year had hordes of drunk white women (the populist standard) asking for it.

      4) Sean Paul's "Get Busy" probably deserves to be higher than where it is but I'm chalking that up to general dancehall apathy among the voters (myself included, I didn't put it on my list though in hindsight, I probably should have).

      5) Diwali shoots - scores! Twice.

      6) It's also worth noting - perhaps not surprisingly - that indie rap 12"s are nowhere to be found here unless you drop down to Lyrics Born's "Calling Out", tied for 119 or Kweli's "Get By" at 101. Notably absent: Atmosphere and Aesop. So much for emo-rap as the future of hip-hop...

      7) Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised by this either but urban (read: black) music scored 14 of the top 25 slots in the singles poll but only 4-5 in the top 25 album slots. Is this because people now accept hip-hop as pop but "serious" albums only come from white indie rockers? Oh, I guess that'd be, "yes."

    HOT COMMENTS (call me self-aggrandizing but these are my favorite part of P&J, reading over people's laser-targeted comments about pop music. Some of it is most definitely wankery but occassionally you get some brilliantly clever and intelligent observations in the mix.)
    • OutKast don't hate the game, they just change the fucking rules. All
      you critics (I mean, all you funky fresh colleagues) who hated on
      this one just because, you know, you knew your voice would be that
      much louder to hate on a record this butters: Get a striped shirt and
      a whistle and blow.-SACHA JENKINS

    • "Beware of the Boys" brought back memories of listening to Hot 97
      with my little brother in the car , protesting when my dad tried to
      turn off the radio in favor of his Indian classical music tapes. Dad
      could tolerate hip-hop way more than rock, which he thought was
      tuneless garbage.-GEETA DAYAL

    • I'd take a sip of Kelis's milk-shake over a lick of Beyonce's jelly any day.-AMY PHILLIPS

    • I swear when Snoop and Pharrell's "Beautiful" came out, crime dropped
      to an all-time low in South Central L.A. Gangstas were seen all over
      town crooning like bitches. They dropped their gats and bought floral
      arrangements for their 'hos. Yeah boiiii.-HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA

    • The thing about Andre 3000 is that he is profoundly black. This is
      not a "positive" blackness?Dead Prez raising a fist, Talib Kweli
      getting by. This is a personal and accidental black-ness. This is
      describing the entire experience?the way we walk on sunny days when
      it's raining inside?when you meant to only write a song. This is "Her
      from the city, so her got to be witty." This is an attempt at
      new-world multiculturalism?"now all Beyonces and Lucy Lius" betrayed
      by Southern slurring of that last syllable.-TA-NEHISI COATES

    • I wish Big Boi and Andre 3000 were gay, and a couple, and advocates
      for gay marriage.-SMITH GALTNEY

    • Be r*al! If somebody else stepped up with the beat from Cee-Lo's
      "I'll Be Around" or Missy's "Wake Up" or Timbaland and Magoo's own
      "Indian Flute," you'd have a heart attack and start pitching features.-SASHA FRERE-JONES

    • Without a doubt, the debut of the year was by the U.K.'s Led
      Zeppelin. I know, everyone says they're just ripping off the White
      Stripes and Queens of the Stone Age, but they are so much more than
      that. Who else would have the guts to debut with a three-disc live
      set? Their deadpan take on every conceivable '70s rock
      excess?including, hilariously, the de rigueur 20-minute drum
      solo?works as well as it does because these guys can actually play!-SCOTT SEWARD

    • Dear Postal Service: "Singing" over "beats"? That's called "r&b,"
      crackers. Better withdraw that patent application.-JON CARAMANICA

    • So now the young Black man, having waxed so eloquently about guns,
      blunts, and be-a-tches, will speak of love. Of biblical love and
      filial love, undesirable love and unrequited love, terrifying love
      and heavenly love, of Hottentot Madonna love and other hookerlicious
      oxymoronic forms of love, of goddess cult love, of love for hearth
      and home and of love cast out into the wilderness. Andre 3000 y'all.-GREG TATE

    • Did hip-hop really need the validation of the Democratic field during
      the November debate? Wesley Clark weighing in on OutKast? Dennis
      Kucinich's theme rap? Somewhere down there, Robert Moses is saying,
      "For this I destroyed the South Bronx?"-HUA HSU

    • I'm biding time till Apple releases an "iRecord Store Clerk"who can
      scowl at me and ridicule my every purchase. Then I'm on board.-JERRY DANNEMILLER

    • In homage to Jay-Z, I'd like to say: Thank you God my personal
      savior, whether you are man woman or simply energy, the omniscient
      ether making me the best list-maker on earth, and forcing all those
      other unfortunate suckas to step up their game once I am gone. You
      are truly divine.-JULIANNE SHEPHERD

    NOT SO HOT COMMENTS I'm not trying to hate but some of these comments so overstate their point, I couldn't help but draw attention to them)

    • There should be a bumper sticker on the back of the OutKast company
      dune buggy that reads, "Money Talks But Bullshit Walks All The Way To
      The Bank To Count The Loot That Tales Of Rollerskates And Lollipops
      Showered Upon Us In Our Attempts To Create A Hybrid That While Never
      Devoid Of Funk And Certainly In Keeping With A Long Tradition Of
      Trickster Mischief Makers Nonetheless Adds A 21st-Century
      Diamond-Studded Wristwatch Hard Gleam To The Eye Of The Tiger That We
      Most Assuredly Have By The Tail! We Deserve Every Penny Because We
      Work Harder Than Anybody To Perfect Our Imperfections And Somehow We
      Still Manage To Rock The Bells Occasionally Beep Beep Ya Ass!"-SCOTT SEWARD
      (ed: whoa! slow down dude! de-caff f'real!)

    • All summer I felt stalked by "In Da Club." It poured out of speakers
      in every bodega, SUV, boom box, and clothing store I walked past.
      When I came out of the subway in Brooklyn it greeted me on DeKalb
      Avenue, sending me home on the flow of a groove that was infectious,
      sinister, and funky. It'll take the Neptunes another 10 years to
      smell the fumes on Dr. Dre's Caddy.-NELSON GEORGE
      (ed: "In Da Club" was crazy hot but let's not overstate it. The Neptunes are racking up new classics so fast they've already lapped themselves. Dre will do fine but dude's not God.)

    • Justin Timberlake's falsetto singlehandedly ushered me back into
      loving the Top 40.-HILLARY CHUTE
      (ed: this is one of those "wanna-be populist" statements that's profoundly anti-populist.)

    • Jay-Z's retirement makes perfect sense: hip-hop has entered a post-MC
      phase. Rhymes are passe?. Turn on Hot 97: it's all about Diwali, the
      new Jus' Blaze beat, the latest Neptunes songlet. The world's biggest
      MC is 50 Cent, a rapper who can't be bothered to open his mouth.
      Dancehall is blowing up, even though American listeners don't
      understand a single word.-JODY ROSEN
      (ed: there's a phenom going on here but for the love of God, "rhymes are passe"? I know it's phrased as a question, but even still. And just to point out - it's Just Blaze, not Jus'.)

    • The most interesting figures in hip-hop for me over the past two
      years have been the Streets, Northern State, Dizzee Rascal, Bubba
      Sparxxx, and Slug. Not an African-American among them. Can it be that
      each artist's otherness relative to hip-hop proper is bringing new
      styles, new impulses, and new concerns to a genre that's 25 years old?-CHRIS HERRINGTON
      (ed: I'm baffled as to how anyone can only like the Streets, Northern State, Dizzee, Bubba and Slug at the expense of other interesting hip-hop figures who actually happen to be African American...Andre 3000 anyone? Missy? Lil Jon? Timbaland? Fanny Pack? Mr. Lif? My point clear yet? Herrington is from Memphis but for a moment, I thought maybe he lived in Williamsburg.)

    • The problem is, being a pop star these days often means being a star
      of pop culture, not pop music.-NATE PATRIN
      (ed: see above about anti-populism masquerading as populism)

    SO NOT HOT QUOTES(I swear to god I'm not trying to pick on Rob Sheffield but I just couldn't NOT highlight these two pearls)

    • I love "Hey Ya!" But who even pretended not to? It's the most
      accessible hip-hop hit since Kris Kross's "Jump."
      It's also a hopeful
      sign that people still crave weirdness from pop music even in this
      most conformist of times.-ROB SHEFFIELD
      (ed: Has dude not been to a club or listened to the radio since the days of Cross Colours, Aaron Hall and the first Bush administration? Kris Kross? I'm aghast.)

    • Who's the leader in da club that's made for you and me? F-I-F T-Y-C
      E-N-motherfuckin-T!-ROB SHEFFIELD
      (ed: WASP please!)

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    It's been over a month but I finally got around to updating my Soul Sides blog with five new song appreciations and five new album appreciations. Artists being highlighted include: Alicia Keys, Eddie Kendricks, The Beatles, Kanye West, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson, and James Brown. Enjoy.
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    Monday, February 09, 2004


  • A well-written album review that lays into the LP/artist can be a work of beauty. The NY Times Ben Ratliff takes Norah Jones to task for putting out a blank and bland sophomore album. Some of my favorite lines that Ratliff drops:
      "She reflects, she wonders, she grows wistful; she considers falling in or out of love, and when she pledges it, as in the song "What Am I to You?," she does so in certifiable clichés about skies falling and butterflies."

      "The persona in her songs — let's not call it Ms. Jones herself, because her life couldn't be this dull — might have lived practically anywhere in the developed world, at any time during the last century. Somehow Ms. Jones's work has managed to make a virtue of vagueness."

      "Perhaps what listeners respond to in Norah Jones isn't the honesty of the acoustic sounds, but the limited emotional range of the music."
    Good stuff, good stuff. (spotted at Jeff Chang's blog)

  • Ok, so the Grammy Awards are done and can I just ask a few key questions?
      1) Evanescence? W T F? No wonder 50 Cent stormed the stage, rocking his Gorilla Unit t-shirt and basically saying, "fuck all ya'll." This is just more proof that the Grammy Awards operate on some strange logic that I hope I'll never understand.
      2) "Shake Ya Tailfeather" for "Best Rap Peformance by a Duo or Group"? C'mon - did any of the voters actually listen to that shitty soundtrack song? Maybe they were dazed by all the ass that got flashed at them in the intro of the video but this particular award was ridiculous.
      3) I love Coldplay as much as the next guy but um...their album came out in 2002, they already bagged their Grammy(s) in 2003 so why they hell is "Clocks" beating out "Crazy In Love" and "Hey Ya" for record of the year? Hua makes a great analysis - maybe Beyonce and Outkast split the vote, leaving Coldplay an easy run for the award but even still - "Crazy In Love" and "Hey Ya" both DEFINED 2003's pop music year in ways that "Clocks," excellent as it is, will never be able to do.
      4) Outkast wins "Best Album." And everyone still thinks they're going to split up. Well, if Simon and Garfunkel can get reunited, one can still hold out hope for Andre and Big Boi.
    Hua puts the smack hand down too on his blog. Peep this zinger: "The Black Eyed Peas are this generation of collegiates' Fugees, only they suck." Ouch!

    Plus, J-Smooth's running commentary on the Awards show are not to be missed either.

  • Alicia Keys' "You Don't Know My Name" is an incredible song. Kanye West produces one of his most sublime tracks ever - those falling piano keys are an amazing touch and Alicia sounds great crooning over it - this song totally captures the soul spirit of the Chi-Lites or the Philly Sound. But girl - please stop talking over the song! Who the hell cares if your cell phone is breaking up? Or that you use milk instead of water for your hot chocolate? Girl, you are not Barry White who could get away with yapping over the music because, well, he was Barry fucking White. As Alicia Keys, sing honey. Play the piano. But don't go on for half an hour about what you did during your day - none of us care. The monologue makes better sense in the context of the video, which aims for a cinematic narrative (and stars Mos Def as the object of Alicia's affection) but even there, the monologue goes on for far too long. I should cop the song's instrumental and acapella and just edit out the inane patter.

    Updated: My man Rawj wrote to suggest that "You Don't Know My Name" owes more of its excellence to the Main Ingredient than Kanye per se, arguing that Kanye basically just looped 8 bars of the Main Ingredient's "Let Me Prove My Love To You" to make the song. I took a listen to the portion of "Let Me Prove My Love To You" that Kanye uses. You can easily hear where Kanye crafted his beat from but I actually think he accomplishes something more for Alicia's song than just looping an "obvious" sample. Most people wouldn't listen to this track and think, "oh, beat" - Kanye heard the potential and tweaks the song to make it work. You listen. You decide.

  • This feature is already a few months old now but I can't pass up a story on Asian Americans and sex - in this case, pornography. Wantedlist.Com is a Netflix-like DVD-by-mail company, except they truck exclusively in porn. It's actually an entirely simple (and therefore brilliant) idea - avoid the shame and embarassment of lurking in video store backrooms by having porn shipped to your home discreetly. Actually, the long defunct Kozmo (I still shed a tear for them) had this idea on lock - apparently, porn was one of their biggest cash cows (that and home-delivered ice cream I suppose) but unlike Kozmo's failed business plan, Wantedlist is likely doing quite good for themselves simply because they've been one of the first to really make a name for themselves in the market. What's the Asian American angle? Well, the company was founded by Anh Tran and Danny Ting - here's an Asian Week feature on Tran and Ting.

  • Tran was an Asian American Studies major at UCLA - dude needs to hook up with UC Davis Asian American Studies professor Darrell Hamamoto who has produced the first Asian American porn movie. (I'll have more to say about Hamamoto's film after March, when his short Yellocaust is screening at this year's S.F. Int'l Asian American Film Festival along with Masters of the Pillow, the "making of" documentary about Hamamoto's film.
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