The New Bullsh*t: Jay-Z As Satanist

Apparently, the media is bored.  No rappers have been shot recently, no significant beefs going on, nobody’s outdone the Octomom yet, etc…so when there isn’t any news, news-makers make it up.  The new fabrication tainting the web and occupying Bible-beaters and conspiracy theorists alike is that Jay-Z (as well as Kanye and Rihanna both by collaboration and association) is a Satanist.  For those who have missed the bullsh*t being slung around the web thus far, I’ll write it again…the new rumor is that Jay-Z is a Satanist.

Y’all sound real stupid right now.  Am I the only one that remembers the following conspiracies that materialized into absolutely nothing?:

  1. Liz Claiborne is a racist.
  2. Tommy Hilfiger is a racist.
  3. Luther Vandross died (before he actually did).
  4. The company Timberland is owned by the KKK.

A few of many that I never bought into (I prefer facts and affirmation straight from the horse’s mouth) but were widespread, never proven, and eventually forgotten about.  The saddest part is that Jay-Z is one of the most articulate Black men with the most visibility in mainstream media, in rap or elsewhere.  He is a highly successful, innovative, and prolific artist and philanthropist with a body of work that few rival in terms of consistency.  Since Jay doesn’t give us too much to criticize, it’s only natural someone would find it necessary to weave a quilt out of pure bullsh*t.  Some say he’s sold his soul to the Devil for success.  OK, have you heard any of his albums?  It doesn’t take Lucifer whispering in my ear to make me or anyone else go pick up a Jay-Z album.

"So, Jay...how about those Nets tickets we discussed? This is the 3rd message I've left and I'm a little peeved."

The video for “Run This Town” allegedly has some actions and images that could be construed as related to Satanism and/or membership to an “occult order (probably Freemasonry)”, according to Vigilant Citizen.  First, Freemasonry is not an occult order, but since it is a relatively secretive organization, it’s an easy way to get people scared and riled up.  The association between Freemasonry and Satanism was linked and then publicly discredited due to the writings of Leo Taxil, a libelous late 1800s writer who himself announced that his own claims relating the two concepts were fictitious, even going so far as to thank the clergy for giving his claims publicity.  Someone clearly has not done their research or is reading what they want to read and presenting it as fact to others who are too lazy to do the research for themselves.  Regardless, all of this is hearsay and based on opinion, presented by people who clearly have their own personal vendettas and vested interests.

The aforementioned site goes into depth talking about Jay-Z’s Rocawear line and some symbols used in it, saying they are directly related to Freemasonry, though many of the symbols also appear on money, which is a large part of the subject matter of Jay-Z’s music.  The icing on the cake is that the site also takes quotes from Mobb Deep’s Prodigy, a rival of Jay’s who (surprise) is the first to speak out against Jay-Z and his alleged connection to “the beast”.  I guess he’s still pissed about Jay-Z outing him as a ballet enthusiast.  This from a member of Mobb Deep who, on a recent (2006) album titled Blood Money, posed with rhyme partner Havoc in front of a giant pyramid, which the writer of the article describes as “blatantly Masonic” in reference to the symbols used in Rocawear clothing.  The Freemason organization is relatively secretive, so would a member really go so far as to place these symbols on clothing for non-members to wear?  Methinks not.

Rihanna throwing up the rock & roll symbol...don't remember anyone claiming Avril Lavigne was a Satanist.

Another perceived yet poorly thought-out “issue” is Jay’s use of the term “God” in reference to a human being, describing it as part of a “Luciferian belief” that men can be gods.  “God” is actually quite popular in New York slang and hip-hop and is more related to Five Percent Nation ideology than Satanism, which is an obscure reference and seems to grab at straws for lack of concrete information.  The Five Percent Nation is an offshoot of the Nation of Islam and is in no way related to Satanism…quite the opposite actually.  Rap groups Brand Nubian and Wu-Tang have long been associated with the Five Percent Nation and referred to one another and Black men and women in general as “gods and earths”.  If Jay-Z wanted to come out and be a Five Percenter, I don’t think there would be all that much push-back.  It’s not as unusual a belief system as one might think and there is much validity to their beliefs.

Quite simply, folks, the Internet being what it is, you can find any information to prove or disprove any theory you could dream up.  Any time someone is at the top of their game and successful, there will be detractors.  Michael Jackson died amidst a swirl of rumor and negativity, as did many iconic figures.  We have to be smarter than this, people.  It’s music.  There’s so much more that matters in life.  If you’re so devoted to Christianity, shouldn’t your faith be stronger than to put this much stock into something as frivolous as perceived subliminal messages and imagery?

And just because I like to toy with peoples’ insecurities, cue up Reasonable Doubt …and play it backwards.  Welcome to the secret society, all we ask is trust..mwahahahaha…!

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Before The Fall: Nicholas Ryan Gant

I’m always proud to see my fellow Howard University Bison out there making moves and doing what they love, but when what they do is excellent, I get amped.  Nicholas Ryan Gant is a Howard alum who’s killing it right now on the independent music scene.  Nick’s been at this thing for a minute and the work shows.  His new project entitled “Border Breaker” is available now on iTunes, so go cop that and get familiar!!!  Seriously, like right now.  Support good music by turning off the radio, attending live shows and spreading the word about talented artists who are really putting in work to provide classic, quality music.

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Hip-Hop & Oprah's High-Horse

I have been observing the recent hoopla over Oprah interviewing Jay-Z and I’m looking at her a little bit sideways, personally.  A lot of people are excited about the interview and considering it a big accomplishment (for who I am not sure), but I’m not really drinking the Kool-Aid, so to speak.  So finally a rapper is famous enough and ratings-worthy enough to get a seat at Oprah’s figurative table?  Though I’m sure some Oprah disciple will try to rip me a new one via e-mail or the comments section because people read what they want to, let me clarify beforehand that I’m not taking away from Oprah’s success.  I don’t watch the show or support her personally, but her story is very important and inspiring to many.  However, for lack of a better (i.e. not from a comic book movie) quote, with great power comes great responsibility.  While some would take her public denouncing of hip-hop as using her power responsibly, my thought is exactly the opposite.

The problems in our community that hip-hop often tends to mirror are not going to be resolved if those in Oprah’s generation and those of her stature (the closest thing today to DuBois’ Talented Tenth) continue to distance themselves from the youth and what’s important to them. You’ll never get through to anyone unless you lower yourself to their level and start speaking their language.  It definitely doesn’t help when the majority of your audience is white and you use your forum to make blanket judgments about hip-hop, something you have obviously not taken the proper steps to understand.  However, it seems to me that the Jay-Z interview is a start (or a stunt).

To be honest, the interview in O Magazine was actually good.  It was a simple conversation where Jay-Z, who’s probably the best person to do this, did his best to explain things like the allure of drug-dealing, violence in hip-hop, and the use of the N-word (which Oprah had to “agree to disagree” with him on).  This week, he appeared on Oprah and taught her how to rap, strangely having to explain to her that “the Chi” is a nickname for Chicago (*dubious face*…come on, Sofie).

My feelings toward Oprah have been mixed for a while.  The whole Ludacris debacle, where she (during an interview with the actors of Crash) threw a jab at Ludacris’ lyrical content and then edited out his rebuttal by airtime, was disgusting.  Even Bill O’Reilly has sat down to speak with Dame Dash and Cam’ron, despite his criticism of hip-hop being much sharper than Winfrey’s and his usual penchant for d*baggery.  To O’Reilly’s credit, at least he was giving the artists a chance to speak for themselves, though I don’t know how effective these appearances were one way or another.  Regardless, I’ve got to give the man G points just for sitting across from Dame and Cam and having it out.  Oprah wanted to make her point to Ludacris (which was totally unrelated to the show’s topic) and just move on without allowing him to defend himself and his work.

I look at Oprah distancing herself from hip-hop the same way I looked at her opening the school in Africa.  While of course it’s awesome of her to open a school anywhere, there were kids in need right in her backyard.  She complained at the time that when asked what they needed, American kids would ask for money, iPods or sneakers, while the African kids asked for school uniforms.  So what…there is a reason for those differences and it lies within American society’s general materialism.  Books are provided in the American public school system and not all schools even require uniforms, so the circumstances differ but that doesn’t make kids here less worthy or less deserving of help.  This is your backyard.  You don’t even have to leave Chicago.  You are an African-American before anything else.  Perhaps if it were opened in Chicago, the school would have been better run, being closer to Oprah herself.

Again, I’m hoping the Jay-Z interview was a step toward creating understanding and bridging the gap between the hip-hop generation and older people who may not “get it”, regardless of race.  If we put the responsibility on rappers to be more responsible with their message to the kids consuming hip-hop culture, shouldn’t we also put the responsibility on people in Oprah’s case who serve as default ambassadors for Black people, to educate their audience…or at least humanize hip-hop by allowing it to speak for itself?  Jay-Z addressed it in the interview, but I think it deserves some real discussion in front of the same audience she denigrated Ludacris and his music (our music) in front of.

Read the O Magazine interview for yourself.

I will be making some changes to the blog to accomodate its growth pretty soon so I’m starting sort of a campaign to get readers of the blog connected to it on Facebook and Twitter so as to stay updated, so take some time and click the link in the upper right hand corner to follow the blog on Facebook and/or follow @shakg on Twitter.  And tell your friends!  Many thanks.

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Different = Good?

CUDI

So last night, I downloaded Kid Cudi’s new album Man On The Moon: The End Of Day (and actually waited for the real release date…see, I’m getting better…baby steps though).  This post is in no way, shape, form or fashion represents any type of album review, as I haven’t given it the obligatory three attempts necessary to really get a feel for a hip-hop album.  Knowing in advance from reading reviews on the album, I got in the proper frame of mind, so to speak, that you need to be in to listen to most music from Cudi and proceeded to listen.  I’m feeling some kind of way.  Granted, it took me about a month to warm up to Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreaks and I still am not completely sold on the rap-Phil-Collins thing…it just had several undeniably good tracks and rock-solid production quality, as is to be expected.  Like 808s, I at least expected to hear at least one song where Cudi just raps…not so much.  Cudi is clearly channeling Pink Floyd on a lot of the tracks, which I’m not mad at because I love Floyd, but yo…Cudi’s not Floyd.  To be fair, I’ll give it a few more listens and give you a final verdict on it at some point.

Listening to this album made me think of how people tend ot automatically give people props just for doing “something different”…like giving School of Fine Arts students fashion cred for wearing aubergine, Cal-Trans orange, hot pink, and Nickelodeon-slime-green in the same outfit just for wearing something no one else would…sometimes there’s a reason for that.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are definitely cases where people do something different and it turns out to be fresh.  In many cases, though, when you get the feeling that someone deliberately thought “oh, nobody’s doing this, son” before they do it, it comes out lame.  Any you can think of?  Post it in the comments section.

Different = Good

Bilal – As I’ve said before, if you’ve never seen Bilal live, get your life together.  I’ve seen him twice and think homeboy’s a genius…one of many reasons it would be rare for me to ever pay to see a rapper live.  The man’s band is kickin’ and his onstage antics almost make you think he’s having a seizure, but what’s a live show without energy and originality?

Ol’ Dirty Bastard – The video for “Brooklyn Zoo” disturbed me at first (the last place it seems you’d want to be is in that hallway…dude was on one, not to mention Method Man lurking in the background looking like he’d eat your firstborn), but now it’s one of my favorite songs of all time.  Definitely top 20.  The late great ODB took strange to a whole other inebriated level.  Method Man once explained ODB’s name best: “bastard” as in “he had no father to his style”.  Nobody was like him before and no one has tried since.  Oh and nothing says crazy like a pair of shades with one lens out.GRACE

Andre 3000 – Even back in the ATLiens days when you saw him in the Foot Locker referee shirt and his grandmama’s silk church-turban (you know, for when the wig was too itchy to wear on Sunday), Andre Benjamin has been on some other.  Long before Kanye was pseudo-crooning, Andre dropped The Love Below on that a** and changed the game up.  I don’t recall anybody (successfully) switching up their style that drastically.

Holly Weerd – A kinda trip-hop band from ATL that I could only find one song for, but that song (“Weerdo“) is dope.

Grace Jones – Stran-jay!  People didn’t know what to do with themselves when Grace Jones showed up in Boomerang (or in Conan or in that Bond movie) looking like a gender-bending dominatrix, but Grace was on her own planet and you really couldn’t tell her sh*t…and wouldn’t risk it.

Christopher Walken – His little monologue in Pulp Fiction about the watch was enough to convince me that Christopher Walken might be a biscuit short of a snackbox.

Different = Yeah, Not So Much

Bjork – Sorry, I just do not get it…

Pink’s flying trapeze performance at the MTV VMAs – Just because nobody else has done it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for you to do it.  And the one-breast-out outfit?  Yeah, that’s been done and much better (Li’l Kim).  The girl can sing, but singing while swinging off of a trapeze isn’t conducive to a good performance.  The VMAs were enough of a circus as it was.lil_mama

Anything Li’l Mama has ever worn to anything – What, I’m wrong?  Look to the right.  Yes, that’s a pacifier.  Voice of the young people or voice of the wardrobe-impaired?  No further explanation needed.

Dennis Rodman – This was just unnecessary wierd but thank God, a wierd we haven’t had to look at in the pas ten years.  It was always like “could you please jsut play ball?  Please?”

90% of the entire inventory at any Urban Outfitters – Way to re-produce and distribute a 40-year-old cotton T-shirt and sell it for $28, awesome.  And the pounds and pounds of useless crap marketed toward college students who think they’re being original not knowing there’s 8 million dorm rooms decorated the exacct same way?  More awesome.  Can’t knock the hustle but buying cool, unique stuff from a chain store immediately makes it not unique and not particularly cool at all.

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The Kanyeezy Apologeezy

"What would Big Mama think?"
"What would Big Mama think?"

I just want to clear some things up in addition to addressing the Kanye apology on Jay Leno.  Some people took offense at my post yesterday regarding the Kanye West/Taylor Swift incident, mostly due to their failure to read the material I wrote.  This is a blog…I am not a journalist…I’m not here to just tell you what happened or to give some diplomatic response that doesn’t represent how I really feel.  Life’s too short to mince words.  At no point did I deny the fact that Yeezy’s actions were (in my own words) “rude as hell“.  The point of me writing it was to get people to lighten up about it.  It’s the bloody VMA’s for Pete (Wentz)’s sake…nobody won a Nobel Peace Prize.  If you were deeply upset about it in your heart of hearts, I suggest re-evaluating what’s important to you in life…seriously.  It’s not that deep.  Taylor Swift, Kanye, and of course, MTV will be eating mighty healthy off of this for the next several years, so take entertainment for what it is and save the emotion for real life.

That being said, Kanye isn’t a dude known to be insincere.  He says what’s on his mind generally, much to others’ dismay, but he still kicks the real regardless.  Beyonce is a better artist in my opinion, but the VMAs is based on the fans and I think ‘Ye may have lost sight of that in the moment as he was channeling hte late ODB (while just kind of making a “dirty b*stard” of himself).  It’s not a BET award…and MTV’s core following is a little younger than Kanye or I could relate to.  And clearly there are those in middle America and beyond who relate more to Taylor Swift than to Beyonce.  I get it and I think ‘Ye does as well.  I’ve never seen a Kanye apology, though, and I don’t know if we ever will again, but I can’t do anything but respect it.  You don’t win any street cred in the hip-hop community by getting choked up, so I don’t think there was anything to gain from Kanye just apologizing for the sake of doing it.  Chances are his audience isn’t tuning into Leno on the regular, nor would they stop buying his albums because of this, so I can only categorize this as a real-a** moment for West.

As for Leno, I’d be remiss not to mention that the “what would your mama think” question at the end of the interview was a low blow, as a particularly astute friend of mine was wise enough to point out (thanks tpp).  This was nowhere near that serious that anyone but Kanye needs to ask himself that question.  Clearly a ploy for ratings and Leno should be ashamed of himself.  Let’s keep it on the level here.

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Bumrush The Show: Kanye West vs. Taylor Swift

F*** ya feelings

I’m officially changing this girl’s name from Taylor Swift to Taylor Not-Swift-Enough.  If I’m accepting an award and Kanye West jumps onstage with me, there is no way he’s getting my microphone.  This is what this man does…this ain’t new, baby!

As much as it pissed my wife off last night, I was dying laughing last night at Kanye showing his natural a** at the VMAs.  First of all, let’s take our emotions out of it for a second, folks.  It’s just entertainment.  And let’s not act like the VMAs is the Grammys…didn’t MTV just have Sacha Baron Cohen fall on Eminem’s head with his a** out?  But Kanye’s a monster for being “disrespectful”?  Come on now.  Kanye plays a character…it may be a character who’s intimately close to the real Kanye, but he knows it’s expected of him to show out.TSHIRT

Second, Taylor Swift should be happy to be included in a Kanye bumrushing.  It’s almost a rite of passage.  At least Black people know who the hell she is now.  I was clueless…still am in a way, but this is an opportunity to cross over for her!  Use your moment!  Real talk, though, the best way to turn this around is to be a good sport about it…maybe even collaborate with Kanye.  Let’s be about our paper, please.  I mean, do you really think she would have gotten the love she received at the end when Beyonce let her come back out if Yeezy hadn’t jumped his rude a** up there?  Be for real.

And for real…let’s not act like Beyonce didn’t come out and really show people why she deserved the award more than Taylor Swift or Britney Spears’ wack a**es.  Step your bodysuit game up and we’ll talk.  Not everybody can pull off a routine like that.  Janet didn’t even go as hard as B did on the real.

All in all, yes that was rude as hell.  I’m sure teenyboppers everywhere were in tears.  Am I personally mad at dude?  No.  It’s all entertainment and I was entertained.  Taylor Swift is still getting checks and will get many more because of this.  Now let’s stop actin’ like Kanye’s next joint will not be copped..and promptly.

PS: Haven’t yet checked the blog-o-verse yet, but I already know somebody’s gonna be mad about Lady Gaga thanking “God and the gays” in her acceptance speech, but please…stop before you start.  Getting up in arms over that only does two things: (1) makes you look like a bigot and (b) sells at least another record for Lady Gaga.

Mad at this?  Check out my response to the Kanye West apology on Leno here.

[Sorry…I had a clip of the incident, but the jerks at Viacom removed it…so here’s this…LOL]

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Get Familiar: Tenna Torres

tenna-torres-american-idol

Every now and then, I like to give some shine to an artist on the verge, like the previous post on Nicholas Ryan Gant, which featured a link to download his Michael Jackson tribute medley.  Seeing someone you know put time into their craft and put out a finished product is like seeing somebody Black get really far on Jeopardy: you can’t help but sit your a** down and root for the home-team.  Even if Martin is on.  I recently was introduced to the work of singer/songwriter/artist Tenna Torres, also a fellow Howardite, who’s got loads of vids online at various performances and jam sessions (Check out “My All” performed with guitarist Chris Ashworth).  Though the Facebook fan page says “pop music that appeals to the masses”, there’s an obvious infusion of soul that snatches you up by the nape of the neck and makes you pay attention.  You gotta respect music that accomplishes what it sets out to do and Torres does just that: makes pop music that appeals to the masses; her work has a definite crossover appeal that sounds equally at home in the worlds of both pop and R&B.  So basically, people, if you want to fight the schlock that urban radio force-feeds you every day of the week, you gotta go find good music and when you find it, talk people’s ears off about it, and most importantly, support it!

Also, catch her live at the Delancey September 4th if you’re in NYC: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=129144581173&ref=nf

New York State of Mind: Live Performance of “Cried Alot” at the Blender Theater in NYC 8/17/09

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Album Review :: Deeper Than Rap By Rick Ross

Despite a tumultuous year, Rick Ross’ Deeper Than Rap is still one of the most anticipated albums of 2009. I think we can just go ahead and put a 2011 release date on Dr. Dre’s Detox, although he’s made promises to release it this year. While beef with 50 is prevalent throughout the project, Ross continues to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with, not only in Southern rap, but in hip-hop in general.

“Mafia Music” is the big opener, although it has been on the Internet for over a month as fuel to the Ross-50 fire. Nevertheless, when I heard it for the first time, I almost kicked over the coffee table. Ross spits straight fire for the entirety of the song, no hooks and no featured artists. “Creflo prayed/Mike Vick paid/ Bobby Brown strayed/ Whitney lost weight/ Kimbo Slice on the pad when I write…” Indeed. However, one of the flaws of the album could be the inclusion of so much instigation, with “In Cold Blood”, “Mafia Music”, and “Valley of Death” hanging 50 Cent, G-Unit, and even Trick Daddy out to dry. Save the beef for the mixtapes and let us know why you’re better by giving your fans a consistent product.

On “Murda Mami”, a collaboration with Foxy Brown, Brown compares the two to a ‘hood version of the Obamas, while the chorus touts the pair as the ’09 Bonnie & Clyde. The silly comparisons and a faux-reggae performance by Fox make this collabo a little hard to swallow. Where was all the patois when Ill Na Na came out? On the other hand, Ross’ collabo with Trina, “Face”, puts Ross exactly where he needs to be. This track reminds me of “Money Make Me Come”, a winner off of the last album. Trina is just go-hard enough to ride with Ross on this one and the track bounces like a 6-4 Impala from beginning to end.

“Gunplay” is the pre-requisite posse track, or rather one where he lets one member of the crew eat. Thankfully, Ross leaves out the rest of Carol City Cartel and only includes Gunplay (yes, this is his name) on this track, though the lyrically-proven homie Brisco would have probably been a better choice. Gunplay’s verse and hook contribution were actually pretty good. “Usual Suspects” features Nas and Ross holds his own, but of course Nas takes over on verse two. The problem here is the lazy chorus provided by some kind of Akon wannabe. A waste of a Nas feature, in my opinion, but I didn’t hate it.

“Maybach Music II” was supposed to be a follow-up to the Jay-Z collabo on the Trilla album, but is in a whole different lane altogether in my opinion. The energy is completely different. While the first version crawled along elegantly, similar to the track’s namesake, this one has more of an extravagant feel, with what sounds like a full symphony behind the featured artists. Ross spits a particularly strong verse, but Kanye and Wayne in my opinion used throwaway verses. The first version’s inclusion of Jay-Z made it a more mature track, but this one blends with a lot of the other tracks on Deeper Than Rap, when it could have been its own animal altogether. “Valley of Death”, though riddled with shots at Trick Daddy and 50, is overall a great song, reminiscent of a vintage Jay-Z track. He even addresses the corrections officer debacle: “Only live once and I got two kids/ And for me to feed them I’ll get two gigs/ I’ll shovel sh*t, I’ll C.O./ So we can bow our head and pray over the meat loaf…” Chuuuch.

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Dr. Dre’s Detox: Masterpiece in the Making?

 

Dr-Dre

Since he started production on the album in 2004, hip-hop heads have played a cat-and-mouse game with Dr. Dre awaiting the release of Detox, his third (and supposedly final) studio album. Here’s a brief time-line.

Initial Release Date: Fall 2005

Power 106 Interview on 2/18/07: Dre said he had completed 18 “potential tracks” and announced that the introductory track would be titled “Intervention”

September 2007: Dre shows up on-stage at the VMAs and slips in an announcement that Detox will be released soon. He then went on record in the same month with Billboard magazine saying that it will be his final album and would be released in 2008.

May 2008: Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks go on record with Defsounds, saying that 50 Cent had recorded about 3 songs, but that they were unsure as to whether either of them would make appearances.

June 2008: Both Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre announce that the album is completed

Most recently, Dre told MTV that Detox will be released before 50 Cent and Eminem’s upcoming projects, which are slated for this year. There has been a lot of speculation about which artists have collaborated with Dre on the Detox project. Among them are Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Eminem, Lloyd Banks, The Game, Mary J. Blige, Marsha Ambrosius, Jay-Z, Warren G, Li’l Wayne, T.I., Devin the Dude, Nas, Ice Cube, and Fergie. He is also said to have collaborated with J.R. Rotem, Hi-Tek, Mike Elizondo, and Scott Storch, among others.

Hopefully, the recently released banger “Topless” is an indication of things to come. Nas and T.I. absolutely murder their respective verses on the track while Dre provides the chorus. From start to finish, this is a seamless work of art. The piano is classic Dre, with traces of his trademark G-Funk style coming through prevalently, despite the two featured guests being from Atlanta and New York, respectively. Dre is one of few producers with the ability to completely own a track, regardless of whether he raps on it or not.

What worries me, however, is that Dr. Dre is not the same artist as he was in 1992 when The Chronic was dropped. Granted, he did release 2001 in 1999 to critical acclaim. But ten years later, at 44 years old, can he really live up to the hype and release a classic in today’s market that will not only match, but surpass the level of excellence achieved with The Chronic and 2001?

The bulk of the criticism from the 2001 album was with regard to the lesser-known contributors Dre chose to work with, many of whom can’t even be referenced on Wikipedia. Though Dre has a great ear and the finished product was a masterpiece, one must admit that there were a lot of nobodies on that album, many of whom are currently nowhere on hip-hop’s radar. Hittman appeared on a total of ten tracks on 2001, but his debut on Dre’s Aftermath label was shelved and he’s pretty much disappeared since. Dr. Dre has made some new friends since ’99.

His increased involvement with 50 Cent and Eminem will undoubtedly influence Detox’s overall sound, but this could be a curse or blessing. The Chronic is an album that is well loved for its distinctive Cali flavor, accurately capturing the tone of LA in the early 1990s. 2001 included Eminem as the first non-West Coast contributor on a Dre album, but Em’s style meshed well with the feel of each record he was featured on. Though 50 has worked with Dr. Dre frequently, I wonder if his contribution, which I am sure will affect multiple songs, will detract from what could be a much-needed victory for the relatively dormant West Coast.

There have been rumors that Aftermath’s prodigal son The Game will contribute to the album, despite the well-publicized distance Dre has put between them due to beef with 50. This would be a good move if it actually happens. A Dr. Dre-Game collaboration at this point would without question be an event. Though Ice Cube, Snoop, and DJ Quik are all but confirmed as guest artists, but Dre is in a position to breathe new life into a lot of West Coast MCs’ careers, like Ras Kass, Xzibit (who appears three times on 2001) and the Dogg Pound. As a West Coast legend, it would be a serious disappointment if Detox didn’t serve to not only re-confirm Dre himself artistically, but to re-establish the West Coast as an entity in the hip-hop community at a time when New York MCs are failing to represent and southern MCs basically have a monopoly on the game.

My other concern is that Dr. Dre’s well-documented perfectionism is stunting his ability to actually complete the album. Hip-hop is easily the most dynamic form of music. With each track that’s released, a new slang term, dance, or hot ticket item is introduced that almost instantly dates the song. If Dre started work on Detox in 2004, it is very possible that there will not be any songs actually produced in 2004 or 2005 on the finished product simply due to relevance. Dre might finish a track, but by the time he finishes five more, the first one may be completely dated. In October 2008, DJ Quik told Loud.com that he had heard 60 out of 400 potential songs Dre had developed at that time for the album. Luckily, Dre is an artist who does not think anything of reaching out to those who can assist him in his craft like Quik, co-producer Scott Storch, and even the legendary Burt Bachrach, who Quik says has been instructing Dre on the piano.

Despite all of the doubt, like most hip-hop and music fans in general, I can’t wait for Detox, no matter what direction Dre chooses to go in. This actually may be the first CD I have physically purchased in the store for quite a while (I feel bad enough about downloading the tracks that have leaked so far…not that bad though). At the end of the day, regardless of the hype and tremendous expectations surrounding the album, Dre needs room (and apparently lots and lots of time) to grow as an artist and we should expect considerable growth and expansion on this project. If you can’t get with it, there is alwaysl the Chronic, 2001, Doggystyle, etc. to revisit if you’re still looking for the traditional bitches-and-blunts Dre of the nineties.

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Believe the Hype: Asher Roth – Asleep in the Bread Aisle

While some might be tempted to write Roth off as a novelty act or cult favorite, Roth puts in the necessary work to prove otherwise. If you were lucky enough to get a copy of The Greenhouse Effect, Roth’s debut mixtape project, complete with an assist from DJ Drama and Don Cannon, you know what I’m talking about. Roth demolishes instrumentals for “Black Mags” by the Cool Kids, and “Cannon” by DJ Drama among others, putting his own creative spin on each.

The second single off of the actual album “Asleep In The Bread Aisle” is “Lark On My Go-Kart”, which comes off like a psychedelic stream of consciousness with Mario Kart and Saved by the Bell references over production that sounds like a hip-hop video game. Though Roth’s nasal voice and slightly over-pronounced delivery has drawn him some obvious comparisons to Eminem, but this comparison doesn’t do Roth justice. There are vocal similarities, but Roth’s college-boy sensibilities and alternative influences set him apart in his own lane. I would even put him closer to Kanye West or Kid Cudi musically.

The first single off of the album was “I Love College”, a frat-house ode to beer, pizza, marijuana, and higher education. In the same vein, “Blunt Cruisin'”, Roth’s tribute to the suburban pasttime of driving with weed, delviers a feel-good vibe that isn’t usually found in hip-hop today (think Pharcyde, Beasti Boys or De La Soul).”Lion’s Roar”, which features Busta Rhymes over what sounds like a Moby track, was in the words of Randy Jackson “just a’ight for me, dog”. Though Roth’s flow is effortlessly and the frenetic energy level is consisten throughout, the lackluster Busta verse leaves a lot to be desired and the hokey chorus keeps it from being a track I will want to play too often. “Perfectionist” is an awkward collaboration with Beanie Sigel and Rock City, where after Ash’s verse, the song seems to become a whole different song. The chorus kills the potential of the track, with Rock City’s lazy hook unfortunately sounding like everything else on the radio.

It’s clear Asher Roth is at his best when left to his own devices, which says a lot nowadays when every artist features at least one other artist on every other track. He specifically shines on his more introspective tracks like the political tirade”Sour Patch Kids”, the motivational “La Di Da”, and the soulful, family-friendly “His Dream”. Overall, this is a rock-solid debut with a lot of range from an artist who refuses to fit the mold of what is expected of a hip-hop artist, and with good reason. On “Asleep in the Bread Aisle”, Asher Roth gives a voice to hip-hop heads who happen to be from the ‘burbs and still doesn’t alienate the backpackers and anyone else who appreciates authenticity.

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