Archive for the ‘hip-hop’ Category

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The DAMN. Tour featuring Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, and D.R.A.M.

August 4, 2017

Seeing Kendrick Lamar live was an obvious bucket list item for someone that is already hailing him as the greatest hip-hop artist ever, so I had my alarm set for ten minutes before tickets went on sale. I have to say I was worried about my chances since I got shut out on Adele tickets last year even though I was similarly prepared. Somehow the Adele show sold out entirely within seconds of tickets going on sale to the public – something I still can’t wrap my head around to this day. So when I had success with Kendrick tickets on my first try I just snatched up the first seats I saw and hoped for the best (more on that later).

For those of you that have read this post about my recent anxiety issues, it will come as no surprise that I decided to pass on driving myself to and from the Tacoma Dome, so I took an Uber to downtown Tacoma and met up with a friend for dinner before the show.

We managed to get to our seats about 10-15 minutes before show time and amazingly – and unprecedented for a rap show – the lights dimmed at 7:29, one minute before the show was scheduled to start and D.R.A.M. came out to perform with roughly half the stadium still empty. I liked D.R.A.M.’s album and consider myself a fan so far, but my buddy had no clue who he was and I really didn’t care to see him perform live so we mostly just talked through his entire set. The crowd didn’t seem to care too much either as they really only responded enthusiastically when he closed out his set with his most popular track “Broccoli.”

I was excited to see Travis Scott. I consider him to be the absolute best of the mumble rap/autotune guys and his Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight is a clinic on constructing hit songs. Needless to say, I was looking forward to seeing him bring that album to life in a live setting.

At this point, I feel it’s worth mentioning where our seats were located. We were located off to the side of the stage in the upper deck about 15 rows away from the top of the dome. In other words, our seats were total garbage. As an adult that can afford nice things for myself, one of my rules is that I don’t go to live events and sit in crappy seats. What’s the point? If I’m going to go to a game or a show, I’m going to cough up the extra money and sit close enough that I feel involved in the action and can actually see the people I came to watch. In this case, I sort of panicked and bought the first seats that were available. Those damn Adele tickets. I would have happily paid $200ish to sit on the floor and be able to see what was happening on stage.

But we were in binoculars territory and the production didn’t help things by adding a smoky graphic to the monitors and making Travis Scott impossible to see on the big screens as well. And the sound was bad too. I don’t know if it was because of where we were sitting or if the sound was actually bad for everyone, but the music sounded more like angry noise and I pretty much couldn’t understand anything Travis Scott was saying throughout his entire set. The lackluster sound, terrible seats, and useless big screens made Travis’ set far less enjoyable than it should have been. Still, the man has a number of hits and his energy was good, so my enjoyment was hindered by the production and not his music or his abilities. I was kind of surprised when Travis closed with “Goosebumps,” his song with Kendrick, because it almost certainly meant they weren’t going to perform it together. The headliner is just never going to pop out for the first time to do a verse on one of his opener’s songs. Still, “Goosebumps” easily got the best reception from the crowd and the Tacoma Dome was jamming during this song.

Finally, it was Kendrick Lamar time and unsurprisingly Kung Fu Kenny’s set had a martial arts theme throughout. Thankfully, the production decided to skip any visual effects on the screen during Kendrick’s set so you could actually see him on the screen and it’s pretty cool to see an artist genuinely smiling because the audience is fully invested in his music. And it was pretty amazing watching the whole audience moving with the songs and singing along. In fact, when Kendrick did “HUMBLE.” he rapped most of the first verse and then let the crowd finish it off and do the rest of the song acapella. It was quite the sight. Something someone like D.R.A.M. wouldn’t be able to pull off. I can’t even imagine how satisfying it would be to have 20,000 people rapping your lyrics in unison while you just sit there admiring how much all your hard work has paid off. Kendrick did most of the songs off DAMN. and a number of classics off Good Kid M.A.D.D. City. “Did ya’ll remember?” Yes, yes we did. Kendrick’s set seemed to have better (but still not great) sound mixing than the two previous acts, but it was still hard to make out a lot of his vocals. For instance, when he did “Bitch Dant Kill My Vibe” I couldn’t hear the verses at all, which was pretty disappointing because that’s one of my favorite Kendrick tracks. In addition to the DAMN. and Good Kid tracks, he also did a few off untitled/unmastered and To Pimp A Butterfly, most notably “King Kunta,” which absolutely brought the building down. My only complaint about his track selections is that he decided to perform “PRIDE.” and “LUST.” but didn’t do “FEEL.” which is a mortal sin. Nobody pray for him.

Kendrick was a great performer, but our seats and the sound really hindered how much I could really enjoy things. I wasn’t blown away like I have been by past shows and, honestly, I was wondering if I wasn’t getting too old for the whole mass audience hip-hop show. I’m not really one to get too involved physically with the music; I just want to watch, enjoy the show, and mind my own business. And I’m still unsure if the sound issue was a me problem or a whole stadium problem. If it was just me then, well, maybe it’s time to start staying home for these things.

Regardless, it was a fun experience and I was happy to see King Kendrick live even if my seats were crummy and the sound mixing was disappointing.

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Bone Thugs N Harmony – New Waves

July 1, 2017

Listened to the new Bone Thugs N Harmony album (which is really just a Krayzie and Bizzy collaboration) in entirety and, goodness, it is an embarrassment. It’s not much of a surprise that a new Bone album would disappoint in 2017 – when is the last time any of these guys has dropped a notable project? But still, it’s hard to believe how bad it really is. I heard a number songs that sounded like they were aimed at the EDM crowd and I even heard a song that sounded like it would be at home on a country album. What I didn’t hear was a single track that sounded anything like vintage Bone. This album is SOFT. There’s nothing wrong with artists growing up and some of the messages have heart, but the production is almost universally terrible and most of the hooks are appalling. These guys can still rap just fine, but there isn’t any noteworthy songwriting happening on this album. I can honestly say that I liked one song: “Good Person.” Something about it (I think it’s the hook) just grabs me. The rest of the album is straight up trash bin material.

4/10 (Trash Bin Material – because nothing needs to lower than that)

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June Music Preview: Last Post Before WSOP Hiatus

May 29, 2017

I’m flying out to Vegas today, so this will be my last post until late June. Here’s a quick look at what music will be coming out next month.

Music:

Kool G RapReturn Of The Don (2nd) – One of the old school GOATs. Never really dug into his catalog, but his skills are undeniable. One of the first truly elite rappers.

Halseyhopeless fountain kingdom (2nd) – Someone said they were excited to listen to this. I don’t know what it is, but I’ll check it out now.

Katy PerryWitness (9th) – Not exactly my thing, but notable nonetheless.

RancidTroublemaker (9th) – Shrug. I liked them in the mid-90’s but I have to say metal/punk rock is difficult for me to listen to now.

MC EihtWhich Way Iz West (9th) – One of the weaker old school west coast rappers IMO.

NickelbackFeed The Machine (9th) – Again, not my thing, but maybe someone that reads this wants to know they have a new album coming out.

SZACTRL (9th) – Rumor has it the TDE singer will finally be dropping her album on the 9th, but I haven’t seen this made official anywhere. Needless to say, anything associated with Top Dawg Entertainment is a must listen and hopefully we get some new Kendrick, Schoolboy, and Isaiah Rashad features.

Avenue EightFunk Me Up (16th) – No idea who they are, but the album cover and the album title has put it on my radar.

Big BoiBoomiverse (16th) – Andre 3000 might not want to make music, but Outkast’s other half has been plugging away. Big Boi released a couple albums when I wasn’t paying much attention to music, but they were both critically acclaimed. “Kill Jill” is exceptional and I’ve liked everything I have heard from Daddy Fat Sacks the last few years. Also, this is apparently a double album. Mark me down as excited.

LordeMelodrama (16th) – Definitely will check this out after enjoying the early singles.

Gucci ManeDrop Top Wop (23rd) – I’ve been giving basically everything a change, but this should hit my trash bin in record time.

RadioheadOKNOTOK (23rd) – One of the most acclaimed bands of all-time and while I’ve tried to give them a chance, I just don’t get it.

Vince StaplesBig Fish Theory (23rd) – I think at this point, Kendrick Lamar is the only rapper I want to hear an album from more than Vince Staples. His last album, Summertime ’06, was incredible. My expectations are immense.

Calvin HarrisFunk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (30th) – If “Slide” with Frank Ocean and Migos (already on my Best of 2017 playlist) is what we can expect from this album, mark me down as stoked.

Also, for those of you that have Netflix streaming, here’s some of the more noteworthy additions for June:

Arrow: Season 5 (1st)
Full Metal Jacket (1st)
Rounders (1st)
The Queen (1st)
The Sixth Sense (1st)
Young Frankenstein (1st)
Zodiac (1st)
Dreamworks’ Trolls (7th)
Orange Is The New Black: Season 5 (9th)
Scandal: Season 6 (17th)
Disney’s Moana (20th)
GLOW: Season 1 (23rd)
Gypsy: Season 1 (30th)

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DMX

May 8, 2017

After getting in some heated debates on Facebook, it became apparent that I needed to assess the career of DMX next to either support my claim that he’s overrated or discover that maybe I’m wrong and he didn’t fall off as hard as I think he did. 

 It’s interesting to me that so many people can consider DMX one of the greats considering that he’s still active but hasn’t really been relevant since 2001 – that’s over 15 years of making music no one is really listening to! It’s one thing to be talented and overlooked, but considering DMX’s tremendous success in the past one has to assume people stopped listening because he stopped making good music.

I can admit that I have skipped pretty much all of his music since The Great Depression was released in 2001, but it was my contention that if it was any good someone would have recommended it to me. Still, it is unfair of me to make that claim with certainty unless I listened to all of it myself, so I spent the last several weeks going through pretty much the entire discography of DMX in order to assess his place in hip-hop history with all the relevant information, and that includes all the music he’s released since his life has become overcome by drug addiction and frequent arrests.

Legacy: DMX actually grades pretty strong here. After the deaths of Tupac and Biggie, I would argue that X grabbed the torch as hip-hop’s premiere artist from May 1998 up until Eminem took over in November of 1999 on Dr. Dre’s 2001. His first three albums hold up well in 2017 and the fact that a number of his fans act like the last 15 years of his discography never happened almost makes it seem like the golden era of his recording career is all that matters – and if one wants that to be true, it actually can be.  DMX can’t tarnish his legacy no matter how hard he tries to.  All his personal issues are either ignored or forgotten and it really seems as though most people don’t even realize he’s released three bad albums since The Great Depression. B+

Consistency: And here’s where 2003 to 2017 can’t be ignored. Almost everyone would agree that It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot is the best DMX album. From there, I’d argue that each album that follows is progressively worse, all the way up to Undisputed in 2012 where he really had nowhere else to go but back up. Even though he peaked with his debut album, X was very consistent on his first three releases. However, he falls off a cliff after that and never even hints at returning to elite levels of rapping throughout the rest of his career. D

Longevity: Realistically, DMX had a peak that lasted from 1998 to 2001, when he released his first obviously disappointing album. He has sporadically released new music since then, but the general public has paid little notice and he has received no critical acclaim. Even his most dedicated fans can’t make strong arguments in support of his later work. DMX has been a recording artist for 20 years now, which sounds good for longevity,
but he has been irrelevant for more than half of his career now. D

Lyrics: Even at his peak, DMX was not a strong lyricist. On “Fuckin’ Wit’ D” – on what many would consider a classic album – he actually rhymes: “Stuck in a tree, is what you will be/ like a cat, and I’m the dog, at the bottom, looking up, ‘yo, what’s that?'” He rapped those lines when he was at his best. Check out this article that details the vocabularies of a number of hip-hop’s most notable artists. You can click the link and see how the survey is conducted, but I can save you time and tell you this: out of the 85 artists considered, DMX ranks last. DEAD LAST. Like, no one considered has a smaller vocabulary than DMX –  and Too $hort is the only other rapper that is even close. And when you listen to the music, you can see why: if Dr. Seuss was a gangster rapper, he’d sound like DMX. No matter which way you want to look at it – he wasn’t clever, he wasn’t funny, his rhyme structures were simple, and he wasn’t deep or metaphorical – DMX has always been incredibly simple when it comes to lyricism. F

Songwriting: Once upon a time, DMX was a great songwriter. In fact, X is a fantastic example of how different the elements of lyricism and songwriting really are: even though he was rarely saying anything of substance and his actual lyrics were elementary, DMX’s hit-making abilities from 1998 to 1999 were almost unmatched. To be fair, he was getting laced with some stellar production at the start of his career, but he had an uncanny understanding of how to capture a beat’s mood and craft a hook that made his songs memorable. Unfortunately, it seems as though drugs sapped that creative juice some time around the making of The Great Depression and never returned. I have to consider the whole body of work here – and more than half of it is bad – but in his prime DMX was probably an A- in this category. C

Rapping: Rapping was another strength of prime DMX, as he was able turn subpar lyricism into enjoyable and infectious music and that is something that wouldn’t be possible if he wasn’t rapping his ass off. DMX had an unmistakable presence on the mic and seemed to attack every verse with a fury that was rarely present in his contemporaries. But again, as he got involved with drugs and continued to get arrested throughout his career, he lost almost all of his vocal edge and on his later records he sounds like a ghost of his former self. C

Voice: DMX has one of the most distinguishable voices in hip-hop. Back in the late 90s, his verses were unmistakable. Grimy and gruff, with a strong mic presence and his instantly recognizable growling and barking ad-libs, you always knew when it was DMX’s turn to spit. B+

Replay Value: Having revisited his whole catalog over the last few weeks, it’s clear that his first three albums all hold up pretty well. I could put them on shuffle and listen to almost every song. The rest of his albums I could barely listen to once. C-

Features: DMX was a popular featured artist in the late 90s, but has very little memorable guest appearances since the turn of the century. He helps make The Lox’s “Money, Power, & Respect” and Mase’s “24 Hours To Live” true hip-hop classics and he was frequently awarded the coveted last verse on posse cuts. Perhaps the coolest feature I found in all my digging was on Mic Geronimo’s “Time To Build,” a 1995 boom bap rap song that also features Ja Rule and Jay-Z, before any of them blew up, and finds DMX doing a pretty good ONYX impression while probably still trying to find his own identity as an emcee. He has some other songs with Jay-Z and Ja Rule as the supergroup Murder Inc. and they are solid, but I’m not sad that concept never really materialized. B+

Discography:

It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot (1998) – Okay, I’m going to voice an unpopular opinion here, but this album is overrated. Don’t get me wrong… I love it, but it’s just not a real classic and most people I talk to don’t hesitate to give it that status. So how did that happen? I really think it’s because DMX debuted at a time when Puff Daddy, Mase, and No Limit Records were dominating rap music. Puffy and Mase were Charmin soft and, in 1998, the most popular No Limit artists (Master P, Silkk The Shocker) sounded like a parody of gangster rap, so when It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot was released, no popular rap artist was really making hardcore hip-hop. DMX filled that lane and he did it really well. He attacked the mic with passion and gave zero fucks about what he was saying: “and I’m gunnin’ for your spouse/ trying to send that bitch back to her maker/ and if you got a daughter older than 15, I’m a rape her/ take her, on the living room floor right there in front of you/ then ask you seriously – ‘what you wanna do?'” It’s wild that a multi-platinum artist could say something like that on a record. This album came out when no mainstream artist was making this kind of rap music and I think, because of that, people remember this album as being better than it really is. It’s definitely an enjoyable listening experience and really only has one weak track (“Crime Story”) but if you look at a true hip-hop classic – like Snoop Doggy Dogg’s Doggystyle – you can find a number of songs that are better than every song on It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot and the weaker songs compare favorably with the best songs on this DMX album. Sorry X fans, this is a very good album, but it’s not a hip-hop classic. 7.5/10 (Highly Enjoyable/Essential Listening)

Blood Of My Blood, Flesh Of My Flesh (1998) – This album is actually better than I remember and the fact that DMX released two good albums within seven months of each other is pretty remarkable. While “Slippin'” is the only song I think is truly great, X once again puts together an album with only one weak track, the ill-advised Marilyn Manson collaboration on “The Omen.” This album is a master class in crafting memorable hooks, as DMX takes multiple mediocre songs and makes them enjoyable with hooks you can’t help but repeat in your head. 6/10 (Recommended)

…And Then There Was X (1999) – Another album that was better than I remembered it being. I thought the noticeable slip started with this release, but this is actually pretty solid. “One More Road To Cross” and “What These Bitches Want” are excellent songs, “Angel” is very good, and most of the album is enjoyable. …And Then There Was X does contain one of DMX’s most memorable hit songs in “Party Up (Up In Here)” which, while not one of my favorites, is outrageously infectious. “Good Girls, Bad Guys” is the only song I hated, which means that DMX only has three truly weak songs on his first three albums. I think the highlights on this album are better than Blood Of My Blood… but overall this album is just a tad bit weaker. 6/10 (Recommended)

The Great Depression (2001) – And here’s where things really start to go bad. Of the 17 songs on this album (skits excluded, bonus songs included), I genuinely like four of them: “A Minute For Your Son,” “School Street,” “Trina Moe,” and “Who We Be.” The way this album is sequenced makes it sound even worse: the first three songs are good, the last song is good, and everything in between is mediocre. Actually, as I listen to it again, “We Right Here” is a good song too. I’d wager that if one made a greatest hits playlist for DMX, it would include zero songs from The Great Depression. In addition, DMX has nearly twice as many weak songs on this album (5, by my count) as he did on his first three albums combined. 4/10 (Lackluster)

Grand Champ (2003) – DMX had a chance to redeem himself here after disappointing on his last album and things start off promising enough, but this album’s sequencing mirrors that of The Great Depression as the best songs are the first few songs – and it goes downhill from there, although “The Rain” is a later track that is pretty good. “Where The Hood At” is a true banger, but the vast majority of this album is totally forgettable. To give an idea of how weak this album is, fire up “My Life” on iTunes or YouTube and realize it’s one of the best songs on here. 4/10 (Lackluster)

Year Of The Dog… Again (2006) – There were two songs on this album that I kind of liked: “Blown Away” and “Goodbye.” The rest of the album ranges from forgettable to pure torture. I really struggled to listen to every song on this album because it was so bad. If his previous two albums were disappointing but showed hints of his former stardom, this is the album that really puts the nail in the coffin of his career – he had nothing left. 3/10 (Crap)

Mixtape (2010) – I have to be honest here, after listening to two disappointing albums and an undeniably bad one, I didn’t have the heart to listen to an unofficial DMX release well into his demise. I skipped this and I’ve literally never heard one person even mention it, so I can’t imagine it’s worth listening to.

The Weigh In EP (2012) – See above.

Undisputed (2012) – I did give this a full listen and I have to say it’s better than Year Of The Dog, but X still sounds like a ghost of his former self. Considering everything DMX was going through in his personal life, it’s actually pretty remarkable that he even put out another album. He sort of touches on his issues on “Slippin Again,” but DMX was never a great lyricist and he has trouble conveying his feelings here. He keeps saying “I wish you knew” in reference to what his life is like, but even after writing a song about it, we still don’t know much. To some degree, DMX sounds reinvigorated on this album in comparison to his previous few releases, but it’s another forgettable effort from a man who needs to be in a rehabilitation center more than he needs to be in a studio. 4.5/10 (Lackluster/Decent)

Classic Albums: 0
Peak: 1998-1999
Current Status: Barely alive. He was actually found without a pulse and not breathing in February of 2016 from what seemed to be a drug overdose. I’ve read that he has cancelled shows in 2017 because of a “medical emergency.” X and Swizz Beatz have posted on social media about new DMX music coming in 2017 and it is rumored to feature Dr. Dre and Kanye West. While it would be cool for DMX to release something good, it seems unlikely at this point in his career and I’m honestly much more interested in seeing him get healthy than I am in hearing new music.
All-Time Status: Outside my Top 50.

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May 2017 Entertainment Preview: movies, hip-hop, and T.V. shows!

May 2, 2017

Sorry for posting this a day late, but it took me longer than expected to write.

THEATERS

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 (May 5th) – Marvel’s follow-up to their surprise 2014 hit, a film that made my top ten list that year. I’ve managed to avoid pretty much all the promotion for this movie, so everything should be fresh when I see it on Friday. It’s sitting at 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, so that’s a good sign, and I have every expectation that this will be another hilarious and entertaining film. The original opened to $94 million and wound up grossing $333 million in the U.S. total. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this open to $150 million and gross over $400 million.

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (May 12th) – This movie has some good things going for it: King Arthur and his sword is a good story, Charlie Hunnam should be a star some day, director Guy Ritchie has some pedigree, and the film seems to be cashing in on the popularity of “Game Of Thrones.” Unfortunately, the trailer looked pretty suspect and I have a feeling this movie is going to disappoint, both critically and at the box office. I predict Guardians holds the top stop for the second weekend in a row and King Arthur opens around $22 million with a $70 million total gross.

Snatched (May 12th) – Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn star as a mother/daughter combo that go on an exotic vacation and wind up having an adventure in the jungle. I listened to and enjoyed Schumer’s book as recently as last year, but it seems like she is already wearing out her welcome. Her recent stand up on Netflix was undeniably lackluster and general chatter about her tends to be more negative than positive. Plus the trailer for this movie didn’t look good. This movie has bomb written all over it. Schumer scored a hit with Trainwreck and that movie opened at $30M and grossed $110 domestically. I really expect Snatched to open around $8M and fizzle out around $26 million total. I’m still an Amy Schumer fan, but this is going to be a dud.

Alien: Covenant (May 19th) – Ridley Scott, director of the original Alien in 1979 and its 2012 prequel Prometheus, returns for the prequel sequel (pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever typed that!). Rather than try to act like this is something it’s not, the powers that be decided to just come out and directly label it as an entry in the Alien franchise because that makes the most sense when it comes to cash money. Ridley Scott, Michael Fassbender, xenomorphs? Can I buy my ticket yet? This film should gross better than Prometheus simply because it’s being marketed as an Alien movie. I say $70 million opening weekend and $230 million total gross, the latter of which could approach $300 million if the film is actually really good.

Baywatch (May 25th) – I was never asking for a Baywatch movie, but then I saw the casting of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, and the decision to make the film an R-rated comedy, and I felt like genius might be at work. I’ve long been calling Baywatch the surprise hit of 2017 and the tone of the trailer – which I only half watched because they spoil so much these days – looks spot on. If they follow the blueprint set forth by the 21 Jump Street movies, this movie should be a big hit. I think it will open somewhat modestly around $40 million and get some legs through word of mouth and gross over $200 million total.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (May 26th) – I remember being surprised by and really liking the first movie, but I can’t count myself as a big fan of this franchise. I’m not even sure if I’ve seen all of the movies to this point, but I don’t remember being too fond of any of the sequels, and the general public’s interest has waned too: the series peaked with Dead Man’s Chest in 2006 at $423 million, but the most recent entry, in 2011, On Stranger Tides grossed a relatively tame $223 million. I haven’t heard anyone talking about this movie, so I’m not sure a six year break has the public craving more Pirates Of The Caribbean. I will be at Disneyland a week before this film’s release, which is kind of cool, but I can’t say I’m looking forward to the movie. I suspect it will open solid around $70 million and probably gross around $260 million domestic.

NETFLIX:

While I didn’t watch either in entirety, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Gremlins were my go to films to fall asleep to in April and both titles are still streaming in May.

I watched three different comedy specials last month. Louis C.K.‘s 2017 Netflix show is hilarious. I also got around to watching the Jo Koy special that shot in Seattle and found it to be very funny. Lastly, I watched Kevin Hart‘s special and he continues to be absurdly overrated. I guess it was watchable… I didn’t turn it off or anything, but the funniest part was in the filmed intro interacting with Don Cheadle. The actual stand up wasn’t anything special.

Last month, my wife and I also completed “American Crime Story: The People Vs O.J. Simpson” and I thought it was excellent. While the case has been beaten to death, this show managed to bring something new to the table by offering perspectives from the various participants, rather than seeing everything through the media’s perspective. I had a hard time adjusting to seeing Cuba Gooding Jr. as O.J., but Sarah Paulson was phenomenal as Marcia Clarke, and the guys that played Johnnie Cochrane and Darden also did great jobs. I highly recommend watching this show if you haven’t seen it yet.

And here’s what is new in May:

Chocolat (May 1st) – One of my favorite films of 2000, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, back when my tastes were more refined than they are now.

Don’t Think Twice (May 1st) – A solid comedy about an improv group dealing with one of their members becoming famous.

Forrest Gump (May 1st) – An all-time classic now available to stream whenever you want.

“Sense8”: Season 2 (May 5th) – Haven’t seen the first season and this series is pretty deep on my list of shows to get around to.

Norm MacDonald: Hitler’s Dog, Gossip, & Trickery (May 9th) – Seems like it’s been a while since we’ve heard from the old “SNL” alum, but I’ll give this a watch.

“Master Of None”: Season 2 (May 12th) – I really enjoyed the first season from comedian Aziz Ansari and I will definitely be watching this.

“Sherlock”: Series 4 (May 15th) – Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are back as Sherlock Holmes and Watson. I’ve seen the first three series, but I will probably rewatch them before getting around to this.

The Place Beyond The Pines (May 16th) – A highly touted film starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper that I didn’t like as much as the critics. I will give this another shot.

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt“: Season 3 (May 19th) – Still haven’t seen an episode of this yet, but it seems to be well liked.

Inglorious Basterds (May 22nd) – A Tarantino masterpiece that is always worth revisiting.

Southpaw (May 24th) – Haven’t seen this boxing drama starring Jake Gyllenhall yet, but maybe I will watch it now.

War Machine (May 26th) – A Netflix original film about war and starring Brad Pitt? That’s enough for me to be intrigued.

“House Of Cards”: Season 5 (May 30th) – After a disappointing season 3, the show came back strong last year and I’ll be tuning in again.

Doctor Strange (May 30th) – More Benedict Cumberbatch… this time as the mystical Marvel superhero. Funny and entertaining and definitely worth another viewing.

Sarah Silverman: A Speck Of Dust (May 30th) – I haven’t seen a ton of Sarah Silverman stand up, but I’d currently count myself as a fan so I’m interested to see how she does with this special.

MUSIC:

My entire April was spent listening to the new albums by Joey Bada$$ and Kendrick Lamar, both of which are highly enjoyable, at worst, and potentially classic, at best. Kendrick continues to keep a stranglehold on the #1 spot in the current hip-hop world with another incredibly strong release and Joey Bada$$ stepped it up a notch, rapping his ass off on a 12 track album where every song is either good or great. I did give The Chainsmokers album a full listen and while I found it to be pretty pleasant the only songs I remember now are “Paris” and “It Won’t Kill Ya.” As suspected, I didn’t get around to listening to much of anything else new, including the surprise release from Wale. When I wasn’t listening to K.dot or Joey, I was listening to The Notorious B.I.G. and DMX (write up coming soon) for my Rapper Profiles series.

Brother Ali – All The Beauty In This Whole Life (May 5th) – Once upon a time Brother Ali was my favorite rapper in the game. This was probably circa 2004 to 2007, on the heels of three consecutive amazing releases. Since then, he’s released a couple of LPs, a couple of EPs, and a number of “loosies,” and while it has all been mostly good, it doesn’t quite compare to the amazing content he was releasing in the mid-2000s. Ali has been mostly absent from the music scene since 2012, so it will be interesting to see what he has to offer in 2017. I have heard one song so far and I really liked it.

Logic – Everybody (May 5th) – Logic has released an album every year since 2014 and all of his stuff has been pretty good, if not spectacular. I didn’t give his last album a ton of play, but he’s still on my list of emcees I’m checking for.

B.O.B. – Ether (May 12th) – I liked the Adventures Of Bobby Ray back in 2010, but I haven’t really been checking for B.O.B. since then. I’ll add this, but it will have to grab me pretty quick to keep it in rotation.

Faith Evans & The Notorious B.I.G. – The King & I (May 19th) – New Biggie content? In 2017? 20 years after he died? The album is supposed to have both well known and unheard B.I.G. verses, but I’d say the chances of this being any good are pretty slim. Still, I’m intrigued enough after looking at the tracklist that I’ll be checking it out.

Snoop Dogg – Neva Left (May 19th) – I really liked Bush and the Snoopzilla album with Dam-Funk, but I didn’t give Coolaid much play, as every song that came up randomly in shuffle was kind of weak. I wouldn’t consider myself much of a Snoop fan these days, but he’s still plenty capable of making good music. I’m not sure what the album cover featuring a picture of a young Snoop from 1992 is supposed to indicate, but I have to admit it’s pretty cool.

Some other notable release dates that I don’t know much about, but will probably add to my library: Harry Styles – Harry Styles (May 12th), Machine Gun Kelly – Bloom (May 12th), Linkin Park – One More Light (May 19th)

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The Notorious B.I.G.

April 20, 2017

I’m going to start a new section on my blog that profiles notable hip-hop artists and grades them in all the important categories in an attempt to a) break down their resumes, b) highlight their strengths and weaknesses, and c) figure out where they stand on the all-time list. Initially I was going to make a post that counted down my top ten rappers of all-time, but I think this route is more realistic and encompassing – I can highlight one emcee at a time and probably try to make one post every two weeks or so, plus I can post about rappers that aren’t necessarily candidates for my Top 10. This will be different from my fluid 2016 Rapper Rankings, which is a breakdown of the current hip-hop scene only.

I decided to start with The Notorious B.I.G. because I could digest his entire catalog in a short time and he’s largely considered one of the best rappers to ever do it. Since this is my first post of this nature, I will explain each category I am using to evaluate hip-hop artists before grading Biggie in that particular element.

Legacy: How much of an impact did the artist have on hip-hop? What kind of imprint have they left on rap music? Where do they land among the all-time greats? Will they be remembered 20 years from now? Biggie obviously checks all the boxes here. Christopher Wallace died on March 9th, 1997 and released two studio albums during his career, both of which are largely considered hip-hop classics. Even though his peak was cut tragically short, Biggie is almost universally considered an all-time great and has been revered and referenced throughout hip-hop for the past 20+ years. A+

Consistency: Simply, how consistent was this emcee throughout their career? Did they continually put out high quality albums or were there some bumps along the road? In Biggie’s case, he died young, early in his career (he was 24!), and we’ll never know if he was already peaking or if he would have enjoyed the long career some his notable peers (Nas, Jay-Z) have. Unfortunately, B.I.G. only released two albums, but they are both fantastic and he never disappointed. A+

Longevity: How long have they been making music? How long was their peak? How long have they been relevant? As previously noted, Biggie died young, so we’ll never know what he could have done, but from 1994 to 1997 he was unquestionably one of the premiere emcees in the game. R.I.P.

Lyrics: How strong was their pen game? We are talking about BARS only here. This category encompasses storytelling, cohesion, similes, metaphors, punchlines, cleverness, humor, bragging, battling, belittling, rhyme schemes, etc. Basically, how well could they write? Biggie wasn’t the most complex lyricist; in fact his writing style was actually pretty simple. However, his storytelling ability is legendary and he grades strong in the humor, bragging, and cleverness departments. B+

Songwriting: Not to be confused with lyrical ability, songwriting is something different… something that makes a hip-hop artist more of a complete package. I’m talking about their ability to craft good songs. Just because you can write good verses, doesn’t mean you can make good songs… or albums. This category includes which beats they decide to rap to; how well they write and execute hooks, choruses, and bridges; can they make catchy tunes? There is definitely a lyrical element to songwriting, but making good music is the focus here. Biggie was obviously a master songwriter – to this day, “Big Poppa,” “Juicy,” and “Hypnotize” are some of the most memorable hip-hop songs ever created. Even some of his lesser songs like “Nasty Boy” and “Playa Hater” are enjoyable because of B.I.G.’s ability to make catchy music. Biggie was able to switch gears as well as any rapper ever has been, fully capable of making completely grimy hip-hop and radio-friendly megahits. A+

Rapping: This category refers to spitting only. How well can this rapper rap? How well do they ride the beat? Do they switch up their cadence? Approach various production differently? Biggie Smalls was born to rap. He sounds at home over basically any beat you ever heard him on, making it all sound completely effortless and natural. While I don’t think Biggie was an elite lyricist, his rapping and songwriter abilities more than made up for it, as he made everything sound amazing. A

Voice: To me, this is one of the least important categories when it comes to rap, as anyone that actually makes it in hip-hop usually at least has a capable voice. However, it is worth mentioning as not all voices are created equal. Biggie’s voice is instantly recognizable and perfectly suited for his style. I wouldn’t say his voice is exceptional, but it didn’t need to be. B+

Replay Value: What kind of listening experience does the artist offer? Can you listen to their music repeatedly? Does it hold up 5 years later? 20 years later? I still listen to Biggie’s catalog regularly and it holds up incredibly well – it is truly timeless. A+

Features: How well did the artist do as a guest appearance on someone else’s song? Were they highly sought after? Are they frequently the highlight of someone else’s song? Unfortunately, Biggie’s short career means that his list of guest appearances is also relatively small. Still, whenever featured on a song, Biggie was unquestionably the highlight of the track, demolishing guest verses on Puff Daddy’s “Victory” and “Young G’s,” and Da Brat’s “Da B Side,” and his back-and-forth with Jay-Z on “Brooklyn’s Finest” brings a tear to the eye when you think about what The Commission might have been. B.I.G. also had a number of solid R&B features. B

Discography:

Ready To Die (1994) – One of my all-time favorites – a no-brainer, timeless classic. “Big Poppa,” “Juicy,” and “Everyday Struggle” are some of my favorite rap songs ever created. This is a completely realized record with no weak points, numerous classic songs, and Biggie sounds like a fully mature hip-hop artist at the ripe age of 22 on his debut album. Truly remarkable.
10/10 (Classic)

Life After Death (1997) – There’s a classic album in here somewhere. At 24 tracks, I think there are some notable weak points like “Nasty Boy,” “Playa Hater,” etc., but even Biggie’s filler is somewhat enjoyable. Life After Death is like a super-sized version of Ready To Die, once again weaving effortlessly between grimy street tales and radio-friendly hits. I feel like B.I.G. really stepped up his storytelling skills on this album and his flow on “Hypnotize” is nothing short of amazing.
9.5/10 (Potential Classic/Classic)

Born Again (1997) – Full disclosure: I only listened to the first ten songs when I revisited this album. I just can’t get into it. Biggie’s biggest strengths were his songwriting and rapping abilities and when you take random verses and try to paste it over a random beat to create a song he never intended to make, well, those particular strengths go absent and you get a subpar and forced product like Born Again. Of the 10 tracks I listened to, only “Dead Wrong,” which featured a fantastic verse from Eminem, was truly memorable. Since B.I.G. wasn’t involved with this project, I won’t hold it against him and I won’t rate it either.

Duets – The Final Chapter (2005) – Jesus. When they start titling your posthumous albums like a horror movie franchise, you know your name is being tarnished. I seriously listened to Eminem’s crappy verse on the first song and just turned this off. This was released 8 years after Biggie’s death and is littered with guest appearances and has absolutely no impact on his place in hip-hop history.

Classic Albums: 1.75
Current Status: Deceased, March 9th, 1997
All-Time Status: Top 7

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April Movie & Music Preview

March 31, 2017

Now that March is over, April provides another slate of new entertainment options, so it’s time for me to give a brief preview of what I’ll be looking forward to next month.

Theatrical Releases: After a strong early start to the year that has already seen high quality films like Get Out and Logan be released, it looks like April is going to be a rather dull month in theaters.

Colossal (April 7th) – I’m not particular interested in this film, but anything that stars Anne Hathaway gets my attention. There’s some sort of monster on the poster and I guess she has some mental problems, but I don’t know anything else about this movie. It might be 2020 before I actually watch it.

The Fate Of The Furious (April 14th) – This has been one of the most surprising franchises of all-time. We are now on movie #8 (and there are two more sequels already announced!) and I don’t even know how many of them I’ve seen up to this point, but I do know that I’ve enjoyed almost all of them and I consider that to be rather shocking. Somehow this series keeps pumping out entertaining flicks, all while keeping it’s core cast together (R.I.P. Paul Walker though). This sequel adds Charlize Theron, Kurt Russell, and Helen Mirren to the mix, while nabbing Straight Outta Compton director F. Gary Gray to run the show. I’m at least one movie behind – maybe two – so chances are I won’t be seeing this in theaters, but with such a slow movie month, maybe I’ll catch up and check it out.

The Circle (April 28th) – Just watched the trailer and it didn’t exactly grab me, but I’m a big Emma Watson fan and Tom Hanks has done pretty good work in recent years when he’s not playing Robert Langdon.

Sleight (some time in April) – Jacob Latimore plays a street musician that may or may not have some sort of superhuman power. One critic described it as “Chronicle meets Iron Man” and the trailer looks interesting enough that it’s on my radar, but again, this is a movie I might not end up watching for a while.

Netflix: In addition to the releases I highlighted last month, Dave Chappelle also released a two part comedy special and it was phenomenal. If you haven’t seen it already, I suggest you make it a priority immediately. Amy Schumer’s special was a total dud – after wondering if I was just being overly critical, I fell asleep during the second half and haven’t had any desire to finish it.

Louis C.K. 2017 comedy special (April 4th) – After watching the Chappelle and Schumer specials, I polled Facebook wondering if there was any comic that has been consistently top shelf for many years and the only answer I got was: Louis C.K. – and I couldn’t argue against it. All his stand up has been fantastic and I’ve really enjoyed the seasons of his show that I’ve seen. No reason not to expect more greatness here.

The BFG (April 6th) – I’m yet to see this Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, but I will now that it’s streaming next month.

The Get Down season two (April 7th) – I haven’t seen the first season yet, but show about the formation of hip-hop music in the Bronx is obviously something I need to be watching.

Kevin Hart: What Now (April 11th) – I really don’t consider myself much of a Kevin Hart fan – I’ve skipped his last five movies – but I will at least watch his stand up material.

The Secret Life Of Pets (April 22nd) – This movie made a heap of money at the box office and received solid ratings from the critics, plus it features a pretty solid voice cast, so I will be watching it while it’s streaming.

Netflix will also be adding A Nightmare On Elm Street, Gremlins, and Schindler’s List (all classics) on the 1st of April, as well as a Richard Pryor stand up. Two other solid films, Kubo & the Two Strings (April 8th) and Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige (April 21st) will also be added later in the month.

Music: March saw the release of a number of good albums, with Khalid and Ed Sheeran providing my two favorite releases of 2017 so far. Rick Ross and Raekwon both surprised me by releasing albums I’m enjoying.

Kendrick Lamar – “Ya’ll got til April the 7th to get your shit together.” (April 7th) – Sounds like a release date announcement to me. Anyone that knows me knows that Kendrick is currently my favorite rapper by miles. MILES! I have him ranked #6 on my all-time list and with two classic albums, a fantastic mixtape, and a slew of phenomenal guest appearances under his belt already, my expectations for his next album are out of this world. If he can somehow manage a third straight classic, he’s right up there with Jay-Z and Nas as the greatest rappers of all-time IMO.

Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (April 7th) – If Kendrick is really dropping an album, this could be an epic weekend of hip-hop as Joey Bada$$ easily makes my list of my top 10 favorite rappers of the moment. His last album was very strong and I’ve liked all the songs he’s released in the past year, so my expectations for this album are pretty high.

The Chainsmokers – Memories… Do Not Open (April 7th) – I don’t know much about this group, but I do know they have a knack for crafting incredibly infectious music, so I will be checking out this album.

Talib Kweli & Styles P – The Seven (April 14th) – Hey, it’s the hip-hop collaboration nobody’s been asking for! There was a time when Talib Kweli was one of my favorite emcees, but it’s been about a decade since I felt that way. Kweli’s released a ton of music since then, but I’ve mostly skipped it and if it was stellar, somebody would’ve told me about it. I’ve never been much of a Styles P fan. With that said, I don’t have to be selective with Apple Music and I can listen to everything, so I’ll give this a chance.

Kamaiyah – Don’t Ever Get It Twisted (April 21st) – Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma are getting all the attention right now, but last year Kamaiyah released the best rap album from a female artist that I’ve heard in years. On the surface, her style seems really simple and her subject matter isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but Kamaiyah makes undeniably good songs. I’m curious to see if she can keep it up and build on the success of her debut album.

Other notable releases scheduled for April include 2 Chainz and Tech N9ne – neither of which I really like – on the 7th, Incubus on the 21st, and Mary J. Blige and Gorillaz on the 28th. I will probably check out the MJB album and skip the rest.