Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jay-Z Radio

Jay-Z Radio isn't bad. Mostly he, Kanye West and Tupac played. I was expecting it to be the perfect gym mix, hype and upbeat, but it was mostly very mellow and included atrack from Jay-Z's MTV Unplugged album, "Can't Knock the Hustle." The Roots and Mary J. Blige give this song more life, and thus it was a good choice because it makes the song easy to link to other artists. Unfortunately, no Roots songs played, but it was an decent mix.

Another Jay-Z song chosen by the Genome Project was "Black Republican," featuring Nas. As I've mentioned before, something about listening to music at the gym while working out allows me to focus more clearly on the lyrics and the meaning behind them than if I were in a car, for instance. I think it's because I'm trying not to dwell on the pain and discomfort of the exercise I'm doing, so I concentrate on the music. (This is big for me, because growing up, I focused MUCH more on the music and missed or misinterpreted a great deal of what the singers were talking about. "Black Republican" is a good example.) This song was important to hip-hop fans because it was the first song Jay-Z and Nas had ever recorded together, and it was coming off the heated beef between the two which lasted over a year. I was doing a row exercise when this song cam on. The first lines, uttered by Jay-Z, are:

I feel like a...
Black republican, money I got coming in
Can't turn my back on the hood I got love for them
Can't claim my act has been good, too much thug in him
I'll probably end up back in the hood like f**k it then.

It was then that I realized the true meaning of the song. "Black republican" is an oxymoron. You can't be black, republican, and still say you stand strong for civil rights, affirmative action and overall reform--at least it would be very difficult to convince somebody you did. Jay-Z and Nas feel like black republicans because they care about their roots in impoverished, black New York neighborhoods but know that they stand far apart from their old friends because of one thing: money. Dave Chappelle illustrated this paradox comically in skits called, "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong," in which black professionals reaped dire consequences of staying too true to their roots. The catch-22, for Nas and Jay-Z, is that if they did not live their lives unrestrained and continue to create music, they and the people they love would be underrepresented, and be marginalized like the poor bastards in Dave Chappelle's skits. Still, the feeling that they are selling out in some way is painful to them, and the metaphor of a black republican is quite clever, I think, even though there is less redeemable in a republican politician than a hip-hop artist, if only because someone like Michael Steele would never admit to having doubts about being black and representing the right.

Speaking of the right, "Jesus Walks" played while I was on the treadmill. I hadn't heard this song in a while, and a similar thing happened which did with "Black Republican." The lines,

So here go my single dog radio needs this
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes
But if I talk about God my record won't get played Huh?
Well let this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins

struck me, especially. These lines are the core of the song. This is before Kanye blew up. Despite how popular this song became, he does a pretty good job of making you believe that he really was taking a risk when he wrote it. The daring can be heard in the pounding music itself, too. I felt in sync with Kanye's creative process. When the lightning bulb turned on in his head, I can be certain he followed the idea ruthlessly. The song is thus alive in a way that few pop songs are.

One other Kanye song that I completely forgot about was "Get 'em High" featuring Common and Talib Kweli. I didn't like this song when I first heard it because I thought the beat was monotonous and I thought Kweli and Common were trying to be hard and thuggish. I enjoyed it this time around for a few reasons. First of all, I liked the lines,

And I will, cut your girl like Pastor Tro
And I don't, usually smoke but pass the 'dro
And I won't, give you that money that you askin fo'
Why you think, me and Dame cool, we ask hoes
That's why we here your music in fast fo'
Cuz we don't wanna here that weak xxxx no mo'

just because they are funny. I can personally relate to, "I don't usually smoke but..." Also, picturing Kanye and Dame Dash listening to demos in fast forward while high is hilarious. Moving on,

N-n-n-n-n-now who the hell is this
E-mailin me at 11:26, tellin me that she 36-26, plus double-d

is a reference to Biggie's song "Warning," which, believe it or not, played later:

Who the fuck is this, pagin me at 5:46 in the mornin
Crack of dawn and now I'm yawnin
Wipe the cold out my eyes
See who's this pagin me, and why

It was fantastic to complete the circle. Also, it was great to listen to Biggie's drawn-out, story-telling style while working out. He includes minor details of the narrative that would be boring if anyone else was telling it and somehow makes them fascinating instead with his hypnotic, lazy delivery:

Remember them niggaz from the hill up in Brownsville?
That you rolled dice wit, smoked blunts, and got nice wit

Biggie's friend asks him.

Yeah my nigga Fame up in Prospect
Nah they're my niggaz nah love wouldn't disrespect

Biggie insists, indicating his friend is fooling for even suggesting these guys would want to hurt Biggie, but no, no, no,

I didn't say them, they schooled me to some niggaz
that you knew from back when, when you was clockin minor figures
Now they heard you blowin up like nitro
And they wanna stick the knife through your windpipe slow

Oh. Those guys. Shit.

I skipped some songs from the Blueprint 3 that were really bad. Besides those, two thumbs up for Jay-Z radio. I doubt I could listen to it for too long, however, simply because it's inevitable you're going to get into the realm of the overplayed.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mos Def Radio

I hadn't listened to hip-hop in a while and started the day with Beck radio again and switched to Mos Def after an hour or so. This is a great station. All the regulars are here, including: Talib Kweli, Common, The Roots, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Dilated Peoples, Fugees; and also welcomed appearances by Atmosphere, Lupe Fiasco, Gangstarr and more. The vibe stayed strong and lively pretty much the entire time.

Pandora played "Modern Marvel," by Mos, early on, a song I love but did not always have the patience to listen to all the way through. I have been painting my bathroom all day, and so had no problem letting the song play. It was beautiful, and really took me back to when The New Danger first came out, and it was so different, I didn't know what to make of it. A while later, "Just Like Music" by Erick Sermon, which also features a haunting Marvin Gaye sample, played and brought it back around to the Mos Def track.

Unfortunately, I have not taken the time to listen to Mos' latest, The Ecstatic. The first song the Genome Project selected was a track from that album called "Life in Marvelous Times," which surprised me with its original and upbeat sound. I had all but given up on Mos after his last effort, True Magic, which has some interesting material but it ends up disappointing. When "Thug is a Drug," the only song Pandora retrieved from that album, thank goodness, played, I had to skip it because it was sounded so out of place.

I swear it was as if Pandora and I were in tune to each others' inner thoughts and feelings. One song played that reminded me of a Nas song called "Undying Love." I wished that song would play next, but instead, several songs later, "You're Da Man" came on, which has a similar, intense, dark, beat, and isn't as terryfying as "U.L." "N.Y." state of mind also came on.

Atmosphere is another one of those artist I've heard great things about but haven't really delved into. "When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold," was one of the best songs I heard today. I thinkI used to resent his nasal delivery, but now I really like his lyrics and his beats.

"The Mask," by the Fugees was another one of my favorites, and several songs by Gangstarr hit the spot, as well. Good Station for any occasion.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pearl Jam Radio

First of all, R.I.P. Jay Reatard. I have not heard much of his work but I admire what I have and the world will be a sadder place without him. I missed his concert at Johnny Brenda's a month or so ago and now I am really regretting it. He was 29.

Pearl Jam radio is lame. It is hard to believe, but I am very disappointed. I first put on Misfits radio, at the gym, but didn't feel like listening to stuff I wasn't familiar with today, so I put on PJ, thinking I couldn't go wrong. It was partly my own fault, considering the output was mostly predictable: lots of Nirvana and lots of Smashing Pumpkins. No Soundgarden, however, which pissed me off, and way too much Led Zeppelin.

I used to love Led Zeppelin. I never thought this would happen, but I just don't really dig them anymore, and when every other song is some overplayed Zeppelin track, it's almost intolerable. What the hell does Led have to do with Pearl Jam, anyway? You would think the Genome Project would have chosen some Niel Young or Eric Clapton, but the GP really came up short today, and made me doubt its intelligence in general.

I really was insulted. I mean, I expect to hear some 90s alternative mixed in, and maybe an obscure Zeppelin track here and there, but I would think Pandora could pull some more modern fare in, as well. The Beck station mixed in Spoon, which was a breath of fresh air. I was listening to Pearl Jam radio for 2 hours and I didn't hear anything that came out after 2006 (the latest was World Wide Suicide, one of the weakest tracks on Pearl Jam's self-titled).

Perhaps I've outgrown some of the 90s music I used to worship. I really dig Pearl Jam's newest, Backspacer, which is why I created the station, but Smashing Pumpkins? Only a few songs of SP's I can still enjoy, honestly, like some from Meloncollie and the Infinite Sadness (none of which played today), but like I said, what do you expect?

It would have been nice to hear Sex Pistols, who influenced Eddie Vedder, for example. It seems like Pandora got lazy and just took the easy route, choosing songs from the alternative/grunge era and not even trying to connect Pearl Jam to anything more eclectic or enigmatic or modern, unlike with the Beck station. Put on Pearl Jam radio if you like that era. Don't, if you're trying to learn something.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beck Radio

My favorite station so far. Artists include: Portishead, White Stripes, Eels (EELS!), Cake, Radiohead, Wilco, Beastie Boys, Gorillaz, Modest Mouse, and the Beatles. I can tell you right now that this station cannot let me down. Did you ever think of putting the Beastie Boys and the Beatles on the same mix CD? Well, I've made some crazy mixes in my day with artists from a wide range of musical genres that I believe flowed well together, but still, I congratulate the Genome Project for putting them in perspective for me.

It's really great to hear the Eels. I always respected them, but they were always floating in and out of the limelight and I never made an effort to pursue them that much. They're like a very dry, sometimes cynical, Beck, but their bouncy electronic sound makes up for their depressing lyrics. I like the lead singer's scratchy voice, and at their best, they sound just as mysterious and deep as Portishead. But that's just me. They have their own distinct style, with more of a punk/reggae influence than Portishead.

As for the Beck-Beatles connection, it makes perfect sense to me. I used to think, and still do, that Beck shared a strong connection with Bob Dylan. They both rattle off lyrics casually, as if they're speaking normally, but imbue them with sharp meaning. Beck, of course, can be more cryptic than Dylan. The problem is, I don't think Dylan would have meshed well with the other artists on this station because he's too serious and straightforward. The Beatles, on the other hand, are often playful and child-like, which matches Beck's brand of humor.

I have to say I was never the biggest Modest Mouse fan, but after letting Beck radio play for a while, I got used to their sound. I never liked the lead singer's voice much, but I really like his lyrics, and their sound is pretty unique. I still prefer Eels, but they are a little more positive-minded, I suppose.

I personally think Radiohead is the most overrated band of my generation, but the tracks selected by Pandora were good for kicking back and sinking into ("Karma Police," "Subterranean Homesick Alien"). I've never had a "Radiohead phase" in my lifetime like I have with Beck, White Stripes, and Beatles (in which I just listen to them for days; and which are still ongoing), so I was patient and really let myself get into those particular Radiohead songs, which was nice.

To summarize, my ideal station would be nonstop Beck-Portishead-Eels-White Stripes-Beatles-Beastie Boys radio. Cake annoys me sometimes, but I can stand them, Modest Mouse isn't bad, Gorillaz is OK here and there. No bad choices by the Genome Project. Highly recommended for any occasion: social, doing chores or homework, driving, even exercising.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Kills (and Serge Gainsbourg)

So I was at the gym today and put on Kills radio. There was a lot of Black Keys, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a little Metric, and some random stuff that I did not get a chance to check because I was too busy pumping iron. Not the best exercise mix, actually. I expected more ferocity but there was too much psychedelia and jam, which there is a time and a place for but not here. There was a strange, uncharacteristic song by the Kills called "I Call it Art" from Gainsbourg Revisited, that made me want to look into it later. (Turns out Serge Gainsbourg, father of Charlotte, was a French singer/songwriter who died in 1991 and this Revisited album is a tribute which also features Portishead, Cat Power and Placebo.) I expected to hear more White Stripes and some Dead Weather, but didn't, which is fine because I can hear them on several other stations. All in all, I would recommend the Kills station if you're driving a car or at home alone. It's very good for losing yourself.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I was listening to Tool radio, and even though the songs played mainly came from bands like (besides Tool) Nine Inch Nails, A Perfect Circle (obviously), and Deftones, occasionally Alice in Chains, and once, a Stone Temple Pilots song (possibly a error; long story short, I created two Tool stations at the same time on my Blackberry and I think it got confused), popped up. I began to draw connections between the two groups. Both had an MTV Unplugged album. Both are from Seattle. Both have drug-plagued lead singers. OK so do a lot of other bands. What struck me about these two in particular was that neither of them kick nearly as much ass as Nirvana or Pearl Jam but they lingered on for years despite bad reviews and scores of knock-offs. I sound like I hate them, but I used to love STP and admired AIC as well, even though I didn't buy as many of AIC's albums back in the day when I bought CDs.

The STP song that came up was Interstate Love Song, my least favorite hit STP song. Like I said, I think (and hope) Pandora made a mistake and Interstate Love Song was not in the genome project, but needless to say, it did not fit in with the intensity of Tool and NIN, or even AIC. I thought about an old Saturday Night Live skit, when David Spade did Weekend Update. He was talking about going to see a STP show and quipped, "I liked them the first time when they were called Pearl Jam." When I first saw this, at age twelve or thirteen, I was deeply offended. I loved STP, and they sounded nothing like Pearl Jam, I thought. Regardless, many years later, I see Spade's point, and I find it hard to believe that STP remained successful for as long as they did. The way I look at them now, it's as if they were always trying to sound unique but fell just short every time. I stopped following them after Tiny Music, which is probably their most original album. I kinda still like some tracks from Core and Purple, too, but I would much rather hear anything by Alice in Chains.

I was hurt but also amused, when I read a short but scathing preview of an AIC show at the TLA in Philly Weekly or City Paper a few months ago. The writer basically tore them a new one, essentially saying they were talentless musicians and couldn't write lyrics worth shit either. I can't say I disagree, but when I heard "Grind" on Pandora, I was very happy. I skipped "Rooster," because I've heard it ten million goddamn times, and "Dirt," because it was boring me, but there's nothing like a good, incoherent AIC romp once in a while. Like STP, I think they were successful because they made people think they were doing something new, but in retrospect, tragically, they were really just taking themselves way too seriously. Layne Staley with his sunglasses and Scott Weiland with his purple hair at the Unplugged recordings are all I can picture, both trying to look mysterious and troubled, which they were but not in the good, artistic way.

I think next to Tool and Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots and Alice in Chains don't stand a chance when it comes to originality, meaning, feeling, and sound. It's hard to say, however, which I would prefer at the gym, where I may not be in the mood to wait for a deep Tool track to unfold, or to let Nine Inch Nails take my soul hostage. I might rather hear a catchy STP tune or a trusty old AIC riff, when working out. At the end of the day, though, AIC wins the duel because I believe if I were to shuffle all of both bands' songs, there's a better chance of AIC doing me right. They don't try as hard as STP to sound cool, they just are--most of the time.