Archive for February, 2017

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This is the fourth installment in a ten part series where I’ll be counting down my 10 favorite hip hop albums of all time in reverse order, from 10 to 1. I’ll be releasing one album per week, for 10 weeks. You can read Part I here , Part II here , and Part III here

Alright, now we’re in the thick of it. This is where the decisions are getting tougher and tougher. If this were the NFL playoffs, we’re through wildcard weekend and we’ve eliminated the fringe teams that don’t belong. We’re on to divisional weekend with seven albums that are all capable of winning the Super Bowl.

Today we’re gonna take a trip back to 1998. Did I know about this album in 1998? Hell no. Not even close. I was more into albums like Big Willie Style, and my legitimate rap knowledge was just scratching the surface with tracks like “Hard Knock Life” and “Ghetto Superstar.” The names of these artists weren’t even on my radar for another six years. But once I found out who they were, they each held a special place in my heart as some of my favorite conscious rappers ever.

I can’t think of a way to introduce them better than they introduced themselves. So, take it away boys…

 

1, 2, 3…Mos Def & Talib Kweli

 

Number 7: Black Star – Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are: Black Star (1998)

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It was a random weekday night during my junior year of high school. I was hanging at my good friend/neighbor’s house with our little pothead crew that loved to go on blunt rides and listen to Sublime. Fortunately on this night, my buddy who basically introduced me to good hip hop was in the car. He popped his iPod on (those used to be innovative devices that played music in a physical stored data space), and hit shuffle. I was in the very back of this van, in a weird space that had no seats. We were stuffing seven people into what should have been a four-person ride. Halfway through the cruise, when I was many tokes deep, a song came on that completely overtook me. I was locked in from the second the beat came in. I’ll always remember when the first chorus started and I, head bobbing like an absolute mother fucker, involuntarily let out a bellowing, “OHHHHH!” because it was just so goddamn good. The track was, “Definition,” and it set me off on a Black Star vision quest that I’m extremely thankful for.

Black Star is the only studio release from legendary rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli as a duo. This was released just prior to their own individual debuts as solo artists. Since this album, both have gone on to become two of the most talented and well-respected artists and lyricists in hip hop history. But this is what started it all.

The album starts off with some scratches and spoken words over a darker piano line. I said in The Blueprint review that I’m a huge fan of great intro tracks. Well, although this one doesn’t have the juice that some of the others on this list do, I still love it. It segways perfectly into “Astronomy (8th Light),” which has a heavy, funky bass line and is loaded with afro-centric lyrics that use the word “black” in a number of clever and thought-provoking ways. This is where we first get to hear the two emcees riff with each other and trade lines (a-la the Beastie Boys). Mos Def’s opening to the final verse is exceptional (“Blacker than the night time sky in BedStuy in July / blacker than the seed in the black berry pie / blacker than the middle of my eye“). As a white guy, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with enough cool analogies to white objects to fill this many lines, nevermind a full track.

Then, we’re treated to one of hip hop’s great underground anthems. Like I said before, “Definition” is the song that put me on to Black Star. It’s bursting with energy. The heavy bass and fast moving beat, Mos Def’s hyped verses, Talib’s flow, and of course, that beautiful and catchy chorus. Mos Def’s singing is nothing short of perfect. It’s a chorus everyone can, and does, sing along to. It also has some of my favorite Talib lines ever, specifically in his last verse (“Consider me the entity within the industry without a history of spittin the epitome of stupidity / living my life expressing my liberties it got to be done properly / my name is in the middle of equality“). Lordy lord. Somebody call the fire department! It’s truly one of the greatest hip hop songs in existence. The track seamlessly transitions to the remix, appropriately titled “RE: Definition,” where the two emcees continue riffing over a slightly darker beat, and deliver their rhymes in a more braggadocios style than the previous track.

Brown Skin Lady” is the duo’s tribute to their dark-skinned sisters that they find oh so beautiful. The chopped guitar sample is smooth like cocoa butter and works so nicely with the subject matter. It’s as if Marvin Gaye stuck around until the late 90s and made a hip hop song. Actually, you could say that about a lot of the tracks on this album. They all have this silky smooth, soul-sampled vibe to them that really struck a chord with me and helped shape my own personal taste in beats. “K.O.S” brings our first female vocal onto the album, with a sensual performance from Vinia Mojica. “Respiration” is another highlight, with an all-time sample job from Hi-Tek, who produced half the tracks on the album, and really created the sonic sound for this group. This track also has the first guest feature with a verse from Common. Three of the most conscious rapper’s together on a track for the first time. The track is followed by another beautifully-chopped piano sample from 88-Keys, and yet another catchy chorus from Mos Def on “Thieves in the Night.” It’s like the hip hop version of a cocktail lounge from old Hollywood.

I think “Hater Players” is the weakest track on the album. It’s the only track that’s just kind of there and doesn’t add or takeaway anything from the project. I also would have preferred if the closing track, “Twice Inna Lifetime,” was just Mos and Talib, but I understand they probably used it as an opportunity to put on a few of their friends who were trying to pop off. Having Common as the only guest feature would have been something special, like AZ on Illmatic. I didn’t mention the quirky, and dare I say, cute take on Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story.” It’s a nice nod to the Eye Patch and the only track without Talib. Also, the group’s ode to breakdancing on the upbeat “B Boys Will B Boys.” They really stripped everything down and went back to the roots of hip hop. Fun, energetic, graffiti, breakdancing, cyphers. All the characteristics that were getting lost in the shuffle of bling bling and expensive videos.

What separates this album from other hip hop projects is Mos Def’s singing capabilities. To have the combination of a world-class emcee with a world-class soul voice is something completely unique to him. He’s got a better singing voice than Andre3000 and Drake, while being just as good a rapper. I think the only artist that compares to his talents in both rapping and singing is the great Lauryn Hill. Also, Hi-Tek’s production fit their rhyme style and the context of their tracks perfectly. It influenced the overall sound of conscious rap as a subgenre moving forward.

Black Star came out at a time when hip hop was adjusting to life in the mainstream. The uphill battle was over. Hip Hop had officially made it. And the landscape was becoming saturated with sub-par emcees who were flashy and did anything to sell records. The actual mic skills weren’t as important anymore. What Mos Def and Talib Kweli did on this album was reject the record labels that wanted to turn rappers into a well-oiled machine of money making. They wanted to do things their way and put out music that meant something more than just smoking weed and popping bottles on speed boats. They showed that conscious rap had a place in the hip hop world. There was a mass of fans out there that cared about lyricism and emcees that perfected their craft. They showed that you didn’t have to rap about being a gangster. This album laid the groundwork for artists like J. Cole, Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar, Aesop Rock, and so many others. It’s an underground classic that I’d recommend to any new fan of hip hop that wants to dig into less surface-level stuff. Easily digestible, catchy, and meaningful.

And if anything, just please, please, please listen to “Definition.” That track alone is worth the price of admission.

PS – there’s an awesome remix album called “Yasiin Gaye” that mashes up Mos Def songs with Marvin Gaye instrumentals. Lot of tracks from the Black Star album on there. Highly recommend it.

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I’ve been meaning to write this blog for a while, and with the Oscars coming up this weekend I wanted to get it out to the masses before Sunday.

Let me clear one thing up first before I go in here. I DO NOT consider myself a cinefile. Not at all. I rarely go to the movies and I generally see about 10 new movies every year. And by “new,” I mean new to me. Not new releases. But I consider myself intelligent enough in the arts to appreciate good writing, directing, and acting in a given film. I’ve dabbled in writing pilots, and long story short, it’s really fucking hard to make something that’s entertaining.

So I’m not here to shit on Manchester By The Sea because it didn’t have enough guns, explosions, and sex (but shit, maybe it could have used some). I’m here to shit on Manchester By The Sea for one reason and one reason only…

It was flat out boring.

“But it was so sad and depressing!”

No. It wasn’t that sad. The things that happened to him were sad. The situations he found himself in were sad. But his stone-faced, emotionless acting didn’t evoke any feelings out of me, besides boredom and anticipation for something more to happen.

“But that was the point! He was so empty, there was nothing left inside of him!”

Ok, cool. So I watched an empty man drive around his hometown for 2+ hours while being a dick to everyone he comes in contact with. Good. Great. Grand. Where’s the entertainment in that?

“Ugh. But the man lost his kids in a house fire that HE was responsible for. How can you not have compassion for the tragedy that struck this man’s life!”

THANK YOU FOR BRINGING THIS UP. This is probably the one thing that pissed me off the most about this movie. The scene where (spoiler alert) he comes home drunk to find his house on fire, then realizes his kids were in there and only his wife made it out. They teased this giant tragedy for over an hour before the big reveal. This scene was a climax of sorts. Where we get to find out why on earth Lee Chandler is such a cold bastard. And I couldn’t have been more confused/disappointed.

First off, props to Michelle Williams for being the only person in this film who had a believable cry. I thought she was great. But when Lee is hit with the realization that his kids are dead, all he does is drop a grocery bag and rub his forehead like he’s got some sort of migrane. No tears, no screams of agony, no huge breakdown, no dramatic orchestral music to tug at your heart. Just Casey Affleck being pretty bummed out that his family is dead. And then, we get the incredibly awkward exchange when he’s helping the EMT’s load his wife from the stretcher into the ambulance. There’s this strange moment where he struggles to get the wheels onto the platform of the ambulance, and it takes a few tries to get her in.

What the fuck was that about?! These two just lost their children in a horrific accident, and we close the scene with a moment that felt slightly comedic. Fucking comedy in the most dramatic moment of the film??? I was so confused.

“But that’s the type of director Kenneth Lonergan is. He always includes the subtle, but real nuances of every situation.”

Word. Well Kenny, maybe take a note from James Cameron and add some depressing music to the background so the simplest of viewers, like myself, can discern that we’re supposed to be crying and not laughing after three little kids died in a house fire.

And then, the ending, where Lee finally says no to his nephew and refuses to take him in after months of growing a relationship. Just when I thought the movie was building to something big, I was left puzzled by the “climax.”

“I can’t beat it.” 

WATERWORKS! TISSUES! SNOT DRIPPING OUT MY NOSE!

No. It was yet another emotionless line delivered by the guy who will probably win Best Actor. I seriously don’t get it. How is this film getting such rave reviews? How does seemingly everyone think it’s a masterpiece besides me? Am I missing something? Did I see this movie blackout drunk? Was I scrolling through Twitter the whole time? Did I just dream that I saw it?

I need an explanation. Someone please explain to me why this movie is good. I’m all ears. Shit, I’ll even see it again if you can point out every instance that I should appreciate. Because right now, I see a boring movie that’s going to win a bunch of awards, and a lackluster performance from a lead actor that is being hailed as something spectacular.

I’m usually completely on board with Boston movies. But on this one, I’m taking the first duckboat out.

(it’s a long video. Gun comes out around 2:20)

First thoughts on this video…how the hell is that guy a cop? He must be on some serious deep cover shit. Because he straight up looks like a wannabe cholo gangster. Like Jonah Hill in the opening scene of 22 Jump Street.

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If the video wasn’t prefaced with “Off-Duty LAPD Officer,” I would have just assumed that these kids poked the wrong bear in the wrong hood. An ex-con who had been clean for years but couldn’t escape the old stomping grounds. Until one fateful day he had enough with the skinny jean wearin’, flamboyant-ass millennial wankstas walking around his hood like they’re hard. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and scare their punk-asses with a little desk pop. No biggie, just giving them something to think about.

After getting over the fact that off duty police officers don’t wear their uniform and badge in their spare time, I was able to take in the situation that unfolded.

Now, I’m a cop guy. I love the boys and girls in blue. It’s a real tough time for anyone to enter the force and I commend their bravery, because there’s a lot of sick fucks out there who’d like to grease an innocent badge. A fucked up world indeed.

But man, even without seeing the initial spark to this conflict, I’m having a tough time coming up with any kind of defense for this cop. I understand there was probably a physical altercation between him and the kid, which can set someone off and explain the initial wrangling he was doing. But after that long, when the kid asked to be let go multiple times, common sense HAS to kick in at some point. You’ve gotta have some awareness when a situation is escalating and try to minimize the damage. If you let him go and he starts to attack you, then so be it. Slam his ass when that happens. A grown man should be able to stave off 4-5 13 year olds until their adrenaline runs out and they go back to snapchatting their friend Daniel’s ugly sneakers. This particular group of kids didn’t seem like the type that wanted anything to happen. They appeared to realize their friend was a mouthy idiot, and they just wanted to continue their walk home from school. I truly believe that.

So yeah, for once in my life I’m actually #TeamAnnoyingFuckingMillennialTeenagers. Pains me to do it, but the tape don’t lie. The cop’s life wasn’t being threatened, and there certainly wasn’t a reason to pull out a fucking gun and fire off a warning shot. That’s risky as fuck. That’s how you end up with children’s blood on your hands, brah. There’s plenty of good reasons to pull a gun if you’re trained to use one like this cop was. Unfortunately for him, this was not even close to one of them. If I were him, I’d have reveled in the opportunity to play Whack-A-Mole on a bunch of 13 year olds. Here, I’ll let you go. But if you decide to come at me with your posse, I’m gonna run through the whole lot of you like Stone Cold stunning the field in the Royal Rumble…

Previous: Harrison Ford’s Aviation History: An Investigation

So by now we all know Harrison Ford had yet another close call while piloting a small plane over Los Angeles. The story broke last week that he almost clipped a commercial airliner with 150+ passengers on it while doing an emergency landing. Now, we have footage of the landing from the runway itself, and people are freaking out about how close he was to the plane he almost hit.

 

 

One would think this would confirm the findings of my investigation into his spotty aviation history. That I would feel vindicated for all my minutes of research into the subject. That I could close the book on this case and say with 100% confidence that Harrison Ford is a bad pilot and should have his license revoked.

Well, you’d be dead wrong. Did anyone watch this video? “Barely missing a 737?” Really? I like I’m taking crazy pills. He had PLENTY of room to spare between his plane and the jet. He cleared it by about 30 feet! He didn’t even touch down in frame. This changes everything. It debunks my whole thesis. Not only does this footage makes me unsure if Harrison Ford is a bad pilot, it actually makes me wonder if he’s a sneaky good pilot. Sometimes shit hits the fan and you have to let your instincts take over. You don’t get that “close” to hitting something if you aren’t fully confident in what you’re doing. That was the footage of someone who’s had a few brushes with emergency landings and knew exactly what to do in a crisis. Took a page right out of Sully Sullenberger’s book. Sure, when something odd like this happens people look to the man in the cockpit and question his preparation. But really they’re just looking for a way to take him down (pun intended). They’re jealous of his skills and are grasping at straws to make him look bad. And who can blame them? Harrison Ford already has it all. The fame, fortune, women, life of luxury. He’ll be a huge celebrity death when his time comes. So it makes sense he gets attacked for living his life in the stratospherical fast lane.

Call it a flip flop, a change of heart, a tune change, whatever you want. I’m a big boy and I’ll admit when I was wrong. I gave my all to that investigation last week. I stacked exhibit after exhibit into a brick wall of evidence against Harrison Ford’s aviation abilities that I thought was as strong as the Great Wall of China. I left my heart on the blog.

But this video has blown my mind. What others see as a near miss, I see as a strategic maneuver. A skillful departure from the sky. A pilot who knew exactly how much room he had to land and was 100% sure no one would be hurt. Dicey? Yes. But when you’re Harrison Ford and you’ve lived the lives of a thousand men, you need situations like this to get your adrenaline pumping. Average guys like me and you might shoot some hoops or take the jet ski out on the open water to get our fix. But icons like Harrison Ford need more. Send him up in an airplane with a bum engine and have him find a place to land it safely. Now THAT’S livin’.

 

Soooo yeahhhh…you know how people always say not to generalize a population by the actions of a small minority? I’d like to request that train of thought be put into affect right now. Because that video is a baddddd look for the male gender. Sure, catcalling videos have made their rounds on social media in the last few years. But most of them are staged to specifically incite catcalls. Remember this one…

 

 

This is the video that started the catcalling social experiment trend. An attractive, low-key thicc girl walking the streets of New York for a full day, then boom! Shocker! Random men make passes at her!  Well, I guess you could call them “passes.” Most of the guys were just saying casual pleasantries like “How you doin?” and “Have a nice day.” There were a few weirdos who didn’t get the hint and followed her. But overall, I thought this video was much to do about nothing.

But the new video with the girl on the bike? I gotta say, that’s a huge L for guys like me who claim that catcalling is overblown. Those dudes were WAY out of line. It was straight up harassment. And anytime you physically touch a stranger like they did to her, it’s grounds for detainment. So #ImWithHer on this one. I can’t imagine how much frustration built up inside her to set her off and force her to rip the side mirror off the van. But good for her. That’s a perfect Fuck You to those creeps. Nothing too hateful or violent. The perfect amount of vengeance to really get under their skin and let them know that in the end, she won and they lost.

But I must mention the guy who caught all of this on camera. Fuckin dude just sitting there filming the whole damn thing and not once stepping in while he’s witnessing a sexual harassment. He had PLENTY of time to garner up the balls and intervene. But instead, he sat safely perched about 15 feet away until the girl was sent into full psycho mode and kicked ass on her own. Only then, when the ashes of defeat were settling upon the two perpetrators in their van, does he roll up and give them a piece of his mind. “That’s exactly what you deserve, you scum!” Well, no. What they actually deserve is to be KO’d by a chauvinistic male who stands up for what’s right. But hey fuck me right?

Also, HUGE missed opportunity to be the hero. If this girl is the subject of groping from random men, I’m guessing she’s pretty hot. Not only did this guy sit by the wayside while she was being harassed, he missed out on a storybook start to a love story. These types of chance encounters with beautiful women don’t present themselves very often. So let this be a lesson to all you young men out there. Step in to help attractive women in peril. You’ll either be the hero, the zero with a new hot friend, or the zero who gets physically beaten by a group of men for trying to be the hero. Quite the range of outcomes, but hey, shooters shoot.

 

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(No I didn’t meet Nick Cage 😦 but this picture made me laugh)

So today was a rather momentous occasion for me. After four long years living in the heart of Los Angeles, I finally had my first legitimate celebrity encounter. Now, that’s not to say I haven’t seen celebrities before. My boss likes to mix it up in West Hollywood with some of the movers and the shakers of the industry, so occasionally we’ll have a C-lister drop by the office for a visit (looking at you, David Arquette and David Spade). I also got to sing demo vocals with Tyra Banks on the theme song for her extremely short-lived talk show, FAB Life (FYI, she’s a very large human). I even made an extremely underwhelming appearance on Timbaland’s instagram once, while trying out an insanely pointless product he endorses.

Yes, you’d categorize these experiences as “celebrity encounters,” but not in the sense that I always imagined would happen when I first moved out here. Everyone told me I’d bump into celebrities in public “all the time.” Yeah, ok. Well it’s been approximately 45 months, and that shit hasn’t happened to me yet.

But today, my luck changed. I was hiking up Runyon for the 8000th time (nbd, I’ve got hiking booty now), and I saw that I was about to cross paths with someone coming down the hill. It was a large, african-american male with a big beard wearing jeans and a plain white tee. As we got closer, I took the always-awkward-without-sunglasses glance at the dude’s face.

 

Well shit. It was one of my favorite rappers ever…The Game!

 

Without really thinking, I took my ear buds out and said, “Wassup Game? Big fan.” Then I extended my fist for the almighty sign of goodwill, the bump.

 

And to my chagrin, he reciprocated the bump! I had a mini-celebration as I kept walking, proud of myself for not being a total fanboy and asking for a picture. I felt like I handled it as well as I could have. He’s definitely gonna tell his posse about the respectful, non-aggressive white guy sweating through his shirt that he met on President’s Day 2017 hiking Runyon.

The weirdest part though, is that he was completely by himself. There wasn’t anyone that he was waiting on to catch up. No big booty girl riding his coat tails. No manager, no photographer, no security. Just The Game, hiking Runyon, taking in the view. Pret-ty, pret-ty strange.

After texting every friend I knew that would be impressed by my encounter with The Game, I checked his instagram to see if there was any post about his hike, or a new best friend. Low and behold, he not only posted the classic, “This is my city,” Runyon picture, apparently he left a new pair of Yeezy’s somewhere on the trail for a fan to pick up.

But wait, there’s more!

Not only would I have gotten a free pair of Game-worn Yeezy’s, he would have followed me  on the ‘Gram for ONE WHOLE WEEK! I couldn’t give two shits about the Yeezy’s, but having The Game see a full seven days worth of my instagram posts? That’s the real kicker. My mind is spinning just thinking about the bromance that could have blossomed between us on social media. He would have seen how cool and relatable I am. I mean, besides the fact that we’re both writers, we both play basketball. We both have a tattoo. We’re both ripped to shreds. And by the transitive property of our fist bump, we’re eskimo brothers now. He claims to have banged 4 Kardashians, so the way I see it, I’ve ran train through reality TV’s royal family as well. The first white man to accomplish that feat. Though with my luck, none of them would get pregnant and I’d be left standing in front of gas stations for the next 30 years trying to tell my tale of penetrating the Kardashian’s defense against average white men.

Oh what could have been. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a bromance with The Game to blissfully daydream about.

“People let me tell ya bout my best friend…”

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This is the third installment in a ten part series where I’ll be counting down my 10 favorite hip hop albums of all time in reverse order, from 10 to 1. I’ll be releasing one album per week, for 10 weeks. You can read Part I here and Part II here

We’re cruising along in the countdown of my Top 10 Favorite Hip Hop Albums of All Time. Two kickass records are in the books, and I’m excited to move forward because guess what? They’re only gonna get better.

The first two albums we covered were released 13 years apart, and the major shift in hip hop’s sound from boom bap to 808s couldn’t have been clearer. Each of the artists we covered were pioneers in their respective niches of hip hop. The artist who holds down the number 8 spot hasn’t just been a pioneer in hip hop, he’s been a pioneer in some of the major musical movements over the last 20+ years. Some consider him to be the greatest rapper of all time. Personally, I wouldn’t say he’s the greatest, but I’d call him the most successful. He’s managed to parlay his high-level mic skills into sustained mainstream success, all while being THE model for the rapper-turned-businessman.

He’s released 16(!) albums since his debut in 1996. He’s worked with the greatest rappers, producers, singers, and all around musicians in his 20 years since then. He’s one of the richest men in music, and he’s one part of the royal family of hip hop.

Allow me to re-introduce this man…

HIS NAME IS HOV!

Number 8:  Jay-Z – The Blueprint (2001)

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Believe it or not, this album was released on 9/11. Crazy. But that’s not when I discovered it. No, I was too busy dicking around with the most whiney, pussy emo bands that were popular at the time. I hadn’t yet realized what good hip hop was.

The Blueprint found me by mistake. Of course I had heard “H to the Izzo,” when it came out. Anyone who had a radio knew that song. But it took until my sophomore year of high school for me to stumble upon my friend’s burned copy of The Blueprint cd. I was looking for something to pop in the cd player before I went to basketball practice, and I noticed a blank cd with someone else’s handwriting on it saying, “The Blueprint.” I knew the title because I’d heard people talk about how good it was. So, I popped it in and went on my merry way.

Immediately, I was hooked. I’m a HUGE fan of albums that have great intro tracks (see the first two albums on this countdown, and most likely every one the rest of the way). “The Rulers Back” had this too-cool-for-school vibe to it that I loved. The little bongo intro, the funky wawa guitar, the strings, the chimes, the horns. It all just clicked perfectly for me. Then, Jay put his foot on the gas like a led brick for the next three tracks, giving us back to back to back classics. He went IN on many of the top rappers in the game on one of the best diss tracks of all time, “The Takeover.” This was the Lexington and Concord of the Jay-Z/Nas beef. The first shot that sparked it all. I’m more partial to “Ether” because I think Nas went at Jay specifically with some personal insults that “Takeover” lacked. But Jay did his thing and the ballerina line about Prodigy from Mobb Deep was laugh out loud funny. He then transitions into the lead single, “H to the Izzo,” which was a huge hit and a staple of my childhood. Jay rounds out the trio of classics with his ballad to beautiful women across the globe, “Girls Girls Girls.” This track is known for it’s catchy hook, but the verses are some of Jay’s most intelligent and well-structured rhymes in his catalog. I love how he spends four bars rapping about a specific girl (3 girls in total on each verse), then wraps all of their stereotypes into the final four bars. A hot 16 indeed.

Just when you thought “Girls Girls Girls” was peak Jay lyricism, he unloads an absolute bazooka on “U Don’t Know.” This is one of my favorite hip hop songs ever, period. Just Blaze produced one of the more epic cinematic beats in memory, with a simple two bar sample hook. And that’s one of the things that makes this track so great. There’s no catchy hook. There’s no chorus to sing along with. It’s just a badass beat and Jay spitting some of the greatest verses hip hop has to offer. The intro to the third verse? “I sell ice in the winter / I sell fire in hell / I am a hustler baby I sell water to a well.” FIRE. We then get another Kanye-produced single, “Heart of the City,” that gained a second life as the trailer track for American Gangster in 2007. The album hits another high point with the heartfelt, Just Blaze-produced track “Song Cry,” where you can really hear the emotions pouring out of Jay through the cracking in his voice as the track progresses. It’s a year0-2000 rap version of a slow, smooth, Motown love ballad. The piano is simply beautiful, and Jay shows a more vulnerable side of his personality that most rappers were hesitant to let people see at the time.

The album ends with a unique wrinkle. First, we are treated to the Feature of a Generation on the Eminem-produced “Renegade.” Not only did Em produce a great beat, he brings the THUNDER, nay, the LIGHTNING (per usual) with his intense delivery and fuck you attitude. Nas famously dissed Jay-Z by saying, “Eminem murdered you on your own shit,” which is something that is NOT debatable. It was actually kind of a bad look for Jay, because hearing them back to back made you realize how far superior Em can be than any other rapper when he’s at his best. The fact that he produced the beat himself may have lent to his destruction of it lyrically. Either way, it’s one of the best tracks on the album and a surefire HOF’er for great hip hop collaborations. The album then closes with three tracks in one. It tones down with the minimal mellow “Mama Loves Me,” followed by “Lyrical Exercise,” which is a clever way for Jay to compare his rapping talent to beasting weights in the gym. It finishes with a remix of “Girls Girls Girls,” that’s almost as good as the original. I’m not exactly sure who produced it, but I would guess Cool & Dre if I had a gun to my head. I could obviously research this but if I find out I’m wrong then it completely ruins the last two sentences of this paragraph.

Low points of the album? None. Every track is good. I’d say the weakest is “All I Need,” but even the three tracks I haven’t mentioned yet are great. Timbaland brings his signature production to “Hola Hovito,” (love the harp), and “Jigga That Ni**a” is energetic with some more of Jay’s best lines on the record (“Gnarly dude / I puff Bob Marley dude / All day like rastafaris do“). Finally, “Never Change” is another one of those Kanye productions that feels like Jay is the modern version of a Motown star. Berry Gordy would approve.

So what’s the legacy of The Blueprint? For me, it’s the pinnacle of Jay-Z’s lyrical abilities. While it’s not my favorite Jay album (hmmm…foreshadowing?), it’s undoubtedly where he was most hungry. It came at a time where the hip hop community was looking for the next superstar to step in and replace Biggie and Pac. I think that’s why Jay went after his rivals on “The Takeover.” To show that HE, not Nas, was the next King of not just New York, but Hip Hip in general. Each track is jam packed with quality bars that most rappers only dream of achieving in their best verses. Jay brought the heat for 15 different tracks and solidified himself as one of the GOATs in rap history.

The Blueprint also was the coming out party for another future superstar. I’m of course talking about the super talented, always polarizing, and sometimes controversial Kanye West. Kanye produced four tracks on the album, included two of the singles. His sped up soul samples were the sonic staple of this album and gave him the platform he needed to produce his own solo albums, and eventually become one of the greatest artists music has ever seen.

I love this album. Plain and simple. Always have, always will. We may see more from Jigga later in this countdown, but for now, if you haven’t listened to The Blueprint from front to back, do yourself a favor and go to a digital store where audio files are purchased and BUY IT. The lyrics alone are worth a full listen.

Never change, this is Jay every day.

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(BBC) – US actor Harrison Ford has been involved in a near-miss while flying his plane in California, US media say. They say Ford, aged 74, was instructed to land on a runway at John Wayne airport in Orange Country on Monday. But instead he mistakenly landed on a parallel taxiway, passing over a waiting American Airlines plane with 110 passengers and crew on board. That plane safely departed minutes later. Ford has not commented on the reported incident. Just before the landing, the Indiana Jones star is quoted as asking air traffic controllers: “Was that airliner meant to be underneath me?” The Federal Aviation Authority confirmed that the pilot of the single-engine Aviat Husky plane had been cleared to land on the runway. But it declined to confirm that the pilot was in fact Harrison Ford. The incident was first reported by NBC and the TMZ website. The actor, who is a certified pilot, has been involved in several air accidents. In 2015, he was injured when his vintage plane crashed on a golf course in Los Angeles. In 1999, Ford crash-landed his helicopter during a training flight in Los Angeles but both he and the instructor were unhurt. He has been in accidents out of the cockpit too, breaking his leg in 2014 while filming a scene involving a door on the Millennium Falcon spaceship.

Crash a plane once, shame on you. Crash a plane twice in 24 months, well, shame on me.

Clearly not a saying that Harrison Ford has ever heard. And who could blame him? He’s an all time great actor, rich beyond his wildest dreams, and a world class cocksman. The man has it all, so of course he thinks he can fly planes. Even after crashing once. Guys like him shoot themselves out of slumps.

But when you really take the time to think about it, shouldn’t we have seen this coming?

I know what you’re thinking. Well duh. The guy got into an airplane accident less than two years ago. Of course we should have seen this coming. But no, that’s not what I’m talking about. I looked deeper, way back into this man’s history. And the results I found were astonishing.

After a long hour of research, and countless minutes of dissecting through data, I’ve come to a conclusion…

Harrison Ford has put himself and others in increasingly dangerous situations in the air since his first on-screen flight in 1980. He’s been reckless in his behavior and had multiple brushes with serious injury or death prior to his first off-screen plane crash in 1999.

Before you jump to Mr. Ford’s defense, allow me to present you with the evidence of his erratic history with aviation.

 

1980: Navigating the asteroid field in Empire Strikes Back

These were the good times. Before the decline. Han Solo is one of the smoothest characters in the history of cinema. Men want to be him and women want to be with him. He was a thief and a scoundrel, but I’ll be damned if he wasn’t one of the best pilots in the galaxy. I mean, the guy made the freakin’ Kessel Run on the Millennium Falcon in under 12 parsecs. He was a cocky asshole and you hated him, but he was loyal and always ready to stick it to the Empire, so you loved him at the same time.

Nothing exemplified Han Solo’s skills in the cockpit more than his escape from the Empire through an asteroid field. He was ziggin, he was zaggin. He went up like a beam of light, then would drop down like a man on fire. The storm trooper pilots didn’t stand a chance, and Han eventually lost them. I’ll dock him some points for landing in a giant beasts esophagus and hanging for an hour or so before realizing it. That’s bush league. But he escaped yet again and got the job done, as he always did.

But as we’ll come to find out, this was a mere blip on the radar. A good needle in a stack of bad hay.

Really too bad he got killed by his own son.

Oh, spoiler alert ^.

 

1984: Escaping A Crashing Plane in Temple of Doom

A mere four years after his peak flying capabilities. There he was, Indiana, relaxing on a flight in the skies over China after escaping the clutches of Lao Che. He, Short Round, and Willie Scott popped a couple ambien and were KO’d while the pilots ditched the flight and left them in a downward spiraling plane. Indiana tried to fly the plane, but the three were forced to make a daring exit by jumping out with an inflatable raft to a cushy landing on a snowy mountain.

This is more along the lines of Harrison Ford in real life. Getting to the cockpit and saying, “How hard can it be?” Only to realize that not everyone is cut out to be a pilot. At least Indy had the common sense to bail on the plane before it crashed.

For the sake of argument, let’s chalk this one up to bad luck or low T. Sometimes you fall asleep on a plane and your pilots jump out. Happens to the best of us. I won’t hold it against him.

But wait…there’s more!

 

1989: Crashing a biplane with his dad in The Last Crusade

Hmm. Another crashed plane just five years later? Let’s look at how this one happened.

Indy was in the midst of his final crusade to capture the Holy Grail before the Nazis. He was finally united with his father, and they had just escaped Castle Brunwald on a zeppelin (hmmm a German zeppelin? Shocked there was trouble). But they were forced to escape even further on the little biplane with the Luftwaffe hot on their tails.

They get hit and have to make a controlled crash landing. Again, eerily similar to Harrison Ford’s real life flying experiences.

I’m sensing a trend here…

 

1997: Air Force One – hijacked by Russians and crash landing

President James Marshall’s plane, Air Force One, was hijacked just after taking off from Moscow by Russian radicals who wanted the freedom of their beloved General Radak. Over the next two hours, hostages are killed, situation rooms are occupied, and a young me becomes seriously afraid of bearded men with aggressive eastern European accents.

Now, clearly the President isn’t responsible for flying the plane. So we don’t get to see Harrison Ford behind the controls and checking altitude levels. But we are faced with the harsh reality that this man continues to find himself on crashing planes! Luckily, the Air Force came to the rescue and Jim Marshall was able to escape right before the plane crashed into the ocean, killing that fucking weasel Gibbs who set the whole thing up. Traitor.

(Obviously I can’t talk about Air Force One without linking one of the most badass delivered lines in movie history…)

 

So what have we learned? Well, we’ve learned that as a young man in Star Wars, Harrison Ford was a top-notch pilot. One of the best in the galaxy. He could cruise his way out of the most impossible situations, strictly based on talent alone. He was like a pitcher who has a 100 MPH fastball and a 12-6 curve. Whatever you had, he had better. He was the best and everyone knew it.

But then as he gets older, we start to see a change. Things that he could get away with before ended up coming back to bite him. He lost his fastball, and it started to unravel.

Falling asleep during his escape from China? Someone took his foot off the gas pedal a bit. That’s just lack of film study. You don’t trust a Chinese pilot in China when you just escaped captivity. Day 1 stuff really.

Getting shot down by a Nazi Luftwaffe? He lost a step. The physical decline had begun. Moves he could make as a young pilot on Tatooine were being stopped by the most mediocre defense.

Needing the Air Force to bail you out of a little Russian hijacking? Really hurts to see stars who once dominated the game needing help from the young guys to eek out a win. Like watching Tim Duncan miss dunks and get blocked by guards over the last two years. Sure, the Spurs won, but seeing Duncan age every game was ugly. Same with Harrison Ford. The way he jumped out of Air Force One like a brittle old man was painful to watch. A legend was no more.

And finally, the last two years crashing two separate planes in LA. As the great Harvey Two-Face once said,

You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

I can’t think of a more heroic way to die than saving the lives of your family and colleagues from Russian terrorists as the sitting President of the United States.

I’m not saying it should  have happened, but watching Harrison Ford’s sharp and steep decline from eliteness by way of aviation hiccups on and off screen is like a Greek tragedy. A really long, drawn out Greek tragedy with very old language that I really don’t want to read any more of.

Hang up the wings, man. Your time has passed.

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I went to Portland, Oregon this weekend (felt the need to clarify since so many people outside of New England think of Maine first). Just a casual 36 hour visit for a friend’s bday. Ndb. Ballin on a budget. Great city, hipster central, visit if you haven’t, blah blah blah. Portland was great but that’s not the point of this blog.

On the way there, I was fortunate enough to be on a flight that had quite the attractive young lady as a flight attendant. I didn’t immediately notice how cute she was, though. I was sitting there minding my own business, trying to not get sneezed on by anyone, when I realized that whenever this particular flight attendant walked by, she was staring directly at my crotch. I don’t know if it was the pants tent I was rocking or the seatbelt she was checking, but she couldn’t take her eyes off my dongal region. Once I was able to get over the initial shock of the offensive ogling I was being subjected to, I came to the realization that she was pretty damn cute. A tall brunette with a warm smile and bug eyes (the cute kind, not the ones that strike you with a fearection). And I could see she was hiding a slender but curvy body under that full length dress. It made me remember that on my last flight, there was also a hot flight attendant that caught my eye during boarding. What a lucky guy I am, to be blessed with two babes as flight attendants on consecutive trips. :::Purchasing lotto ticket immediately after writing this. Will not update if win:::

But it made me think, I never hear anyone talk about sexy flight attendants anymore. It seems like a lost art that’s gone unappreciated in today’s world of unlimited instagram models and curvy teachers. It’s like how the three point shot has completely taken over basketball. Sure, it’s flashy and is worth more points. But there’s something satisfying about throwing the ball into the low post and watching two giants battle it out three feet away from the hoop. A flight attendant in a long dress may not have the optics of a brazilian girl in a bikini doing squats, but there has to be an appreciation for the pioneering of the game. Back in the day, stewardesses were THE sexy profession. You had to be a minimum 7.5 to even get an interview. The majority of air travel was for successful businessmen who just wanted to get belligerently drunk and grope a few buttcheeks. Nothing wrong with that. Just some good ol’ bastard behavior. So, the flight attendant became sort of a showcase. You want businessmen to fly Pan-Am? Beef up that roster with the finest tail the sky has to offer. The Mile High Club ain’t a myth, son. There was a lot of promiscuity 30,000 feet off the ground. Because you know what? Air travel is an underrated aphrodisiac. Well, at least it was back in the golden age of air travel. Today it’s a bit different, and you’d have to be a sick son of a bitch to get turned on in an airplane. Although, maybe I’m wrong. Nothing gets the juices flowing quite like a ginger ale and a bag of sun chips while being nestled snugly between an overweight man who smells of foul cheese and a 12 year old kid who flicks his boogers an inch from your feet. Mmm.

Sorry, I’m getting off track. The point is, we need to start appreciating hot flight attendants more. What people once looked forward to as a key, boner-inducing part of air travel is now, sadly, an afterthought. Inappropriate groping and ogling has been replaced by ear buds and mindless swiping. There’s a whole legion of sexy ladies in blue one-pieces with cute little handkerchief neck-scarves and captain hats that deserve recognition. They provide bored, uncomfortable men who can’t sleep and have sore knees with something to look at for that oh so miserable flight. They’re diamonds in the ruff that come around once in a blue moon, and I’ll be damned if they don’t make a comeback and become recognized as one of the sexiest professions.

Not every man is as lucky as I am to be blessed with two smoke shows on two consecutive flights. That’s why I’m taking the time to thank the man upstairs. Human Resources Manager of JetBlue (4th floor, JetBlue HQ), I appreciate what you do. I appreciate that you hold your flight attendants to a high standard of physical attractiveness. I value your persistence to bringing us back to the golden age of flight attendants. And most of all, I admire your respect for the Mile High Club. It’s people like you who keep alive the dream of sex with an airline employee at 30,000 feet in a 3X3 bathroom surrounded by 150+ people. I make it my crusade to tweet at every airline a simple thank you when they provide me, the consumer, with a hot flight attendant. It makes my miserable trip a little less awful.

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This is the second installment in a ten part series where I’ll be counting down my 10 favorite hip hop albums of all time in reverse order, from 10 to 1. I’ll be releasing one album per week, for 10 weeks. You can read Part I here

Last week we started the countdown with a well-known album from one of the most successful and popular rappers of all time. This week we’re gonna change it up a bit. This artist is well known by name, but most casual/radio hip hop fans haven’t taken the time to dive into his catalogue. There’s a lot to listen to, but let me clue you in on something – you only need to listen to his debut album to get the best of the best. As is the case with a lot of artists across all genres of music, their early stuff is widely regarded as their best and most pure form of artistic expression.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like our number 9 artist sold out. Not by a long shot. He’s stayed true to his craft by focusing on his impressive lyrical talent instead of chasing mainstream success. His fans will be loyal to him no matter what, and he knows this. He’s one of the main cogs in hip hop’s largest collective group. The number of people associated with them grows every year, but this man was there from the inception, and is still regarded by many as the most talented emcee of the bunch.

So let me introduce to you, the Genius…GZA.

 

 

Number 9:  GZA – Liquid Swords (1995)

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It was my Junior year of high school (my prime blunt riding days) when I was first introduced to Liquid Swords by my boy. I was already familiar with 36 Chambers (foreshadow?…), but hadn’t yet dove into the rest of the Wu-Tang discography. I was still getting my feet wet in the hip hop game and was in the process of combing through the hundreds of classic albums I hadn’t yet experienced. My buddy hopped in my car, pulled out the CD, and asked if I was down to listen to it on the ride. All it took was one look at the cover art and I was hooked (seriously, that’s one of the best album covers ever). He popped the disc in, we lit up, and went off on a musical adventure that would forever change our lives.

The first thing I think of when I’m pondering what Liquid Swords means to me is the production. This was peak RZA. His early-mid 90s production defined a style of beats that I like to call “Dungeon Rap.” These are heavy, dreary, sample-based beats that make you feel like you’re in a damp, dark cave and something bad is gonna happen to you. Some of the tracks on this album are straight-up unsettling. When we first listened to “Swordsman” on that ride, we were driving in the on a dark road out in some empty town. The combination of that song with our backwoods setting made me legitimately scared. Same thing with “Gold.” I’m not ashamed to admit it. Those beats are creepy as fuck. The samples RZA uses sound like they’re picked from a bucket of bad eggs, yet he somehow makes them work over these simple drum beats blended together with kung fu movie clips.

The album kicks off with two classics. The title track starts us with an eerie dialogue from what appears to be a young child in a kung fu movie, before seamlessly transitioning into one of the more unique beats in hip hop history. The way RZA samples the organ makes this track fun and playful while still maintaining the overarching darkness of the album. Then we get into what many people say is the best cut on the album, “Duel of the Iron Mic.” With it’s beautiful piano sample and killer features (Inspectah Deck per usual owns it), it’s one of the lighter sounding tracks the album has to offer. Definitely more palatable to the casual hip hop fan.

The album hits it’s strongest point in the middle on tracks 6-7-8. I wish I could tell you what it is about the song “Labels” that really resonates with me, but I can’t. Most people gloss over that track, but it remains in my rotation of unskippables. GZA goes HARD at record labels and their shake downs of artists, as he’s made a habit of throughout his career. My favorite line is, “My priority is that I’m first priority / I bone a secret out a bitch in a sorority.” It’s so badass and fun to rap along with. We then get back into the dungeon rap on “4th Chamber.” This track is as close as the album gets to a BANGER. RZA samples a crunchy electric guitar during the last few bars of every rapper’s verses, giving it a hard rock/metal vibe. And the drum and bass pattern is hypnotizing (dun-dun-BOOM, dun-dun-BOOM). Finally, we get the low-key, mellow collaboration with Method Man, “Shadowboxing.” This was initially my favorite cut on the album. It probably still is if you put a gun to my head, although the title track is a strong second. Meth and GZA trade HOT verses throughout the whole song, competing to out-duel each other in this emcee standoff. To me, Meth takes the crown with his unique rhyme scheme. The way his first two lines rhyme, then he starts over on the third line, which becomes the new rhyme scheme for the next two lines. I realize that makes absolutely no sense, but if you listen you’ll know what I’m saying. And the little “oh man” sample that RZA uses throughout the entirety of the track? SO. DAMN. CATCHY. It’s really what keeps me coming back to this song over and over.

The album closes with three solid cuts (two if you didn’t buy the CD). I mentioned the ultimate dungeon rap beat “Swordsman” to start this review, which is followed by one of the singles, “I Gotcha Back.” This is actually one of the more skillfully arranged hip hop beats RZA has ever created. The piano and horns counter each other PERFECTLY. When one is falling, the other is rising. Then he’ll flip the horns in the verses. In terms of a “composition” in early 90’s sample-based hip hop, this is as good as it gets. Finally, the bonus track “B.I.B.L.E.” closes us out. I’m not exactly sure when they recorded this, but the production clearly doesn’t fit the rest of the album. Meaning, if you threw this track in the middle of the record, it would feel VERY out of place. It doesn’t have that same murky, dungeon sound that the rest of the tracks do. However, with all that being said, it’s actually an awesome track. “BIBLE” (standing for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth”) is a very clever play on the acronym. We get to see GZA really shine as the emcee wise beyond his years. A true Genius, as his name would suggest.

There’s really not a bad track on this album. Everything feels so cohesive together. I’d say the weakest track is “Hells Wind Staff,” but that’s just personal taste. I didn’t mention “Investigative Reports” or “Living in the World Today,” but some would argue that those are two of the best tracks on the album. Again, all of these lists are my opinions. Nothing is right or wrong.

Would I recommend this album to someone who’s a borderline hip hop fan? No, probably not. I understand that anything that came out of Wu-Tang in the early 90s might not be for everyone. Personally, it produced some of my favorite artists, albums, and songs. But I’m not going to force feed it down someone’s throat who I know won’t like it. It’s an acquired taste. However, for anyone looking to expand their palate and dive deeper into the building blocks of New York hip hop, you should give this album a shot. It’s not very long, and there’s plenty of features that will keep you interested. That’s one of the great thing about Wu-Tang solo albums – they have so many features. They almost feel like group albums. You don’t even hear GZA on a track like “4th Chamber” until the very last verse. It’s one of the many characteristics I love about Wu-Tang. The collective involvement of the group on solo projects.

GZA isn’t for everyone. He’s not full of energy, and the basic ear will sometimes find that boring. But if you sit down and really listen to his lyrics, he’s one of the most talented emcees we’ve ever had. Line for line, there aren’t many rappers who can compete with him, and a lot of his best rhymes live on this very album. Liquid Swords is regarded as a cornerstone album in the hip hop genre, and it will forever be one of my favorites.