Wednesday, November 22, 2017

SOULJA SLIM, "Give It 2 'Em Raw" (1998)

Before James Tapp became Soulja Slim, he was another "bad kid" in the Magnolia Projects of New Orleans. Drug pushing, drug using, gun toting, prison visiting. He began his music career concurrent with his criminal career, releasing his debut album at the age of 17. Four years later, he signed up with No Limit Records, one of the hottest labels at the time.

Oh, the cover. Rather than go meat packing plant on us, Pen 'n' Pixel flipped the prescription pad and gave the world unapologetic martial fury. Fighter jets, missiles, flames, tanks! Still, nothing snatches my breath away quite like the sight of the man himself. Surrounded by havoc, Soulja Slim remains the picture of stoicism.

Perhaps his phlegmatic disposition is a sobering reflection of the horrors he's already witnessed--and participated in--at such a young age. Perhaps he felt bloated (foreshadowing, that). Probably, he was high as shit.

"From What I Was Told"--Soulja Slim's authenticity is not in question; neither is his energy. His originality is another story, as is his focus. Slim was hailed as "the 2Pac of No Limit," thanks to his renegade lifestyle and brash attitude. It certainly wasn't down to diversity in subject matter or political awareness.

"Street Life"--Master P refers to his rappers as "soldiers," and Slim sounds fully ready to take the battlefield and never, ever shut the fuck up.

God bless whatever beat guest rapper Silkk the Shocker heard in his head while recording his verse. The beat the rest of us hear was made by recalcitrant pigeons perched on a piano bench.

"Wright Me"--Write, right? Rite!

Slim rants and raves from behind bars at a scandalous ho, as the bass line slips around a drum beat weaker than a hamster sneeze.

"At the Same Time"--Snoop Doggy Dogg (remember when he was on No Limit?) is present, so the bass is down to squat on somethin'. It's funny, hearing such a severely unpolished rapper on a track with Snoopy the Smooth. Not bad, just circumspect.

"Only Real Niggas"--Be down or be up in smoke. "My bodyguard is the Lord." Religious criminals crack my ass. Speaking of ass, the instrumental!

"Pray For Your Baby"--You guys, "Dear Mama" is such a great song. More than just a tearjerking tribute from a troubled young man to the only woman he'll ever truly love, it's a beautifully constructed recording.

"PFYB" takes an insistent five-note guitar lick which it quickly buries deep in the syrup. The rapping is proof that sincerity does not guarantee quality. (In case you were unsure.)

"Head Buster"--How scared am I supposed to feel when the killer starts spelling at me?

"Me & My Cousin"--Joining Slim is his actual cousin, Full Blooded. He's a remedial rapper, and the beat fits him perfect.

"You Got It"--A remix of a track from one of Slim's pre-No Limit releases, now with more Mia X! Both she and Slim are insanely 'bout it. The chorus is the closest thing to melody on the entire record.

"You Ain't Never Seen"--Slim breaks down why his life is full of so much wrongdoing and nowhere-going. One of the better beats, too.

"Anything"--Sex song! Note, I didn't say sexy song. I think The Snorks featured this instrumental initially.

The cherry on this wholly incoherent sundae is the ever-baffling use of the word "cock" to mean "vagina." It doesn't matter how many hip-hop songs I heard that used in, it's just wrong.

"Imagine"--Slim, Mac and C-Murder vent about spot-scrutinizing cops who hate on their legit hustle.

Imagine, no crime. Does that mean no more criminal acts are committed, or the wholesale rewriting of the law books?

"Takin' Hits"--Bounce track boring as a bow tie.

"Wootay"--What the shit is this beat? Such heartless dissonance!

"Get High With Me"--Pull off a joint at the start? Check.

"Law Breakaz" --Slim's attempt to show off some rappity raps descends into incomprehensibility.

"What's Up, What's Happening?"--Suspenseful start. Some solid bass and a decent hook, but the man of the hour is second-rate.

"Hustlin' Is a Habit"
--He ain't wolfin'.

"Getting Real"--Guest-starring Fiend, AKA DMX with no passion. Driven along by high, straining strings and low, mournful horns that are not at all real.

"N.L. Party"--Five minutes for practically the entire male NL lineup to rap over some Action 52-ass instrumental. Meaning most of them get only 2-4 bars. That's insufficient space for even the most adept lyricists, much less this cadre of chucklefucks.

No Limit detractors--hell, No Limit supporters--called their music "fast food rap." Give It 2 'Em Raw is a prime example of McHipHop. Who knew 70 minutes of sex, drugs and violence could be so exhausting? Yet despite scant artistry, and scanter promotion, it reached #13 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, just missing gold certification.

In November 2003, Soulja Slim was murdered in front of his mother's New Orleans home. Nearly a year later, his duet with Juvenile, "Slow Motion," hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100. I once shared a five-hour bus ride in late summer 2004 with a young man who every half-hour or so would bust out the chorus of "Slow Motion." Despite that, I don't hate the song--or Slim. I do hate bus rides, though.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

MERCEDES, "Rear End" (1999)

Perhaps Pen 'n' Pixel's most-ogled cover.

For body connoisseurs, there's Mercedes bent over the hood of her namesake vehicle. For car aficionados, there's a Mercedes. Finally, for those who appreciate women attempting visual dichotomy, there's another shot of Mercedes, chillin' in bitch-boss mode.

"It's Your Thing"--Mercedes, like Mo B. Dick, is a singer who occasionally raps. Also like Mr. Dick, her talents in either arena are humble.

"Pussy"--The Ghetto Committee dudes drop by to spit pure misogyny over an Isley Brothers-on-ketamine track. Pussy does keep us all spinning, and there's worse ways for a man to deal with that irreversible reality than insisting on super-aggressive consensual sex. Mercedes remains a defiantly proud possessor of the pussy.

"Talk 2 Me"--Ugh, phone sex and Master P. No no no no. My vagina's practically coughing.

"I Can Tell"--A back-forth boxing match with No Limit rapper Mac. No great romance, this; he has a boo back at the hive, and his idea of seduction is "rippin' the pussy walls."

"Hit 'Em"--Time for the lady to rap. Her internal rhymes are so good, I can't help but wonder as to the identity of her ghostwriter. Add in A-Lexxus and Mia X, we have "3 Tha Hard Way" for sex-crazed ass-beating bitches.

"Kiss Da Cat"--Cunnilingus-balkers have a special spot in Hell.

"Do You Wanna Ride"--"In the back of the Caddy, chop it up with Do or Die."

No, wait…this is "Mercedes Boy" by Pebbles. Oh that's clever, she wrote, without a scintilla of sarcasm. Add some Miami heat, you got a rail ready to ride. I fuck with this pretty tough, being an 80s baby.

"N's Ain't Shit"--Master P as a producer makes me yearn for Master P as a rapper. His drums have stage fright, even though the only audience member is a dog.

"Bonnie & Clyde"--A duet with Magic, one of the few No Limit soldiers I ever looked forward to hearing. He was Mack-10 with personality, and he singlehandedly made this tired concept do a few extra push-ups before bed. Yeah, most Clydes'll die for their Bonnie, kill for their Bonnie…Magic's Clyde beats his Bonnie.

"Pony Ride"--If you've ever wondered what a Christopher Cross/James Ingram duet would sound like, you're really really fucking weird.

"Candle Light & Champagne"--Get drunk and burn the house down? Let us go.

"Camouflage"--Not a material I'd call sexy, but I don't fetishize war. And these are the No Limit soldiers. The logo's a fucking tank.

"Stop Playing In My Phone"--Oh wow it's a skit, color me stunned sienna.

"Hush"--Mystikal yelling over a ring-ting backdrop is mildly amusing.

"What You Need"--I fux with faux-Timbaland beats almost as much as I do real Timbo beats. Leave it to Silkk the Shocker to screw up a one-car funeral procession.

"Crazy Bout Ya"--Ridiculous balladry.

"My Love"--A missed opportunity. The music is a night out at the local club for a devoted young couple, circa 1985. They lyrics are a night in for a bitter single person.

"Free Game"--Apt title; you can't reasonably expect anyone to pay for this.

"Chillin'"--Cubin'. Freezin'. Makin' music for no reason.

"I'm Down"--Rear End is full of titles already used by much better songs.

"I Need a Thug"--Featuring Popeye? Aw man, you steppin' out on Olive Oyl?

Unusually well-mixed, a nice confluence of vocals and instrumentation, and guess what? I'm horny as a violin. Master P's raps are so childish, they made my tubes tie themselves.

"You're the Only One"--Look harder.

"Talk Dirty To the DJ"--90 seconds of Mercedes speakin' nastily to record spinners. "Pour my body with some ice cream"? You know what's sexy, Mercedes? Reading.

I wonder what Mercedes does now. Works at a church, I bet.

Monday, November 20, 2017

MR. BIGG TIME, "Ridah 4 Life" (1999)

Is this the same guy who did "Trial Time"? "Get'cha twelve white folks and take that shit to trial, bitch!" No? Boo.

I consider Ridah 4 Life an overlooked crappy cover. There's the ostensible MC's name in gold-trimmed diamond letters; skeletons riding in the drop-top with our host, one holding a 40 bottle, the other clenching a cigar between his teeth. (Death cannot stop the need for status symbols.)

The cops are on their tail, but Mr. Bigg Time isn't concerned. Is there a law against driving with two malt liquor-guzzling skeletons in your car? Nope, not even in Georgia.

The fact that this is J. J. Abrams's favorite album cover--I mean, probably--is good enough for me.

"Change"--More rushed than Geddy Lee speed-dating.

"World Is So Real"--Mr. Bigg Time's voice spills over with gravel and smoke. The Mannie Fresh-esque drums try to keep my interest, but there is truly something important to be said for keeping samples in hip-hop. Yeah, money is saved, but unless the producer is musically-minded (not just a button-pusher) the beats will get stale swiftly.

"Mama"--The second verse, breaking down his entry into the crime life, is fairly compelling. (Like I'm gonna call a "mama song" boring.)

"Let That Trigga Fly"--Triggers fly? Must be blue jays, then. Blue jays are the officious, entitled pricks of the bird world. That's not baseless prejudice--the collected data is overwhelming.

"Ride-Out"--There are features all over R4L, indication number one that Mr. Bigg Time has no confidence in his ability to carry a record. Ke-Ke is a female MC with the mic presence of a catatonic. A little faster, a little more brooding, than what's come before--yet somehow sounds just like what's come before.

"Crunk All Nite"--An extravaganza of ass, explaining everyone's over-eagerness. Sammy Sam wins best name, and a lap dance.

"Alize"--Neither celebratory nor desultory. Bonnie Tyler meets Pastor Troy. The first song I didn't struggle to sit through, for whatever that says.

"Better Days"--A schizophrenic lifestyle doesn't leave much time to be a quality father. Or finish a beat.

"Ridah 4 Life"--This is like Scarface: bearable and terrible.

"It's My Money"--Miss Bigg Time shows up to sing a hoodrat variation on "It's My Party." Hoes just love Mr. BT and all his rentals: car, jewels, apartment.

"Used To Be My Friend"--Tupac ruined the word "enemy" forever.

"Do Or Die"--Or, wind up hungover in the back of a cop car.

"No Friends"--No taste, either. It's amazing listening to rappers brag about their riches when they obviously paid an average of $35 per beat.

Funnier than the cover of Ridah 4 Life is the fact it was released on Tighter Than Tight Records. Damn thing's looser than the skin of my upper arms.

Friday, November 17, 2017

LIFESTYL, "Deep In the Game" (1997)

Deep In the Game is the first of three LPs from the Galveston-based duo Lifestyl. Cousins Tommy G. and Pancho Villa, along with producer Jay Da Sinista, bring thirteen tracks of raw Latino gangster grape. That I was able to write about nine of them is a minor miracle.

The cover of Deep In the Game is a contrast between wild riches and wild poverty. The rapper's faces--well, half of each rapper's face--are pushed to the sides, allowing us to view a busy overpass and a body of water which is either composed of large $100 bills, or in which large $100 bills are floating. I would have loved to have seen some diving gear, maybe a boat, something to suggest the entrepreneurial spirit of these two young men.

Lifestyl broke up after the cousins were sent to prison on drug trafficking charges. (As far as I know, both men are now free--in fact, one is currently the CEO of Salty Water Records, the label that released Lifestyl's music.) So you can't tell me they weren't about that submergence life.

"Cutthroat Island"--'Cause they sure as fuck weren't about that art life. I don't know which rapper is which--not racist, although Latinos saying the n-word might be--but the first guy at least plays with his flow a bit, and I appreciate that. Otherwise, it's sinister keys and empty threats.

Tommy and Pancho trade lines for verse three. Styles and Jada, they ain't. Kid and Play, they ain't.

"Tragedies"--Starkly animalistic. Shrouded in paranoia. Boring as hell.

"The Feeling"--Lifestyl made an album just to make an album. Their aesthetic is more in tune with the West Coast than any Southern style of hip-hop, and their mimicry is subpar.

"O Baby"--Take the missing letter from the group's name and the missing letter from this song, and you have my opinion.

"Confianza"--I'd rather eat the cardboard box this album was recorded inside than keep listening.

"Killas & $ Billas"--The 379th song (at the time) to sample "Shook Ones, Pt. 2)." Lifestyl probably fancied themselves the Latin Mobb Deep, and I wish someone had recorded those smoky in-studio pep talks.

"Deep In the Game"--Never be afraid to be great.

"Haters"--Fantasy Land gonna hate on Chutes N Ladders.

"So Many Ways To Die"--Add "waiting for this album to get good" to that list. Those drums make Swizz Beatz sound like J Dilla.

Four more songs follow: "Smoked Out," "Fast Eddie," "Roll 'Em Up," and "Pop Pop Pop." I hate to tap out, but I hate uninspiring music even more. Nothing about Lifestyl wants me to keep listening. No personality, no cleverness, no insight into their shared situation.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

PAPA REU, "Xcuse Me!" (2000)

Allow me to explain.

Xcuse Me! is minimalist compared to most Pen 'n' Pixel offerings. The off-white framing makes it look almost incomplete. Then there's Papa, looking unashamed at his resemblance to Ja Rule, posing in front of (not) his car and some pillars holding up nothing. Worse, while many of these covers are emblazoned with the names of other rappers featured on the records, Xcuse Me! boasts a list of other rappers whose records Papa Reu has been featured on--but none of whom reciprocated.

I feel bamboozled. I feel insulted that someone who put this out into the world with the sincere expectation that a non-blood relation would actually buy a copy.

"Intro"--Papa Reu is Houston-based, but born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago. Thus, he makes hip-hop with a reggae tinge. Which sounds as appealing as a can of Coke with a strychnine tinge.

"Shine"--Guest rapper TC sounds like BG on Robitussin. Papa Reu sounds like bootleg Shabba Ranks. Great. Awesome. Tell me more, sir, of the wealth you enjoy.

"Bluka Bluka"--This shit is a hate crime. Fake BG is back, joined by fake Wyclef on guitar.

"Holla"--Not content to jock the look, Papa Reu also lifts from Ja Rule's one good song. (Kinda, anyway.) The chorus isn't the title to infinity, yet I still long for the comforting embrace of stomach flu.

"Na Mean"--"Na na na na!"

And we're back. A fairly intense beat that Papa Reu dribbles all over.

"Diamonds & Pearls"--Holly holy, Li'l Keke is on this? Guys, he's a rapper. Real true and actual. Original member of the Screwed Up Click. Over two dozen albums to his name. When Keke talks over a beat, folk tend to listen, and to believe.

Papa Reu, not so much. He never actually pronounces the "s" in "pearls," so I'm assuming his lady only gets the one.

"Be Bout Ya Issue"--Following up his ode to the good life, here's a gangster missive. Marinate, haters. The cat that produced this is probably dead now, so I'll go easy.

"Bubble"--It's a Papa Reu song, it ain't supposed to bubble.

"Now Everybody Wanna Be Down"--Those people who said Reu would never "make it" were wrong! Never mind that I used to read The Source, XXL, Rolling Stone and Spin religiously and never once saw mention made of this meffer.

"How We Ball"--The music has the Atari-esque bop of a solid Cash Money song.

"Skit"--Eat me, loser.

"Black Queen"--Positivity performed with all the zeal of a stepped-on snail.

"X-Cuse Me"--Ras Intelligence is a basic gangster rapper bringing basic gangster raps.

"Looking Good"--Sounding bad.

"Grimy Niggas"--Featuring Ali. Not the one regarded as the most lyrical member of the St Lunatics (meaning, he threw in a three-syllable word once every sixteen bars). In the style of cheap 90s Southern rap, lazy percussion and lazier synth patterns rule the day.

"Outro"--Three and a half minutes? Not acceptable, let alone excusable.

Fucking Steve Martin and Eek-a-Mouse would have made a better album.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MO B. DICK, "Gangsta Harmony" (1999)

Master P's cousin shot to relative fame as a founding member of production squad Beats By the Pound. So it makes sense that Mo B. Dick handled most of the production on his debut record. Gangsta Harmony isn't just another NLR burger; Mo B. produces, occasionally raps, but mostly vocalizes in, uh, gangsta harmony. Was it a shame that his time to shine solo came as the label's own star was dimming?

"Picture U and Me"--Slow-burning pre-coital skit. Making love to SWV and Star Trek, oh baby.

"Station Identification"--Really? Picture you screaming while being attacked with a flaming crowbar by me.

"Intercourse"--Puerile and amateurish. The woman sounds as though she's being forced to choose between taking a pipe up her ass or a broomstick up her vagina.

"U Got That Fire"--I'd much rather listen to "I Got That Fire" by Juvenile. Or "U Understand," also by Juvenile.

"Got 2 Git Mine"--For a guy so fond of singing, Mo B. Dick can't sing very well.

"Mo B.'s Theme"--His rapping is a bit better. The snares still wish he'd cramp it up that "Tramp" sample.

"Part 3"--Of what?

C-Murder, Magic and Mia X stop by to liven up proceedings. Magic's great; he'll beat the shit out of you, then beat it right back into you.

"Twerk'm"--A bounce track sultrier than the title suggests. Yeah, twerking's been around forever. (Cavemen twerked! Jesus twerked!) I might could melt into this velvet overhead, down some shots, and make the middle of my arms smack the middle of my legs.

"U Fell In Love With a Gangster"--Like falling asleep with your head against the side of a fish tank, and all the fishes have stopped to gape at you.

"What's On Your Mind"--Silkk the Shocker? Buddy, you do not want to know what's on my mind. Did you mix this song too, asshole?

"Shoot'm Up Movies"--A touching (read: awkwardly hilarious) story about falling in love at the cinema.

"She smiled at me with big brown eyes." Wow, most people use their mouths. She's a keeper, Mo B.

"Smoke My Life Away"--Dedicated to "the children of the corn." The Stephen King short story or the short-lived rap group featuring Cam'Ron and Big L? Redman coulda rode this beat, no saddle.

"It's Alright"--The main musical hook is the intro to the Isley Brothers' cover of "Summer Breeze" played on a mini-Casio. C-Murder wooing a chick isn't as funny as I'd hoped.

"Want/Need"--Those horns got the fiber farts. My wants and needs are the same--for this album to end.

"I'd Be A Fool"--Laments over a trifling ho. Genuinely well-crafted and performed.

"As the Ghetto Turns"--When you hear this song, will you cry? 'Cause you know you're an idiot, if you cry.

"Could It B?"--A duet as sexy as pit bull puppies fighting over a box of decomposing kittens.

"Leave Her Alone"--Gangsta Harmony finally comes to a conclusion with an overly-long, utterly commendable anti-domestic abuse message. It quickly grows syrupy, but it's refreshing to hear a man on a hip-hop record urging women to reject abusive relationships.

Albums come much better than Gangsta Harmony. However, they also come much worse. Same with the cover. I'm more offended by the lack of flash. I get that No Limit had less money to throw at the P 'n' P guys as the 21st century approached, but they still should have made every key on that piano a different gem. Brilliant and durable. And how dare they defy Album Cover Rule #12: Never Place A Hot Bitch In the Distance.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

TRU, "Tru 2 Da Game" (1997)

Percy Miller grew up in New Orleans' notorious Calliope Projects. After dropping his dream of a pro basketball career, Percy moved to California, where he studied business at a junior college in Oakland. Two deaths would change his life.

First was his grandfather, who passed as a result of medical malpractice. His wife received $10,000 from the hospital, and she bequeathed the money to her grandson. He would use this to open a record store, called No Limit Records, in 1988.

Then in 1990, his brother Kevin Miller was killed during a robbery. Percy turned No Limit into a record label, releasing his debut album (as Master P) in 1992. No Limit would go on to sell millions, make millions, and spend millions.

Tru 2 Da Game is not the most successful album in label history, but it's up there. Likewise, while it's not the ugliest NLR album cover, it is way the hell up there. Arguably, it's more useless than unpleasant. Why do the rapper names appear over each masked-up face? Those aren't even actual people, those are radioactive jack o' lanterns. That are on the verge of robbing Heaven, apparently.

"Intro"--Eavesdropping on ghetto homework with Master P and son Li'l Romeo. Over descending piano and gunshots on the four, the "ice cream man" teaches his child how to detect and deflect hoe-ass ways.

"No Limit Soldier"--Master P, calling himself the Colonel, provides a roster rundown. No questioning the man's accomplishments as a mogul; as a rapper? He's at least better than his brother Vyshonne, who commits vocal misdemeanors under the sobriquet Silkk the Shocker. He rhymes, more or less, but he couldn't keep on beat with Gorilla Glue. (He's also absolutely the type of MC who'd reference a quarterback with an 0-4 Super Bowl record.)

Guest Mia X ("first lady" of No Limit) is better than both men, easily.

"I Always Feel Like…."--Mia rejoins the guys to kick paranoia over a hi-hat-heavy instrumental. Mo B. Dick croons the Rockwell-inspired chorus. Silkk's frequently-clowned verse features the following:

"And I be seein' shit that ain't there/It ain't there, but I be seein' shit."

Which is fine if uttered in a psychiatrists office. In a vocal booth?

"There Dey Go"--Begins with P namedropping half of America, emitting a constipated battle call and wasting this time of mine. Silkk pops up to tell some buster that he's "more cheese than some cheddar."

"I Got Candy"--Starting a song with Silkk the Shocker is like starting a sentence with "I'm not a racist, but…." This Cameo interpolation veers way left right quick, thanks to an tuneless bass line and Sega Genesis sound effects.

"Ghetto Thang"--Big Ed is the guest speaker for this ode to self-preservation. The beat is smooth and Master P forgets to OD on ad-libs.

"FEDz"--C-Murder is the best rapper of the Miller Bros., which sounds like a backhanded compliment. Mia X provides the hook (why wasn't she the fourth member of TRU?) and Silkk is his standard shit self, reminding us he's "twisted like a Twizzler" with "mo' stakeouts than a Sizzler."

"What They Call Us?"--Master Percy laments advice unheeded. (Jay-Z's most recent album is his attempt to succeed where P failed.)

The drums are knuckles rapping on an exposed sternum while the keyboard attempts to mimic dramatic movie music.

"Smoking Green"--Get high, get through more than one minute.

"Gangstas Make the World"--Unsurprisingly features a wealth of gangster namedrops, including "Machine Gun" Kelly, a man who in reality never committed one murder, much less murder one. Most of the instrumentals on No Limit albums were cooked up by Beats By the Pound, a production team who treated music like McDonalds cooks treat burger patties.

"Swamp Nigga"--A Master P solo track. Ad-libs and accidental sounds add to the goofiness inherent in a song titled "Swamp Nigga."

"Ghetto Cheeze"--Silkk's flow, his syllable emphasis, his accent choices. You're a killer? Good. Kill me.

"Heaven 4 a Gangsta"--West Coast whine. On to disc 2.

"Tru 2 Da Game"--Remember beepers? Guest Mr. Serv-On injects some humanity into the project. Leave it to Silkk the Shocker to reference the greatest QB to never win a Super Bowl.

"Freak Hoes"--With Mia X on riposte duty, so the song's not misogynist! My fave, for sure. How can you freak to a beat made with a spoon and frozen aluminum foil? I look forward to finding out.

"Tru ?'s"--C-Murder in storytelling mode.

"1nce Upon a Time"--Everything about the track--low-riding synth, slasher strings, incidental thumps--tries much too hard.

"Pop Goes My 9"--Watery as British baked beans.

"It's My Time"--Mia X could beat up Adrian Peterson, and probably she should.

"Torcher Chamber"--Nice play on words (I'm assuming). Everything else is like I'm hanging out with Dirk from the Rutles.

"They Can't Stop Us!"--Percy, I never once doubted your business acumen, please stop yelling at me.

"The Lord Is Testin' Me"--C-Murder deals with the effects that criminal life has on his loved ones. Silkk the Shocker's flow is, within this context, God.

"Final Ride"--No Limit Records really is an inspiring rags to riches story.

Just don't feel you have to listen to the music for the tale to be considered complete.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Why Pray For Me When You Can Fix Me A Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich--Intro

The only musical genres I've zero time for: reggae and ska. Reggae is a dull, repetitive style of sound best enjoyed--arguably only enjoyed--by the well-stoned. Ska is the white version of reggae, which should say it all.

Anything else, I've at least a few minutes to spare: rock, pop, metal, classical, bluegrass, country recorded before 1986, hip-hop. The idea of reviewing my top 10 hip-hop albums tempted me. I figured it would be a nice change of pace and face for the blog.

The idea of not being so goddamn predictable held even stronger allure.

I still wanted to talk hip-hop…but not a top 10 faves, or a discography review of an MC or group. One evening, I found myself on a "crappy rap album covers" kick. There is no shortage of putrid selections, or websites willing to compile lists. I was amused to note how many of them came courtesy of one company.

Pen 'n' Pixel is a graphics design firm based in Houston, TX. Started by brothers Aaron and Shawn Brock, P 'n' P were responsible for some of the gaudiest images to ever (dis)grace a CD case. They provided scenes of faux-opulence and hyper-violence for rappers both struggling and thriving, eventually becoming the in-house designers for Master P's legendary No Limit Records.

Much like the music they helped promote, the works of Pen 'n' Pixel gave hip-hop purists the heebie-jeebies, what with its abundance of bitches, booze, blunts, bling and blickies. I'm intrigued by the intent of such ludicrous lavishness. How many of the rappers were laughing along? If not done in the spirit of parody or satire, were the three-dimensional embraces of materialism meant as a "fuck you too!" or a "you can do it, too!"?

Over eleven years, Pen 'n' Pixel produced in excess of 19,000 covers. Contrast that with the 18,000-plus comic strips Charles Schulz drew up in fifty years. Unlike Peanuts, I haven't laid eyes upon every single thing out of the P 'n' P camp. I have seen hundreds of their works, though, which I feel qualifies me to select ten standouts. Not just subpar, not just absurd, but intriguingly so. Further, I resolved to actually review each of the ten records, track by track.

(I like grape jelly best.)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Some Stay Buried

Between 1999 and 2013, each of the Big 4 bands released multi-disc compilations. In this post, I will take a fairly quick look at each of them.


Alice In Chains had the actual gall to include already-released album tracks in this box set full of demos, b-sides and three never-released tunes.

The '88 demos are a glance at their glam roots, including a phenomenally great "Sea of Sorrow." The spidery, sinewy "What the Hell Have I" (taken from the soundtrack of the unfairly maligned Last Action Hero) appears in "remix" form--although I'll be damned if I can hear a difference. Still nasty as maggots on coconut cream pie. The people who hear "Barracuda" and "Straight On" and just go, "nah son," well, those trash taste-havin' motherfuckers can revel in the alt-mix of "Brother." The trio of New! songs are unremarkable, save for "Get Born Again," a tilt-a-whirl on homemade milk.


Pearl Jam's dogs want to live free, damnit, I say let them live free! A shit-ton of b-sides, fan club singles, compilation tracks and album outtakes (mostly from Binaural) over two discs. Highlights include "All Night," "Sad," and "Black, Red, Yellow," all fine examples of what a lifetime of gritted teeth and knotted hands can do to a person. Oddities include "Whale Song" (best use of animal sounds in a song since "Midwest Swing"), "Sweet Lew" (the "singing" debut of bassist Jeff Ament, since he couldn't trust anyone else to convey the profound disenchantment of meeting a basketball hero) and the hidden track, "4/20/02," a bitter tribute to Layne Staley that calls out the corpse-pecking phonies whose guilt may be assuaged by his death.

Lost Dogs is also home to two of the biggest hits in their history: "Yellow Ledbetter," which is still a rock radio staple, and a cover of Wayne Cochran's "Last Kiss" that is the biggest-ever hit by a grunge band, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the summer of 1999.


The Nirvana box was all set for 2001. Then, Courtney Love stepped in, arms crossed and scowl etched. Krist Novoselic and Dave Grohl planned to include "You Know You're Right," a song from the band's final recording session. The widow Cobain insisted that the track had such hit potential that placing it on a box set, to make it one of dozens, would be a waste. Hence, Nirvana, a single-disc greatest hits compilation released in 2002.

The long-awaited box set finally hit stores two years later: a 3 CD/1 DVD mammoth packed with radio sessions, live performances, home demos, b-sides and rehearsals, including material dating as far back as 1986. At best, a fascinating look into the creative process. "Anorexorcist" is one of the earliest tracks and that bitch rips like a cactus on a motor scooter  "Even In His Youth" shows what a brilliant instrument Cobain's voice could be (and, with polish, could've knocked "Scoff" off Bleach). "Sappy" is basically the Beatles with fibromyalgia.

Makeup-free versions of "Polly" and "About A Girl" prove the old adage that practice makes perfect. "Dive" is still bad-ass with busy drums and trauma-free yelling. "Drain You"--with Dale Crover!--sounds great despite being recorded in the world's largest washtub while a neighbor sidearms fish bobbers at them.

Unless you're a Nirvana freak, you don't need to hear most of the tracks here more than once.


Three CDs, and still nowhere near a complete collection. The scatting leg-sweep "Sub Pop Rock City" kicks it off, followed by the serial killer lullaby "Toy Box." "HIV Baby" and "Cold Bitch" are stupider than I'd suspected (the latter's too pretentious to be offensive). The bleak clamor of "Birth Ritual" is a welcome antidote to the likes of "Black Rain" (a pointlessly cryptic hodgepodge of hackneyed imagery and half-decent U-turns of phrase) and especially "Exit Stonehenge," which conspired with "Spoonman" to comprise the stupidest single in grunge history.

The covers are mostly successful--including two Beatles songs--but their interpretation of Devo's "Girl U Want" is befuddling. Don't believe me, ask Gerald Casale.

Although I haven't heard anything concrete, the possibility of a more thorough Soundgarden box set within the next five years must be pretty high. At least, higher than it was before the shocking death of Chris Cornell on May 18, 2017, mere hours after Soundgarden's gig at Detroit's Fox Theatre.

Meaning, Eddie Vedder is the only singer of a Big 4 band still alive.

The legacy of each of these bands should not be tragic ones. The music they gave to the world should (and I suspect, will) endure beyond the extraneous. Soundgarden will be remembered as the virtuosos, the caterpillars of the community; Nirvana, the most revered, the door-smashers; Alice In Chains as proof that metal can make a valuable ingredient in the right hands; and Pearl Jam, hailed for their endurance and integrity.

I thank them all for their individual roles in shaping my life.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Them Again


10 albums over 22 years, eh? So close!

"Are Pearl Jam a salient band in this day and age?" is a dumb question. "What is 'salience' in this day and age?" is my response. (Only a slightly less-dumb question.)

"Getaway"--Inoffensive lifer-rock. Pleased to exist. Pearl Jam remain a band for the people--just, less people now. "It's okay." If you insist.

"Mind Your Manners"--Sweet beats. The ol' 1-2, in less than three. Whatever loosens the tongue and gets the finger to jabbing is fine by I.

"My Father's Son"--Least-dumb query yet: Is Eddie Vedder restrained by choice? The answer is unimportant, so long as the kid's caustic.

"Sirens"--Are shitty alarm clocks.

A rolling Stone, though? Straight cash, homey.

"Lightning Bolt"--I know the "she" in this'un. She was in the audience at the 9:30 Club, waiting patiently to be Bored, enduring the percussive pus-y maelstrom. She was the only audience member who didn't take a step back when the pounds and squeals began filling the finite space. She was a credit to her gender. She would be deaf if not for excess ear wax.

"Infallible"--Haha, that cat's named Spots! That fat guy's nickname is "Stringbean"! Best to just lean.

"Pendulum"--A Backspacer leftover. A one-car crash beneath the underpass. Fading gray is really faded green.

"Swallowed Whole"--Drifts from fluttering wings to winking stars.

"Let the Records Play"--Hand claps! Struts about like an SOB with PCP wishes and SOS dreams.

"Sleeping By Myself"--A re-do of a track that appeared on Vedder's Ukulele Songs. I wouldn't kick it out of bed for eating crackers. I wouldn't let it in my bed to begin with.

"Yellow Moon"--A reminder that the best we can hope for is to embrace the formless, and wait to feel the pulsation.

"Future Days"--An acceptable acoustic ditty.

The marvelous return to form will probably never materialize. Does Pearl Jam still matter? To the world at large, I suppose not. I'd argue, however, that art is supposed to make you think about the world, not vice versa.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hurry Up and Die


The "big return" went gold--in fucking 2009, meaning technically it went platinum--so here's Layne-less Alice for a second go-round, reeking of Omega 3.

"Hollow"--Even though it finishes 120 seconds past the limit, I'm impressed by how "Hollow" scarred up its own nut-sack.

(Some fabrics shouldn't be cymbal-washed, though.)

"Pretty Done"--Cackling over bone dust.

"Stone"--Not-Layne possesses the presence and potency of an emphysemic parrot. Shame, since Layne could have coaxed up a spook from that puddle.

"Voices"--Hemorrhages lameness. Shouts the pathetic truths of middle-school journal keepers.

"The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here"--Nostalgic atmospherics for a timely tackle of God's most desperate children. Why is it six and a half minutes?

Christians oftentimes make proclamations so child-like that they should be imprisoned for criminal misuse of oxygen. They deserve pummelings no shorter than 60 seconds, and no longer than 180 seconds.

"Lab Monkey"--No thanks, I'd rather listen my neighbors talk at length about summertime lawn care.

"Low Ceiling"--Low standards, as well.

"Breath On a Window"--Finger me out a good one, then. Wait, that sounded wrong. Come on, you've never blown on a window and written your name? Once more for my people in the back…this song is too long.

"Scalpel"--To the neck? Sounds dangerous. Proceed.

"Phantom Limb"--Seven minutes and…one of the few good songs on here. Good, mind; it's not sneezing into its hands and eating it or anything.

There's an 80s metal box vibe to that riff, one containing ninety pounds of dynamite powder. This is the kind of fever that deserves to be fed, so that it may grow ever more vehement.

"Hung On a Hook"--Mashed potatoes--hey! Sweet potatoes!

What a tornado of sow slop and Scrabble squares.

"Choke"--Like Nickelback playing in a room reeking of lemon Pledge.

Dismal. Most of the tracks here have the agility of Jabba the Hut and the focus of a starving chimp.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Lazy Lions


Unlike Alice In Chains, Soundgarden had actually called it a day--then a night, for good measure.

Chris Cornell solidified himself as one of the greatest male voices of his generation. He released four solo albums (some more adventurous than others), took over Zach de la Rocha's spot in a renamed Rage Against the Machine, and performed a Bond theme. Matt Cameron joined Pearl Jam. Ben Shepherd lost a fiancee, gained a pain pill jones, and continued playing music. Kim Thayil stayed in the ring as well, perhaps most prominently as a member of the reactionary punk group No WTO Combo (alongside Jello Biafra and Krist Novoselic).

Thirteen years after watching the jersey ascend, the members of Soundgarden reconvened to ascend the rafters and rip that bitch back down. Another two years passed by before they re-took the field.

"Been Away Too Long"--So on the nose that it begins burrowing into the motherfucker. High-octane rock-demigod maneuvers on display. Has it truly felt so empty without them?

"Non-State Actor"--Masterful meerkat boogie, featuring those oddball time signatures I've always loved them for. (Soundgarden, not the meerkats.)

"By Crooked Steps"--The abominable snowman walks with a limp and talks with a lisp. Thus, he doesn't do much of either. He envies the likes of Chris Cornell. He'll never open his mouth and hear doves soar. He thinks being "addicted to feeling" is a positive.

"A Thousand Days Before"--A defanged coppermouth is a coppermouth, regardless. Defiance in isolation is awesome since it impresses the exact number of people it needs to impress.

"Blood On the Valley Floor"--The sun's having its period, then. Or perhaps it was stabbed. How much blood, I wonder, and how thick. If I want to smear some on my face and run screaming into a bank with a bouquet of fallen tree branches, will my demands be met or will I be laughed out of the lobby?

"Bones of Birds"--Look, this is the 21st century. Don't pull the thang out unless you plan to bang.

"Taree"--Written in the 90s, recorded in the 00s. Therein the problem splays. Disheartening modern rock pablum with an anemic chorus.

"Attrition"--Tire-tester working a double shift. All's on the level.

"Black Saturday"--"Kill me right away if I start to get slow and don't remember how to separate worms from the apple."

People are here on this planet to be bothered by one another. Don't forget that.

"Halfway There"--Various questions. I've answers for several. Most people are born to a life of mediocrity, talents and efforts be damned. Makes as much sense as flavoring a cup of coffee with a splash of apple juice. Yet, that's what I'm hearing here.

"Worse Dreams"--Wandering room to room, wiping hands (and worse) on doilies and spooking old women.

"Eyelid's Mouth"
--Christ, that is such a Soundgarden song title. And such a Badmotorfinger b-side.

"Rowing"--Onward. Ever so. Don't stop till you get too much.

I'm glad the final song on a Soundgarden's final studio album is super-sparse and ruminative. Honors them well.

"Rowing is living/And living is hard/But living beats losing all that we are."

I'd advise strongly against castigating a man for changing his mind.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Vulgar Display Of Hubris


After album three, Alice In Chains went on a hiatus. Jerry Cantrell released a solo album in 1998 that was essentially an AIC record without Layne Staley. That same year, the sincerely struggling vocalist managed to record two songs with the band. Earmarked for Cantrell's second solo, they wound up instead on 1999's Music Bank box set. A live album and greatest hits collection followed, with no discernible signs of a new studio record.

Cantrell's sophomore effort came out June 2002. In an interview given March of that year, Jerry expressed hopes that the band who made it possible for anyone to give shit one about a Jerry Cantrell record would get it together.

A month later--April 20th--Layne Staley's partially decomposed body was found in his Seattle condo. He'd fallen victim to a deadly speedball, self-administered two weeks before.

In 2005, AIC's surviving members reunited in Seattle for a benefit concert. Various vocalists filled in for the late Staley, including longtime supporter and friend Ann Wilson. Next, a VH-1 concert honoring Heart. Among the fill-ins was Comes With the Fall singer William DuVall, who so impressed the guys, they asked him to stay on the mic for the series of reunion concerts they'd planned for 2006.

Interviews expressed ambivalence towards the idea of recording new music under the Alice In Chains name. Whether their decision to keep the name showed admirable bravery or alarming indecency is up for debate. The band, for their part, acknowledged reluctance among the fanbase while reminding people that no one outside of Layne's family was harder hit by his death than they were, and no two people grieve the same, etc.

Accusations of avarice were inevitable and funny, considering that anyone in this century who releases music with the expectation of earning a living deserves every dollar they don't get. For my part…I expected very little from this reboot.

"All Secrets Known"--Right off: William DuVall's voice is okay, but his projection is sorely lacking. Mad Julian Lennon vibes. (Better than Tim Owens vibes, confessedly.)

Rest of the band whip up a nice swirling red spot. "No going back," hell, they said it.

"Check My Brain"--This big rock radio hit is also far and away the brothel's Employee of the Year. The main riff is an armor-crushing monstrosity, a hearkening back to the best of alt-rock at its commercial peak. The chorus looks and feels like Alice In Chains.

"Last Of My Kind"--Still stuck in the decade prior, and still, I've no beef to cook. The new guy, yeesh. His flourish game leaves much to be desired. Dude makes Aaron Lewis sound like Nick Drake.

"Your Decision"--A lazy massage through a nylon tee. The band, taken as a whole, sound great. Which didn't stun me, it's not as if Layne Staley's death meant Sean Kinney's hand-foot coordination would suddenly go missing. Soul is lost quicker than technique…and impossible to relearn.

"A Looking In View"--This seven-minute stomach drop was the first single. Those patented vocal blends are still here, with a distinct difference: Jerry Cantrell dominates DuVall in the mix. True, the new guy isn't a powerhouse, but he should still get his fair share of the air.

"When the Sun Rises Again"--Mostly acoustic. I need to watch The Seventh Seal and cheer up.

"Acid Bubble"--Another seven minutes? Those picked notes don't pull wool. Ain't no fudge brownie in my hand; just a muddy boot on my foot.

"Lesson Learned"--Was it, Jerry? Was it really?

Mr. Cantrell's relocation to L.A. gave him one great song and a bunch of decent riffs. Introspection without a decent razor leads to sunken eyes and unsightly bumps.

"Take Her Out"--A girl? A dog? A coke mirror?

"Private Hell"--Purgatory defies passionate analysis, explaining why it's mislabeled here.

"Black Gives Way To Blue"--Elton John on the piano.

Elton fucking John.

On the fucking piano.

Elton fucking John on the fucking piano.

When Jerry found out that his band and Elton were recording in the same studio, he was struck by an idea: wouldn't it be amazing if one of the world's most popular piano men could play on the song Jerry wrote in honor of his departed friend? Layne Staley's first-ever concert was Elton John! Jerry sends a tape of the song and a brief note. A week goes by. No word. Then, one of Jerry's "people" informs him that Elton would be interested in a meeting. Turns out, he's a longtime fan of AIC and would love to contribute.

This homage to their evaporated soul could have understandably stretched out. We've already had a number of songs in excess of 300 seconds on the album. "BGWTB" takes only three minutes, though, and is better for it.

The more I listen, the more the circumstances of Staley's death piss me off. Not the cause (how many rock star OD's have been truly unexpected?) but the fact it took two weeks for him to be found. It took a call from to a former manager from his current accountants before anyone thought to check up on a suffering man.

In other words, it took money for someone to give a damn.

I'm not the type who considers the continued existence of Alice Of Chains to be problematic. Word of a new album didn't fill me with such anger that I had to step outside and crush a leaf with my bare tongue. I believe in giving fair shakes. And in all quaking fairness, Black Gives Way To Blue is (barring one exceptional track) a dispiriting slog.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Broken Lead


Only three years.

"Gonna See My Friend"--'Bout a drug. The drug of…love of…sweet sweet tuneage. Brothers and sisters, a fishing trip awaits. BYOB. All sharp, no squirm.

"Got Some"--Wait, this might be the drug ode. "Let's go, yeah!" Don't expect to disappear into the background.

"The Fixer"--The rib-sticker, the back-of-neck pricker. Ironic chorus in the manner of "Alive," which seems a hundred years old now. Zips along like a chihuahua in a cornfield. The most vital word in music has not changed since the mania first hit.

"Johnny Guitar"--Great concept: guy falls in a sort of love with a chick on an album cover. A guy who's the diametric opposite of Johnny Guitar, sensitivity to spare. He remembers most important dates, has a good relationship with his mother and most crucially, does not have to be pointed towards the clitoris.

"Just Breathe"--"I'm a lucky man." Wow, and Backspacer came out before the Cubbies won!

I'd like to believe my dad thought these lyrics, more or less, in his head. Where they stayed, since he lacked the confidence to set them free.

"Amongst the Waves"--Jellyfish are like coconut flakes, ruining whatever they touch.

"Unthought Known"--Clever. Title stole a few seconds, won't lie. Song itself is a perpetually clogged kitchen sink.

"Supersonic"--At last, an ode to those triplet towers of rhyme, JJ Fad. Just jammin' fresh and def! They had a rapper named JB! A sama lama lama lama!

If only. This "Supersonic" is five peanut-heads realizing they need to make weight and fast.

"Speed of Sound"--Loper. It can afford such leisure. Some chick in Evanston got her first finger-bang to this.

"Force Of Nature"--"He" and "she." Christ, at least Bon Jovi gave 'em names.

One door opens, revealing another door, another, another, each smaller than the last till the last, the knob of which is no bigger than an ant's butt. I had the power to stop opening doors at any time. I did not exercise that power.

"The End"--An alternative to the bad stuff. Here, there and everywhere. Deadlier than a gambling debt, uglier than a meth whore.

Put that on a shirt.