Monday, December 18, 2017

The Last Jedi Didn't Ruin My Childhood, Asthma Did

The previews are almost over. The eighth installment of the Star Wars saga is about to begin.

In one theater seat, the casual admirer, the sort who buys a movie ticket with the reasonable expectation of an action-packed space jam. One seat over, behold the massive-obsessive. Their bonafides are unimpeachable. They've been counting down the days to this moment. Star Wars is not merely a fun little kids movie, it's a way of life, redemption and repletion in one riveting package. Their living quarters are barely navigable thanks to all the merchandise they've purchased over the years: DVDs, VHS tapes, books, action figures. They are possibly costumed.

In between these extremes--seated a few rows back, to the right--is the passionate fan. Seen all the entries multiple times, read a couple of the books, shared a theory or two with a similarly obsessed best friend, wishes Mom hadn't tossed out all those toys.

Three distinct types of fan. Three distinct experiences. I am in the rear of the theater: fan since the early 80s (to the point where I used lines of dialogue from The Empire Strikes Back in place of sheep when sleep came slow), saw Return of the Jedi in theaters, whined my way into dozens of play-things and books…hell, my two favorite childhood toys were an X-Wing Fighter and a Mama Pound Puppy with a chocolate-brown coat and dark brown spots.

Now that I've proven I'm old, it's time to talk Episode 8.

SO MUCH SPOIL, incidentally.

General Organa's Resistance is on the run from Supreme Leader Snoke's First Order. Super-pilot Poe Dameron manages to replace one form of doom with another, and the good guys are forced to hyperspace. Yet, through use of a tracking device, the Order is able to find their ships. In the ensuing attack, almost all of the Resistance leaders are taken out. General Leia survives, but is physically unfit to continue command. Assuming her post is Vice Admiral Holdo, a purple-haired hard-ass who instantly clashes with Poe. Upon discovering her plan to evacuate what's left of the Resistance in transport vessels, the impetuous flyboy stages a mutiny with the help of BB-8, Finn and Rose, a maintenance worker whose resolve to defeat the First Order only strengthens after the death of her sister, who served as a gunner.

Those last three travel to the casino city Canto Bight in search of a world-class code-breaker who they must convince to aid in the infiltration of Snoke's ship. They wind up, instead, with a untrustworthy "slicer." Leia awakens and the evacuation mission is back on.

Meanwhile, oh crap, remember the last scene of the last movie? Luke Skywalker is on his "kill your idols" shit. Rey is not to be deterred, though, and eventually convinces Master Skywalker to teach her the ways of the Force. Which is strong in her, incidentally. She and Kylo Ren are having "Force Time" sessions, even. These "talks" are sufficient for Rey to bolt, convinced that she can appeal to the former Ben Solo's lingering sense of decency.

At which point i said to to the screen what I should have said when I was five years old watching Luke leave Dagobah: "Oh you dumbass."

Yep, Rey fell right into the trap. That she escapes is little to do with her, more to do with Kylo, who assumes leadership of the Order and invites her to bathe in the shade. Instead, she boards the Falcon and heads for the salt planet of Crait, where the last few Resistance fighters are stationed. Awesome ground warfare ensues, wherein Finn is saved from martyrdom by an RKO outta nowhere and Luke shows up for one last confrontation with his sister and nephew he failed.

Except he doesn't….really…I mean, he does…I just…oh my gawwwwwwwww……

The Last Jedi is a surprisingly emotional accomplishment, as well the expected visual one (if you like the color red, boy howdy!) It is also at times hilarious, a reminder that these films should be fun and we should remember to have fun watching them. As with the previous entries, the film ends on a hopeful note (the very last scene is downright Spielbergian). Director/writer Rian Johnson is the best thing to happen to the Star Wars franchise since Boba Fett flew into a sand vagina. He dares. We win.

Well, a hand can make several "V" gestures.

It takes all flavors to make an ice cream parlor. From vanilla to salted caramel, get me? Certain fans in any 'dom carry certain expectations. For The Last Jedi, I'd only two, the same that I'd had for The Force Awakens: that the film wouldn't ascend the heights of The Empire Strikes Back, and that it wouldn't plumb the depths of Attack of the Clones. After a single viewing, I don't know where I would put Episode Eight on my list. I can only tell you with certainty that I love it, it makes me proud to be a fan, and I cannot wait to watch it again.

There are marvelous performances (Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher, to the surprise of no one; Adam Driver, to the shock of everyone) and some of the most breathtaking shots and sequences in the entire franchise (silence has never been more golden). There are a few underwhelming/odd notes--the character of DJ, the "Whoo!" kid at Canto Bight--as you'd expect from anything with a 152-minute runtime.

Still, Episode Eight has played the Raddus to the fanbase's Supremacy. The discrepancy between the Rotten Tomatoes critic and audience scores is already the stuff of legend (to say nothing of the fan tallies on RT and Cinemascore). The scribes have been mostly positive, almost always fair; fans fill forums and comment sections with paragraphs of effusive praise, followed by paragraph of vitriol.* Passion is a quality I'd never discourage, as I equate apathy with death in all areas of life, but if a person in the process of expressing themselves bends into a shape that allows their brain to slide out, of what value is their expression?

It's good that The Last Jedi has left so many viewers unsettled. Especially the entitled ones. The ones who had their childhood "raped" by The Phantom Menace. The ones who wouldn't know a plot hole from a Plott Hound. The ones who at this very moment are typing about how they want to mouth-fuck the cryogenically frozen head of Walt Disney. The ones who see diversification as automatic detriment. They think too little, or too much.

Example of the former: why didn't Holdo tell Poe her plans? Easy--who in the Tauntaun shit is a renegade pilot to a Vice Admiral? Example of the latter: Snoke got screwed!  Snoke is just another sinister figure with a surplus of hubris. At no point in TFA did I sense he was on the level of Palpatine, improved hologram skills notwithstanding.

(Snoke's death also assures us Eppy 9 will not follow the ROTJ formula of conflicted baddie turning to the light and vanquishing his master, since it's already happened. Kylo's gotta be feeling pretty good, having one up on grandpa.)

Yes, Luke was a broken Jedi. That's known as character development.** Yes, they killed Luke. That's called understanding the way life works. Which is to say, that it begins and then it ends. "It's time to move on from the Skywalkers" is just one of several things the death of Carrie Fisher taught me.

The unwillingness to risk, the fear to pioneer, is what allows "Spirit in the Sky" and "Born To Be Wild" to flourish in movies and television to this day. Hell, it was the number one complaint lodged against the Episode Seven!

Careful what you wish for. You might not be willing to get it.

With the last movie, I didn't leave the theater--I hopped fluffy pink clouds. With The Last Jedi, same. Only, the clouds were much darker and bunched much closer together. A self-respecting Star Wars fan should see this film at least twice. Instant mark-out moments abound, as do ones that will take days to process.

Observe. Absorb. Reflect on Luke Skywalker's character arc, from a whiny farmboy to an embittered warrior. Let the emotions flow through you, without pushing out the intelligent thought. Find the wisdom to leave the past in its proper place.***

*I never spend much time rooting around these tunnels, but I don't advocate blocking their entrances. No matter the redolence of moldy fruit and rotting vegetables, all opinions deserve a forum. Respect? Not so much.

**Fans who don't comprehend how Luke could think of slaughtering his own nephew before thinking better of it are also the ones who can't comprehend how Mark Hamill overcame his own trepidation regarding Luke's behavior, and insist on peddling this ridiculous "Even Mark hates this movie!" agenda.

***I can't guarantee that J.J. Abrams will use "Intergalactic" by the Beastie Boys for the trailer (however strongly I suspect it) but I know, you know and our shadows know--Force Ghost Luke will be in Episode 9. So dry those eyes, guys.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Trapper Jenn Ranked You, Charlie Brown

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas
2. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
3. There's No Time For Love, Charlie Brown
4. Snoopy's Reunion
5. Charlie Brown All-Stars
6. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
7. She's A Good Skate, Charlie Brown
8. He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown
9. Happiness Is A Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown
10. I Want A Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown

11. It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown
12. Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown
13. What A Nightmare, Charlie Brown
14. Why, Charlie Brown, Why?
15. What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?
16. Happy New Year, Charlie Brown
17. You're A Good Sport, Charlie Brown
18. It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown
19. You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown
20. You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown

21. You're In Love, Charlie Brown
22. He's A Bully, Charlie Brown
23. It Was A Short Summer, Charlie Brown
24. Is This Goodbye, Charlie Brown?
25. It's A Mystery, Charlie Brown
26. It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown
27. It's Arbor Day, Charlie Brown
28. Play It Again, Charlie Brown
29. You're In the Super Bowl, Charlie Brown
30. It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown

31. Someday You'll Find Her, Charlie Brown
32. Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown
33. A Charlie Brown Valentine
34. Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales
35. It's the Girl In the Red Truck, Charlie Brown
36. Life Is a Circus, Charlie Brown
37. It's Magic, Charlie Brown
38. Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown
39. It's Spring Training, Charlie Brown
40. It Was My Best Birthday Ever, Charlie Brown
41. It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The 1980s Called, They Want Me To Do A List

The greatest decade in world history. Remember when I ranked the 1990s? Same rules apply.

10. 1988
Video Games: Sure, every Metal Gear released since is better than the NES version, but for comedic value? Sure, "Doki Doki Plumber" wasn't the Mario sequel we were meant to get, but it was still fun. Two "Nintendo Hard" classics came out in '88: Zelda II: The Adventures Of Link and Ninja Gaiden. (Only the latter was worth my blistered thumbs, though.) Sega finally caught my attention with Altered Beast. And finally, on my eleventh birthday, Japan blessed gamers with Super Mario Brothers 3.

Books: Stephen Hawking and William Gibson kept the eggheads happy. Roald Dahl kept the children happy. Anne Rice kept making herself happy.

TV: What's more infuriating: the St. Elsewhere ending or the WGA strike denying Gilda Radner a chance to host SNL? A couple pretty good shows were unveiled this year: The Wonder Years, with its novel use of voice over, and Murphy Brown, which in a few years would become a political cause célebre. So were a couple of amazing ones: Roseanne, one of the truest scripted to ever make air, and Mystery Science Theater 3000, although if you weren't in Minnesota, you were SOL.

Film: So many future pop culture staples (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Die Hard, Big, Rain Man) and a few that shoulda been (Heathers, Hairspray, Space Mutiny). Check out The Accused for Jodie Foster's finest performance, and Coming To America for the funniest film ever shot.

Music: So begins the descent. Cheap Trick went from "Surrender" to "The Flame." Aerosmith went from "Back In the Saddle Again" to "Angel." The Beach Boys went from "I Get Around" to "Kokomo." For all the best music, you had to get your hands dirty.

9.   1983
Video Games: Ah yes, The Year Of the Crash. 1983 saw the beginning of a industrywide recession. By the end of 1985, revenue had fallen off by close to 97%. The culprits were multitudinous: oversaturation, inflation, inferior product and competition from home computers.

Books: Salute the ladies: Gloria Steinem for Outstanding Acts and Everyday Rebellions (a feminist must-read) and Joanna Russ for How To Suppress Women's Writing, a "guidebook" for dissuading female scribes.

TV: You know the old saying: whenever God closes a M*A*S*H, He opens an AfterMASH.

If kids weren't watching He-Man, Reading Rainbow and The Charlie Brown & Snoopy Show, they are now what's wrong with America.

Hill Street Blues was so killer in '83 I can't pick my favorite episode: "Gung Ho," where an undercover is shot and killed in an arcade by domestic terrorists while numerous Hill Street cops are felled by a stomach virus courtesy of sketchy Chinese takeaway; or "The Belles Of St. Mary's" where viewers are introduced to Vic Hitler, Jr., the narcoleptic stand-up comic.

Film: Lost opportunity it may ultimately been seen as, however, Return Of the Jedi is still a hell of a movie. Competing Bond flicks vied for dollars, with Sir Roger Moore coming out on top. Scarface and A Christmas Story were two unspectacular office workers who nevertheless rose in the ranks over the coming years.

Hot take: D.C .Cab is funnier than National Lampoon's Vacation.

Hotter take: John Landis probably would have rather gone to prison over The Twilight Zone Movie than have Stephen Spielberg stop returning his calls.

Music: Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus over the Serengeti, 1983 was a wonderful time for music. "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" played everywhere. "Blue Monday," "Photograph" (the peak of hair-metal), "Let the Music Play," "Hungry Like the Wolf" (greatest single of the decade), "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," "Burning Up," "Total Eclipse of the Heart," "Major Tom." Fuck me!

(What about "Mr. Roboto"? Yeah no, that song eats.)

No shortage of amazing albums, either. In fact, R.E.M., Metallica, Slayer and Shonen Knife all put out their first full-lengths in '83.

8.   1984
Video Games: Um…uh...

Books: Funny for how so many the very words "nineteen eighty-four" bring instantly to mind a book. Dread certainly abounded: the landslide re-election of Reagan, the terrifying possibility of nuclear warfare, the spread of HIV/AIDS. If only any work of fiction released that year could even sniff Orwell's masterwork. The sole memorable read was a rare nonfiction venture by Joseph Wambaugh, the extraordinary Lines and Shadows.

TV: Before "Must-See TV," NBC made Thursday night "The Best Night Of Television On Television." From 8 to 11, viewers could sit back and enjoy the following: The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court and Hill Street Blues. Oh, and Cheers? Both actresses in the cast were pregnant. And this was the debut of the Frasier Crane character. Pile it on, why don't I? Miami Vice! Jim Henson's Muppet Babies! St. Elsewhere turning one of its characters into a serial rapist! Whew.

Film: Note about '84: I gave the music, film and TV categories perfect 10s. If not for the other two being so underwhelming, this year would have topped the list.

These are not hit films, these are haymaker blows: The Terminator, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom, Beverly Hills Cop, The Karate Kid. Gremlins is still the hardest I've laughed in a movie theater (for others, that honor might go to This Is Spinal Tap, also released in 1984. Or possibly even Police Academy, or Revenge Of the Nerds. Hey, they were funny at the time!)

I'll never forgive Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter or The Neverending Story for such shameless deceit.

Music: Hell, the most "80s" moment of my life happened this year: sitting on the couch, waiting for the premiere of the "Purple Rain" video, munching on my first-ever McDonald's "Value Meal."

Duran Duran released their most overlooked single and their most overrated single. Madonna tried to seduce a lion. Culture Club and the Eurythmics made people scratch their heads while shaking their party pieces. Van Halen and Bruce Springsteen showed that synthesizers weren't just for "new wave homos." Prince and Hüsker Dü were both on their viking ish, though their respective ships differed madly in size, shape and substance.

7.   1987
Video Games: Contra and Street Fighter swallowed up the quarters, while kids like me were content to wear butt imprints into the carpet playing The Legend Of Zelda, Punchout! and Mega Man. (Castlevania II as well, least until that day-night cycle shit made me throw the cartridge under the bed.)

Books: Oh wow. Besides Beloved and Misery, this was a flaccid 52 weeks for the art of words.

TV: I watched so many crappy sitcoms in the decade. Guys, I was so young and so easily amused. I laughed at Dave Coulier in not one but two shows. If My Two Dads did any good in the world, it warned me how painfully unfunny Paul Reiser was, so that by the time Mad About You came around, I knew better. I was a bit too young to appreciate Star Trek: The Next Generation, although given the quality of the first couple seasons, I don't bemoan my age too much.

Bye, Fraggle Rock and Hill Street Blues.

Film: An abundance of sluggish comedies and humdrum action flicks. (If yer gonna be bad, at least be entertainingly so.) 1987 at the movie house was just basically flickering cash. Death Wish 4, Superman 4, and Police Academy 4 were the perfect punishments for a country that would have voted Reagan in for another term had he not already reached the limit.

Music: Rock is back, thanks to a tattooed scarecrow and his band of less-than merry men. Appetite For Destruction should have sent all the limp-dicked pretenders scurrying back into their rented holes, yet somehow, Aerosmith became even more popular. (Guessing it was due to veteran status.) SST Records continued churning out marvelous mole rock.

Pop continued on sprained ankles, while R&B just lay on the dirt with two broken legs. Michael Jackson followed up Thriller with Bad , but did he really? Prince made a salad with homegrown veggies--and threw the dirt in for good measure. Nice guy Bruce Hornsby's piano-heavy tunes were the radio's way of saying, "Hey there, Jenn's sister, I know exactly what it is you wanna hear!"

6.   1986
Video Games: Metroid and Kid Icarus both belong in the pantheon, but can we not forget Arkanoid taking the Breakout series of games and ratcheting up the everything?

Books: Stephen King ruined clowns forever with It, a story that resonates to this very day. The Sportswriter kicks off Richard Ford's "Bascombe Trilogy" and the ruggedly gorgeous Silent Terror marked my entry into the stunning mind of James Ellroy.

TV: Don't miss the second half of Golden Girls' first season, which features Rose's homicidal vagina. After being let go from Hill Street Blues, Steven Bochco re-created it...with lawyers. America got to know Oprah…and Garry Shandling.

Film: So if I say that The Karate Kid 2 and Howard the Duck are cinematic cellophane, you wouldn't even flinch, but what if I throw Top Gun in the trash can alongside? What if I tell you Aliens is dope, but The Fly is doper?

MVP goes to John Hughes, whose name appeared on two more of the best high school films. And goddamn I cannot wait for the Big Trouble In Little China remake to come out and fail in every conceivable way by which success can be measured.

Music: Still so many classic singles ("West End Girls"! "Danger Zone"! "Kiss"! "Don't Wanna Know If You Are Lonely"!), but the fatigue is setting in. Three years after her big brother ruled the pop/dance/R&B charts, Janet Jackson took Control. Run DMC helped catapult Aerosmith back into commercial relevancy, meaning they share some of the blame for "I Don't Wanna Miss A Thing." On the other hand, they are responsible for bringing the Beastie Boys to a wider audience, meaning they share some of the credit for "Sabotage." Speaking of white rappers, the greatest to ever touch a mic had his Stateside breakthrough in '86 with a tune about a dead composer.

Was this thrash metal's best year? Master Of Puppets, Reign In Blood and Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?, although a lotta people seem to overlook that last one. Don't.

Van Halen put out 5150, their first album with new singer Sammy Hagar. Sonic Youth put out EVOL, their first album with new drummer Steve Shelley. Only one features my favorite song.

5.   1989
Video Games: I never made it past the dam level in TMNT. (And you thought Cannibal Holocaust did turtles bad.) Thank Jebus for Game Boy….

Books: The year's best novel, Katherine Dunn's Geek Love, concerns carnival freaks. Meanwhile, Martin Amis still can't write a convincing female character.

TV: Seinfeld, Baywatch, Family Matters, American Gladiators, The Simpons--you're welcome, Nineties.

Film: Warner Bros.' Batman series got off to a stellar start. Back To the Future 2 has actually improved with age, thanks in no small part to the sad predictability of the species. Films like When Harry Met Sally... and Field Of Dreams were made mostly so I can tell what kind of people I never want to waste conversations on.

Driving Miss Daisy earned a Best Picture nomination. Glory did not. Do the Right Thing did not. Burn Hollywood burn.

Music: Old men lectured listeners about world history ("We Didn't Start the Fire") and homelessness ("Another Day In Paradise"). Young ladies declared new nations and brought B-girl lingo to the masses. Hip hop was in a fascinating place, with "Fight the Power" and "Ladies First" fighting for attention alongside the likes of "Funky Cold Medina" and "It Takes Two."

4.   1982
Video Games: TV gave some shine to gamers with the debut of Starcade, while at the actual arcades, cups ranneth e'erywhere: Dig Dug, Q*Bert, and the one the only the Ms. Pac-Man. Meanwhile, Atari released Mr. Pac-Man for consoles: twelve million cartridges, in fact, pretty interesting strategy considering there were only ten million Atari 2600 consoles on the market. Sales went no higher than seven million, and the seeds of disaster were well and truly sown.

Books: Good year for books that would become movies: Shoeless Joe, The Color Purple, Schindler's List. Dinner At the Homesick Restaurant remains the finest novel set in Baltimore.

TV: Sha-la-la-la. Republicans would kill for an Alex P. Keaton on prime time now. I think millions of us would at least maim to have Letterman back in late night. NBC rolled out two beloved shows in '82: Cheers and St. Elsewhere. SNL added Brad Hall and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to the cast, which only in hindsight is notable.

Film: The head honchos put the kibosh on all the promise of the "auteur age," no longer willing to trust directors with pet projects and grand visions. The big studio flicks of the 80s were more focused on having a blast--of the literal and figurative varieties. So while Hollywood might not have produced the next Godfather or Easy Rider or Nashville this decade, it did give us the following--all in a single year.

--The best kids movie (E.T.)
--The best sci-fi movie (Blade Runner)
--The best high school movie (Fast Times At Ridgemont High)
--The best STAR TREK movie (Wrath Of Khan)
--The best film set in Charm City (Diner)

Take that, cinema snobs.

Music: Fools worrying about how to craft a hit single, please. This was the year Michael Jackson, Prince and Duran Duran each released albums full of nothing but hit singles.

3.   1985
Video Games: Pull back the curtain, flip on the houselights, sound the fanfare. The Nintendo Entertainment System is here to save the video game industry. Eatin' shrooms and shootin' ducks (and smart-aleck canines). No one even noticed ColecoVision leave the room.

Books: Outstanding works by Cormac McCarthy and Joseph Wambaugh. The second (and best) Stephen King short story collection. A little something titled The Handmaid's Tale.

TV: Bad ideas abounded: bringing back The Twilight Zone, putting Robert Downey, Jr. and Anthony Michael Hall on the SNL cast, canceling The Charlie Brown & Snoopy Show.

The good, thankfully, outweighed all that. I'm talking the debut of The Golden Girls. Four old broads in Miami: the smart-ass, the dummy, the slut, the other smart-ass. They attended Madonna concerts and dated midgets. They made my mother and I laugh like hyenas on helium. Correction: they make my mother and I laugh like hyenas on helium.

Film: Top-heavy. Back To the Future, The Goonies, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, The Breakfast Club and, ahem, Kurosawa's Ran, ya plebes. After all that? Uh…Roger Moore getting upstaged by two other actors in his Bond farewell, I guess that's pretty cool.

Music: Tears For Fears went 3-3, with three home runs. Phil Collins went 0-4 with a fielder's choice. Pfft, British people don't even play baseball. Woulda been better for everyone if USA For Africa had just donated beaucoup buckeroos and spared us the maudlin singalong.

Solid year for metal (Bonded By Blood, Hell Awaits) and indie rock (Psychocandy, This Nation's Saving Grace). How is it Run DMC are still the only hip hop act to sound at home rapping over power chords?

2.   1981
Video Games: Arcades and consoles are billion dollar business. Recalcitrant gorillas, space battles, frogs vs. everybody.

Books: Philip K. Dick, Raymond Carver and bell hooks in the same year. I don't think it's possible to romanticize this decade, I truly don't.

TV: Dry your eyes over the Muppets, guys. The most important dramatic series to ever appear on American television made its debut in 1981--Hill Street Blues. And no one watched it. Ranking 87th of 96 network shows that year, NBC nevertheless gave the critically-lauded cop show a second chance after it won a then-record eight awards at the Emmys, including Best Drama. Smart! Letting Dick Ebersol take the reins at Saturday Night Live, not so much.

Film: Harrison Ford made the seamless transition from slick space smuggler to daredevil archeologist, under the auspices of Steven Spielberg. AFI Silver has no issue recognizing that. My suggestion of a Cannonball Run/Evil Dead double feature, though?

Music: The biggest hit of the decade, per Billboard, was "Physical." Here's where I eviscerate not only the track, but also the American public for its infuriating vacuity. Except I'm not doing any of that, since "Physical" is the statue which stands outside the Smithsonian Museum of Guilty Pleasures.

The Cars went pop like snot bubbles. Prince's fourth LP, Controversy, smashed together music and politics until they sucked off their taste buds. Lovers of music which could safely be called "MTV-resistant" had Mission Of Burma, Black Flag, Glenn Branca and Whitehouse to blast. Haters of life spun Mike Love's first solo effort, which reeked of just that, effort. I'd rather take Campari intravenously.

1.   1980
Video Games: Atari struck with Space Invaders, but the arcade scene is still the place to be. Pac-Man, perhaps you've heard of him?

Books: Nice gumbo. Enrapturing YA (The Indian In the Cupboard), excellent true crime (The Stranger Beside Me), revolutionary academic text (A People's History Of the United States), a meandering novel from a purportedly important writer (Earthly Powers) and one of the funniest novels I've ever read (A Confederacy Of Dunces).

TV: Worst season of SNL yet (despite the presence of future superstar Eddie Murphy), Ron Howard leaves Happy Days, and what the turkey-stuffing hell did we the people do to deserve Flo and The Stockard Channing Show on the same night?! Oh, 1980 was also the year everyone was asking "Who Shot J.R.?," found out, then promptly forgot.

Film: Between The Shining, Friday the 13th, Caddyshack and Airplane!, movie theaters must've reached unprecedented stinkage and seat-stainage. An erratic year to be sure, with a number of good films that had the potential for greatness. Especially that boxing movie and that space movie. Oh well, they tried.

Music: Tusk!

The first #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 was a ballad from friggin' KC and the Sunshine Band, clue A as to how legendary this decade was about to be. Clue B? Devo going platinum.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

B.O.S.S.--Ranking All 21 Lollapalooza Lineups

A year after putting out the album that propelled them to rock stardom,  the members of Jane's Addiction had enough of other. Singer Perry Farrell envisioned a farewell tour that eventually grew into a traveling festival of music and arts. Emphasizing the fringes, declaring war on the dumb pretty glistening center, Lollapalooza took "Alternative Nation" around the USA, trumpeting inclusivity at all 26 stops. The weirdoes no longer had to huddle in the corner, screaming was encouraged, and anyone that bristled at the sights and sounds could sit and spin.

After a mostly-great initial run ending in 1997, Farrell brought Lollapalooza back in 2003. Plans to expand the next year (two days in each city) fell through thanks to poor ticket sales. For 2005, promoters decided to keep the idea of a two-day festival, albeit in a single location: Chicago's Grant Park.  The year after that, another day was added, and that format has been the standard since.

1. 1994
Expanded to 42 performances, all the better to enjoy the Pumpkins before Billy Boy spiraled utterly out of control, shaving his head and gluing that stupid shirt to his bird chest. That fucking main stage does not relent. Even replacing Boredoms with Green Day wasn't unforgivable, since back in the '90s, Green Day were still writing songs instead of operas. Stereolab and Shonen Knife on the second stage? Jesus, take the panties.

2. 1993
Now up to 36 shows. Primus were never as good as a bassist-led band should be. Alice In Chains and Dinosaur Jr. back-to-back in any context is ridiculous and wonderful. I could bitch about putting the rap version of Up With People on the main stage, but I'd rather squirt over those side offerings: Redman, Sebadoh, Free Kitten and Thurston Moore, Royal Trux, and goddamn motherfucking ass-screaming fan-daming Tsunami.

3. 1995
The last great year of the original run, despite abandoning open fields for seated amphitheaters, which bummed out both bands and fans. The most thoroughly documented backstage drama of any Lollapalooza, but the music matters most. Bar the Bosstones, a legendary main stage. Hell, time your arrival right, you could have avoided that checkered chucklefucks altogether! That was my plan…then my best friend's aunt wouldn't let her borrow the car. Meaning I missed Pavement getting pelted by mud. And Helium. Fuck aunts.

4. 1991
First ain't always best…in fact, a damn good percentage of the time it ain't. What was the best sex of your life? Exactly. The diversity was there, as was the energy, and even a bit of the ol' danger, seeing how Gibby Haynes spent the first few of the 26 total shows firing a shotgun full of powder into the mortified crowd during the Surfers set. Fuck yeah, Alternative Nation.

5. 1992
Actual hip-hop this time! The second stage expanded, with some true gems. Pearl Jam were out to change lives, and did. They could/should have supplanted Ministry in the order, honestly. (I smell pussy…is that you, Al?)

6. 2006
These lineups destroy my cerebral cortex. Going from Nada Surf to Built To Spill to Sonic Youth on one stage; the "adidas-Champ Stage" headliners were, respectively: Sleater-Kinney, Thievery Corporation and fucking Blues Traveler.

7. 1996
Any regular TJMD reader knows I don't hate Metallica. But them headlining the world's premier festival for alternative music was just crap. Soundgarden or the Ramones would have made massively more sense. The promoters hemorrhaged cash last year, though, and they needed the huge name. (I remember seeing Shaolin monks listed as one of the main stage performers and wondering why they couldn't get Wu-Tang Clan. Then, for some later dates, they did. Well done.)

8. 2008
Kanye headlining in his hometown, about to release his worst album, woo. He didn't overcook his noodle and start slandering other major celebrities, either. Look at this: Cat Power, Mates Of State, CSS, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Fuck you, 'Ye.

9. 2005
Interesting Main Stage selections. I'd show up knowing I'd likely never get bored, though I wouldn't expect to be thrilled at any point either.

10. 2010
Stooges before Modest Mouse. I get it. I don't like it, but I certainly get it.

11. 2014
Think of the oddly great rap selection as a fat pulled pork sandwich between a pair of warm buns, and the best of the side acts like a slab of sweet cornbread next to it on the plate.

12. 2009
Landing Depeche Mode for their only summer festival appearance in the States was a coup. Allowing the singer for Kaiser Chiefs to continue on with that name is a catastrophe.

13. 2010
Gaga is back, on the same stage as Devo. Blues Traveler on Lolla kills me half-dead. They strike me as antithetical to the whole thing. First U.S. show since 2006 for the Strokes, which I'm sure excited a lot of people who still regard the 1980s as the most overrated decade for music.

14. 2011
Shit, the Cars? Wait, Benjamin Orr died in 2000. Oh well, at least there was future Peanuts Movie star Trombone Shorty. Pretty solid side stage options, including the sun-kissed Best Coast.

15. 2013
Three days featuring lots of acts that are comfortably ensconced in my musical library, yet I can die peacefully knowing I never once saw any of them live.

16. 2017
Much chaff (Blink-182, Live) and a few unmissables (Run the Jewels, Tegan and Sara, Warpaint). Lazy as shit, but so am I some days. Just usually not three in a row.

17. 2015
Macca. Fucking Paul McCartney. I'd show up just to see him, maybe check out Gogol Bordello's 27th appearance, then leave. Side stages? Weaker than a baby punch.

18. 1997
The last Lolla of the original incarnation, featuring Orbital, The Orb and Orbit! The headliner rotated between those first two, The Prodigy and Devo, who should have felt enormously insulted.

19. 2012
Even flabby Black Sabbath ("Slack Flabbath") is better than Franz Ferdinand in any shape. I still hate that my best buddy saw 'em back at Ozzfest. (I have Fugazi over him. Still.) Afghan Whigs and Frank Ocean notwithstanding, 2012 is Flotsam-Jetsam City. Not to mention the inclement weather that affected many sets.

20. 2016
A fourth day, another 100K, another how many million? Red Hot Chili Peppers headlining for a record fourth time? Appealing as snorting peppery vanilla pudding. I've seen Kurt Vile live twice, both times in more ideal settings (including the last-ever Sonic Youth U.S. show).

Getting hit by a truck full of Skyline Chili

21. 2003
The return of big ol' sucker shit! Lick mine. Jane's Addiction, bootleg Rage Against the Machine, Tool Jr., the guys that challenged Limp Bizkit for the dishonor of "Most Superfluous DJ In a Rock Band" back in the '90s, offensively inoffensive backpacker rap, and that was just Day 1. Day 2? Can eat me with a stuffy nose.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Sweet and Sour 16: Concert Combos That Defied Humanity

Merely mentioning these double take-inducing pairings is nowhere near sufficient. Adding further commentary, a bit better. Here at TJMD, we (me, myself and I) yearn to take the extra step. In bare feet.

Behold, the Sweet and Sour 16:

That is how we do.

Winners were determined via a single factor: of the competing performances, which would I--meaning me now, in 2017--most want to be in the audience for. Which gig had the greatest potential to make me feel love, hate ,confusion, giddiness, sexual arousal, and the hunger for popcorn.

Let's look at the "teams."


What Happened: Prince was on the verge, while the Stones were losing the urge. Hardly anyone seemed to realize that, though. The Stones were touring behind their 18th LP, Tattoo You, which featured the big ol' hit "Start Me Up." Sure the record wasn't on the artistic level of the one immediately preceding it--the stupendously groovin' Emotional Rescue--but compared to the eight that followed? Abbey Road status.

Prince was about to release album four, Controversy. This record would mark a creative breakthrough for the Minnesota viking, as he mixed in politics with polyamory. Prince wasn't just aiming to make listeners feel; he wanted them to think.

A month before embarking on his own headlining tour, Prince agreed to open up two shows for the Stones at L.A.'s Memorial Coliseum. The first took place on October 9, 1981. Mr. Nelson and his band found themselves under attack almost immediately. Not only did the group have no major hits to their name, that weirdo out front was wearing bikini briefs and a trench coat. Lusty boos clogged the atmosphere. Food and footwear were hurled towards the stage.

After 25 minutes, Prince left that stage. Then he boarded a plane and left the state, back to the land of lotsa lakes. Management cajoled him back in time for the second show, two days later. That set was seen through to completion, although the reaction was no warmer. (Backstage, Prince allegedly called the crowd "tasteless in music and mentally retarded.")

Why I'd Want To Be There: Hindsight is 20/20, and that's what creates the dilemma in almost every one of these matches. The Stones were not slouch status yet-they were pumping out sets thirty songs strong, still a force on the charts as well as the stage. And Prince wasn't yet Prince, but the guy still had four records of generally high quality to cull from. Who cares how he dressed or if he had a possibly fatal aversion to spelling out certain short words? The Stones audience for those two nights represent the ultimate in "I want to stand here amongst these tens of thousands of shitheads and feel so smug my nose might start bleeding."

Best, here's a quote from Keith Richards shortly after the incident: "Prince has to find out what it means to be a prince."

That's what his parents named him, ya dick!


What Happened: For two months in 1974, the man behind "Runaround Sue" opened for Baltimore's finest. I was able to confirm eleven shows, though likely there were more.

Frank Zappa with a gold album is like me losing 100 pounds. No one can quite believe it happened, yet it happened, and it was overdue like a pregnant woman in her thirteenth month. Dude was a genius. A genius is someone who is not only highly intelligent but enormously creative, allowing them to use their intelligence in ways that the average "well-read" person cannot. That is why Zappa's biggest radio hits are "Don't Eat the Yellow Snow" and "Valley Girl." That is why he asked Dion out on tour.

Zappa fans gave the mononymous doo-wopper a generally tepid reaction. Given that the guy's heyday on all checkable calendars had long passed, it could have been worse.

Why I'd Want To Be There: Just to see Frank, really. And to keep fingers crossed I'd be part of a crowd reacting to the man who took the "harm" out of "harmony" in the only acceptable way: polite silence.


What Happened: Isn't it ironic? Yes, a fearless English rock band opening thirteen shows for a Canadian child actress-turned-Gen X spokeswoman is actually ironic.

Projectiles? Put-downs? Crowds longing for well-processed angst proved too antsy for such boldness.

Why I'd Want To Be There: Time is the drug. Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus have me recalling "Hand Over Feet" with fondness. Add in the marble cave sonics of one of the most hysterically over-scrutinized bands of my lifetime, on the cusp of recording their emblematic album, and just give me a seat in the back of the venue.

(The one song--besides "Creep"--that got any positive response from Alanis fans was "Lift." This convinced the band to leave it off their forthcoming third album, lest they have another "hit." I can get why Kid Rock lambastes Radiohead for their pretensions. I just don't get why he's so ride or die bitch for the Confederate flag given he's from fucking Detroit.)


What Happened: The tour for The Yes Album lasted a full year--July of 1970 to July of 1971. That final month saw Black Sabbath welcome audiences for a total of three shows; the very same month they unleashed their third wreck-hard, Masters Of Reality. Punter appraisal was, apparently, pretty positive. 'Cause who boos Black Sabbath?

Why I'd Want To Be There: Yes were just coming into their own. Fragile wouldn't be released until four months after this tour's conclusion. That's the album with "Long Distance Runaround" and "Roundabout," super-awesome songs that classic rock radio cannot ruin. Sabbath, on the other paw, were operating at peak planet-devouring. I want to watch goblins pick through a weeded garden of rusted hammers. I want to stand imperfectly still as those very hammers carom off my body like a crackhead in a bounce house.

The headliners must have seemed post-coital.


What Happened: New York's finest shared the stage at Chicago's Aragon Ballroom, on the last Saturday of 1990: Public Enemy, one of the most brilliant and confrontational groups in the history of hip hop music, and Sonic Youth, the Beatles of indie rock. It should have been Concert of the Year.

It was not. By all accounts the gig was sadly average, thanks in substantial part to the venue's notoriously poor acoustics. Once the house lights came up, though, and the five thousand attendees began filing out, extraordinary things began to happen. A small group of anti-war/anti-authority protesters were demonstrating near the Aragon. The cops arrived. And kept on. Waves of cops. Brutality ensued. (While accounts recommend neither side for medals, it must be noted that only one side had guns.) Luckily, no one was killed.

Why I'd Want To Be There: On its face, PE/SY is a daring pairing. Given that Chuck D cameoed on an SY song earlier in the year, though, you could hardly call it "unexpected." Also both groups recorded their most iconic full-lengths in the very same place--Greene Street Recording in Manhattan.

Weak sound notwithstanding, SY played "Cinderella's Big Score" that night, a tune I never saw live. Not to mention bookending the set with "White Kross" and "Inhuman." What they say about pizza and sex applies to Sonic Youth concerts also.

There's no guarantee that foreknowledge would have spared me from being caught up in post-show violence. I just wonder what everyone would make of the rectangle in my hand.


What Happened: At some point, the nights were no longer of white satin. It's arguable this bill should have been flipped. Even though the Blues were on album #12 and SRV on #1, one record was clearly superior to the other. These things have little to do with quality, though, which is how the phenomenally gifted blues guitarist ended up opening 28 dates in late '83 for a bunch of enervated cosplayers.

Why I'd Want To Be There: This is a lot like the Yes/Black Sabbath set-up. Great style clash, legends on either side of the coin.


What Happened: Better yet, in Louisiana. In January. The quintessential American punk rock band, the NYC rock band, one of the most massively influential gangs ever to make a racket, the Ramones sold more shirts than albums. Four of which were in record stores by the time a group of glorified session guys decided to grab some glory.

Per tour manager Monte A. Melnick, the paying customers "didn't have the time or energy to boo." This account tells a different story.

Why I'd Want To Be There: Sometimes, I just need to be angry. The Ramones opening for Toto. In no galaxy will that fail to piss me off. (Also, I'd find out who's telling the truth--the manager or the spectator.)


What Happened: Only once, on 11/27/82 at Orlando's Tangerine Bowl. Once was probably enough. Joan Jett was the meat in the sandwich, but neither opener went over well. Goddamn why do audience members try to harm performers as a way of expressing their animosity?

Why I'd Want To Be There: Yeah, this 'un's a sandwich with two different varieties of bread. I'd love to have been there, just to show those fools how to do all sixteen dances. Drunk and happy and dressed in Red Galaxy leggings. I'd also like to make fun of all the Who fans who thought this was actually their "farewell tour."


What Happened: Summer of '67. Monkeemania is at its quantifiable peak. They beat out Get Smart for the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy. Their third LP (and creative reclamation) Headquarters was second only to Sgt. Pepper's on the Billboard albums chart. Eager to gain cred as something other than a bunch of bubblegum vendors, they handpicked vituperative guitar virtuoso Jimi Hendrix as a "support act" after witnessing his fiery turn at that year's Monterey Pop Festival.

I'm a Monkees fan, as well as an Experience fan. Let us be romaine: the Monkees were tentative hand-holding and shy glances. Jimi and the guys were a two-handed slap to the bare, unsuspecting ass. The crowds, overwhelmingly young and female, revolted accordingly. Jimi left the tour of his own accord after only seven performances. A month later, Are You Experienced? came out, and it's just now hit me, 1967 is probably the greatest year in music history.

*checks Wiki*

Yeah, it was.

Why I'd Want To Be There: Ladies and gents, the shining example of a musical mismatch. The moment that Micky Dolenz said, "The weird-looking black guy who humps his guitar before he burns it would be perfect," and no one stepped in to point out how insane an idea that was, history was made. I wish I could go back and attend all seven shows. I'll have to squirm my way through "Your Auntie Grizelda" and the oh-so anticipated solo turns for each individual member, but other than those rare missteps, this is actually one of the better hit-to-miss ratios here.


What Happened: Punk vs. Metal! Meta Knight vs. Yoshimitsu! Weed vs. Cocaine! For their final tour with Ozzy--well, until '97--the Birmingham boys were promoting one of their more calamitous records, Never Say Die! The Ramones were pegged to warm up the crowd for four shows in the last months of 1978. Went over as well as a Pinto on the Autobahn.

Why I'd Want To Be There: Sabbath. Ramones. David S. Pumpkins on you hoes.


What Happened: The most recent example in this bracket is also one of the longest and most successful: 48 performances during VH's 2012 reunion tour with David Lee Roth. The more I thought on it, the more sense got made. Both groups were far past their commercial peaks, yet neither had lost their ability to knock out the hits to frothing thousands. Both were party bands at heart and oh oh, serendipity! The first show VH played after announcing their reunion was an intimate gig at NYC's Cafe Wha?, a li'l place owned by DLR's family--and the same venue were, in 1964, Kool & the Gang played their first-ever concert.

The sweet celebratory vibes were irresistible. Only the lamest of wads didn't have fun.

Why I'd Want To Be There: Goddamn those hits. "Jungle Boogie" to "Get Down On It." "Unchained" to "Panama." Move, groove, nothin' to prove. Titties jiggle and booties shake. I need to bear direct witness to David Lee "The" Roth, frontman par excellence. Yeah, so that's Eddie's son on the bass, and I doubt he's using an instrument shaped like a liquor bottle but hey--no such thing as the "perfect situation" exists.


What Happened: A year after The Greatest Concert That Wasn't, SY were pegged to accompany the Horse for 49 shows over the first four months of '91. Rock critics splooged in euphoria…while the Neil faithful shriveled up in disgust. His road crew hated on the Youth as well, depriving them of much-needed volume and oh my God, is that a chick in the band?

Why I'd Want To Be There: Distorto Mondo. Louder than love, stronger than dirt. Sonic Youth's last album at this time was their so-called "sellout" (meaning it contained more than two songs that wouldn't make a virgin listener start acting like a member of Rick Mears' pit crew) so it must have somewhat exhilarating to be hated, so virulently and consistently.


What Happened: I return to the "farewell tour" of 1982, which saw the Clash hang around for a handful of shows, including one at Shea Stadium which years later found its way onto CD. The Casbah was rocked, rhetorical questions were asked ad nauseum, and it was not a put on. Many Clash nuts headed for the exits before the headliners sauntered onto the stage.

Why I'd Want To Be There: Think optics, not sonics. Once-vital to now-vital. The love of money to love and money. A shadow compared to a fleshed-out body.


What Happened: Rush fans amaze me. Who's the best band? Rush. Who's the best bassist? Geddy Lee. Best guitarist? That would be Alex Lifeson. Best drummer? Anyone who doesn't say Neil Peart is a commie rap fan. These are the same people who bought Counterparts in 1994, listened to it, and took it seriously.

Rush fans don't surprise me, though. They were less than enthusiastic for Melvins over the four shows the bands played together in Feb. 1994? The hell, you say.

Why I'd Want To Be There: Melvins, at their best, are an hour-long prone-bone session with a deceptively athletic plumber. One of their greatest songs is about a crime-solving goat! And Rush has more than several songs I like in spite of their fanbase, in addition to enough chaff to allow me to skidaddle off to the ladies room with no fear.


What Happened: Halloween, 1975. Cleveland. A nearby river is on fire. Probably. At the WHK Auditorium, local radio station WMMS-FM is holding a private party, invitation-only. Sun Ra, the Noah of the Arkestra, Saturn's outermost ring, will be entertaining the lazily-costumed audience, who are also high as giraffe pussy by the time the first act takes the stage.

Devo were hired for the party as a joke, and approximately no one in attendance saw (or heard) the humor. The spuds were raw. Started out talking shit on a prominent local DJ, then performed seven songs that, track title for track title, might be my favorite concert setlist ever. Live debut of "Jocko Homo," incidentally. And it went on for half an hour.

Why I'd Want To Be There: Any serious Devo fan would carjack Marty McFly to be in the WHK that night. Wasted radio schmos throwing full cans of beer at the legends-to-be, in rare quartet mode (back before they dropped a Mothersbaugh and gained a Casale). The Mongoloid Years features fifteen especially chaotic minutes from the performance, and that's cool. Some numbnuts finally leapt onstage, grabbed the mic, and began insulting them. That, friends, is the kind of blinding rage that must be seen. I so wish I'd been there, in a Wonder Woman costume, on the arm of some schlub doing some connected relative of mine a solid. Eyes unblinking, mouth drying, as a verbal tiff between bassist Jerry Casale and a promoter nearly goes physical.

A couple sources I saw claimed the deranged end of Devo's set precluded Sun Ra from unleashing jazzy bop that evening. Jerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh both have said in subsequent interviews that Sun Ra did in fact play that night, to an audience of ten.


What Happened: Label mates hit the road in late 1994 for 62 shows. The 'Box were riding the high of fooling a couple million people, while the Lips were six albums deep, playing their butts off before a less-than timeless band for a less-than riveted fanbase. "She Don't Use Jelly" had not yet hit, so they were basically trying to show the execs at WB they were worth the promo.

Why I'd Want To Be There: Incredulous. That's the only word I can think of to describe this travesty. The stepchildren of the Seattle scene and the bashful, drywall-eating kid with the indecipherable accent, together on one bill. I've never "riffed" a concert, since I think people who pay to watch other people play music should, y'know, shut up and watch other people play music, but the band responsible for "You" and "Far Behind" don't deserve my respect. Or even my B+ riffing game, really.

As you can see in the bracket, I'd spend my one temporal coin on either of the Stones/Prince gigs. The need to feel superior to so many people at one time bests even my desire to watch some inebriated radio executive in a Dracula costume tell the members of Devo how much dick they suck.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

CRIMINAL ELAMENT, "Hit 'Em Where It Hurt" (1994)

Behold. The most corn-riddled frisbee ever shat out by Pen 'n' Pixel. The pinnacle and the nadir, all in one.

Keep your humanoid animals, your holograms, your cities of fire, your gratuitous partial nudity. I want an oceanic evening sky, four dangerous young men in white tees, a locomotive ridden by a red-eyed dog. I want a car. I want a racehorse. I do not want any understanding of scale or gravity.

The cover for Hit 'Em Where It Hurt conveys speed, danger, and ridiculousness. Criminal Elament sacrificed clarity and common sense to ensure we understand how helter is their skelter.

"Indadoe"--Wavin' all types of numbers. Considering this is their first album, of course Criminal Elament want to introduce themselves with a skit of a plane being landed in a thunderstorm. (I think.)

"Life Of a Youngsta"--I can tell the MCs apart; I just don't care that I can tell the MCs apart. Each of these young men is married to the same cadence, which ultimately does neither her nor them any greater good.

"Trippin' Out"--Begins with horse racing commentary…wow, the cover is actually connected to the music.

Houston rap group talking about hallucinations? If it ain't the Geto Boys, it better be the 5th Ward Boyz.

"Side Wayz To the Next Life"--As a general rule, authenticity is a laudable quality. Gangster rap prides itself on authenticity. The best of the genre combines lyrical and musical skill to create a riveting soundscape. Criminal Elament do not represent the best of the genre.

"Hit 'Em Where It Hurt"--The funk of Al Gore! The subtlety of John Leonetti!

"Family Stick Together"--Unless one of them quits their job in a fit of a temporary insanity. Doesn't matter how hard they try afterward to get their life back in order, if they don't follow a predetermined set of rules to prove their worth, that person will not receive significant familial support. You cannot be your true self around family members. They will judge you harsher, and more unfairly, than any stranger. The best of them will pretend to care. They will all forget their culpability when you die.

"Da Train"--All right, so the cover wasn't haphazard. Still sucks.

Seinfeld bass with Home Improvement snares. Everywhere hurts.

"It Goes On"--Tight, old-school vibe.

"Outdadoe"--Why, it's a fuckin' hoedown! It's a fuckin' hoedown, why?

Anticlimaxes remind me why I'm ardently pro-choice.

Friday, November 24, 2017

SEXX FIENDS, "Let's Get Butt-Naked" (1994)

Tiny T and Rated X are the Sexx Fiends. Hailing from the great state of Texas (TX, get it?), these pussyhounds listened to a shit-ton of Miami bass and thought: yeah, bitch.

I was so fixated on the visual of two shirtless dudes hovering on a studded leather bra that I damn near missed that guy on the left (is it T? Is it X? Do I care? Kinda?) has his hand down his pants.

"Watch Ya Gal"--The intro cost thirty bucks, and they paid in ones. Guarantee.

Tiny T calls himself "the nymphomaniac motherfucker." He meant "satyromaniac." Don't gimme no lip about 1994 being "pre-Google," I promise it wasn't "pre-dictionary." Anyway, Tiny T fucks a lot. He knows 99 positions, seven more than Prince! I cannot possibly be offended by this. He temporarily changes his name to "Li'l T" just to rhyme with the words "will be."

"Can't Spoil Ya"--Ah, dilemma! The independent woman…who wants to be indulged every now and then. And the broke men…who resent them. This song is actually shrinking on me.

"Butt Naked"--Cartoony skit. Will this record ever begin to piss me off?

"Cum With Me"--Actually features faux-intercourse and thinks a woman exclaiming, "Ooh Tiny!" is a turn-on.

"Hey Ho's Re-Mix"--There's a bawling kitten sound that reminds me of the sound my Mac fan makes. It distracts me from understanding how busta simps are fuckin' up the game.

"Nigga Don't Get No Bigga"--The sex might be meaningless and loveless, but at least it's consensual.

"Punk Bitch"--Wherein Tiny T explains the origin of his sobriquet: he stands only five feet five inches tall.  A simplistic bump without the grind.

"Hollar At Ya Boy"--L.A. meets FL meets TX and cooks up that rarest of dishes: the disappointing enchilada.

Another use of "cock" in place of vagina. No, I will never get used to that. The hook is handled by an actual young boy, whom I would like to thank for not allowing my interest to flag.

"Suck On"--Fuck off.

"Stop the Ho"--Who's the Isley stepbrother convinced he's sprinkling paprika on the proceedings this evening? Because I want to erect a statue to his self-delusion.

"Yo Gal"--Has all the replay value of a used rubber.

"Ain't No Luv"--I know Tiny T didn't want me to think of diapers when he talks about refusing to "pamper a slut," but hey, the artist can't control how their work will be received.

"Throde Off"--An amateurish cluster-bomb produced by Dr. Dre's cousin's attorney.

"All That Shit"--Hey, Sexx Fiends named a song after what I say every time I pass the Scotch section at a liquor store!

When your doorbell begins dying, sample it.

An album by "Sexx Fiends" should be hardcore in every facet. The language should be filthy and explicit. The beats should bang in any setting. The sexism should inspire me to make my grill a "No Hot Dogs" zone. You failed, Sexx Fiends.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

BIG BEAR, "Doin' Thangs" (1998)

You can't talk hideous album covers without giving twisted props to Doin' Thangs. People might not remember names, but rest assured, "that album with the blinged-out bears" cannot be forgotten.

Doin' Thangs isn't the worst Pen 'n' Pixel cover since, if nothing else, it delivers the ideal amount of absurdity. Big Bear is shown, alongside other big bears, doin' thangs. Sittin', chillin', snackin' on nuts and berries, sippin' Cristal, puffin' non-chocolate cigars. The genius of the cover is that it leaves me wanting more. I want to see Big Bear hanging out in the woods, grabbing fish from the river and climbing a tree.

Instead, I'll listen to him rap.

"Intro"--Shout out to those what made the Big Bear dream come true.

"No Lies"--Big Bear as a rapper is capable and amiable. I could say the same for his beat selection: melodic, bass-heavy, room temp.

"Doin' Thangs"--Big Bear is proudly "southern fried," because Nebraska's the South, totally. Ah well, some thangs--devouring chicken fingers, downing six packs, blowing blunts--can't be contained to just one region.

Vocal swagger BB has in spades. Lyrical agility, eeehhhh.

"Goin' through shit like I'm an anus."

"This click's harder than dicks."

Damnit, Big Bear! Both those atrocities were in verse one, though. There are two more to come, in which he acquits himself, especially at the start of the second:

"I'm guess I'm just talented
To even survive through all the fakery
And mockery of haters tryna sucker me
I'm sucker free"

"Heaven Or Hell"--Languorous Shakurian lament.

"Money An' Fame"--"Bland an' inoffensive," she sneered, to the amusement of no one else.

"What'cha Workin' Wit'"--Luniz on the assist? And you played them this chopstick-ass beat? I guess cash and weed makes even bear crap smell like fudge.

"The Realist"--You doubt Big Bear? His management company is OSO Fo Real Entertainment.

Hardest beat yet, with interesting instrumentation. The 11 x 11 Boys mean-mug and smash fists to palms. Can't deny the energy, even if I've listened to the song three times now and couldn't quote one line under threat of death.

"No Where To Run"--I'm genuinely surprised at how well-done the album is. Nothing beyond the cover qualifies as outstanding--for the era, the region, or the genre in general--but I am digging the way Big Bear rides beats, especially the one for "No Where To Run," which I'd call "funkacholic"--funky and melancholic.

"Player Hatas"--"I'm in the Bahamas swimmin' naked." Oso, no.

Self-fulfilling prophecy rap can be quite bittersweet.

"Hoes Is Scared"--Produced by O'Dell from Beats By the Pound. (I knew No Limit had some involvement with this.) Nice up-tempo track for BB to rock that K-Mart pimp hat.

"All Sides"--Viciously rigid.

"Ain't No Love"--No guff taken. Good thing, since the haters are multitudinous. And possibly imaginary.

"No Matter What"--The Big Bear brand could have been a joy to behold. Food Channel show called Cookin' Thangs. Street basketball league named Ballin' Thangs. A gun range named Shootin' Thangs. And of course his own record label, Rappin' Thangs.

Don't forget the self-produced, straight-to-DVD street film: Doin' Thangs: The Movie.

"No Hope"--Ode to "the hurt sisters," and an apology for the foul ways of man. Don't sweat it, Big Bear.

"Chop It Up"--Smooth as buttercream posse cut teeming with gangsta lean.

"Be Real"--Lawn chair pimping. How ya gonna yell at a bitch to have your money lest hell rain down when you're holding a Dixie cup?

"Outro"--Big Bear and some cubs talkin' thangs.

Doin' Thangs is the best of the ten albums I reviewed for this series. And it's not actually that good. Just kinda average. Still, I was surprised that it even reached that  height.

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 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.