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Archive for the ‘L.L. Cool J’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: ALYSON GREENFIELD-“Mama Said Knock You Out” (2011).

I found this song about 4 years ago and meant to post about it but never did.  I just saw it in my notes and decided to check it out again.

Alyson Greenfield is a pianist.  She sings (and plays) a bit like earlier Tori Amos.  And, like Tori, she takes an unlikley song to make an interesting cover.

The basis of this song is a wonderfully busy and complicated piano.  She doesn’t rap the verses exactly, but she does recite them quite quickly.

She is verbally dexterous, all while she’s playing a complex and beautiful arrangement on the piano.

The second chorus quiets down completely with a gentle piano melody and her singing softly but not un-menacingly.

It’s a fairly radical reinterpretation of the song.  There is no music in the original–just a sample of a simple musical motif), so everything that she plays is rather interesting and inspired.

I honestly don’t remember how I found this song.  But I have just looked her up and I see that it comes from an EP of covers of this ilk. The other songs include “Bad Boys” (a song I never had to hear again, even in her version).  “All That She Wants” which aside from being on piano instead of dance doesn’t sound all that different.  “Milkshake,” which I ‘d never heard of and “Gangsta’s Paradise” played on glockenspiel.

None of these covers is especially interesting because they lack the awesome musicality of “Mama.”

Since putting out that EP she released a one-off goof song called ‘Michael Cera C​*​ckblocked Me at SXSW,” and a song called “Uncharted Places,” which is kind of interesting–dancey but with toy instruments.  Her voice certainly sounds good in a poppy way.

But that was four years ago.  I’ve no idea what she’s up to.

[READ: January 5, 2018] “Blueprint for St. Louis”

I printed out this story from the web.  But apparently I missed the first page.  I was delighted that the story started with no introduction. I thought it was really cool that the first line was just:

What consumed them both right now was the situation in St. Louis.

What a wild opening.

It was said that in St. Louis there were thirty dead souls, but everyone knew that that number was low.  By a couple of decimal points. There had been a bombing and it was big.  It emerged that the explosives had been buried in the foundation of the building when it was being built two years earlier.

Terrorism wasn’t really the term anymore.  “Tax” seemed more like it.  This time it was levied on St Louis.  It was New Orleans the previous year.  Tuscon three years ago.  A tax on comfort and safety.  You learned not to be surprised.

It was Roy and Ida’s job to honor the site, honor the dead.  They designed large public graves where people could gather and maybe cool food trucks would park. (more…)

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hiro1SOUNDTRACK: ASAF AVIDAN-Tiny Desk Concert #340 (March 2, 2014).

asafAsaf Avidan is a 33-year-old, Israeli singer, formerly with a folkish rock band called Asaf Avidan & The Mojos.  He has since gone solo and is touring the States.   His voice is the most notable thing about this performance—it’s feminine, but not in a conventionally feminine way.  It’s got a husky Janis Joplin vibe or maybe that weird Billie Holiday thing that she does.  And yet Asaf Avida is (clearly) a man and when he belts out songs, his voice is incredibly powerful.

And yes indeed, he knows how to use his voice very well.  His voice would be unconventional even if he was a woman—it’s creaky and crackly, it warbles and rises and swoops and yet it is very powerful nonetheless.  And I can see it being very polarizing.  I didn’t like it at first but it really won me over.

“My Latest Sin” is a slow finger plucked song (the guitar is beautiful) and most of the song is pretty quiet, but man can Asaf belt out the lines when he wants to. “Different Pulses” is a more robust song musically (even though it is just him on guitar). When he sing the “oh ho” part, he hits some real falsettos, but is still very powerful.

The way he mixes up his incredibly high pitched voice with the gravelly and growly makes this an incredibly engaging performance.

As he introduces the third song, “Reckoning Song,” he explains that it was remixed as an ambient song–which he hates.  He had asked the remixer to take it down, but the guy refused.  And it has since hit 150 million hits.  He’s grateful for the attention, although he still hates the remix. His version is quiet and powerful with some beautiful catchiness.

I’m very intrigued by this fellow and want to hear more.

[READ: June 20, 2014]  Johnny Hiro Book 1

This book collects the first three Johnny Hiro stories (from 2007-2008).  It was originally published by AdHouse books with the cover that you’ll see below.  This Tor reprint is identical (as far as I was willing to investigate).

I was immediately intrigued by the cover and the title.  I loved the play on Hero and Hiro and when I saw that a Godzilla type monster attacks them on the first page, I was sold.

So Johnny Hiro is an average Japanese American kid living in New York.  He has a bad job as a sushi chef, but he has a beautiful Japanese girlfriend who loves him very much.  Of course, when the first story opens and Mayumi is pulled away by “Gozadilla,” things aren’t looking that good for him.

But here’s some wonderful things that do happen in the story: Johnny rescues her while wearing her Hello Bunny slippers (she’s concerned that he will stretch them out); we learn that Gozadilla is mad at her because her mother stopped him in 1978 from trying to rampage Tokyo (so this is a revenge mission) and, best of all, they are saved because Mayumi calls Mayor Bloomberg for help (she got his number from the phone book because of an article in the New York Times).  Oh and the monster attack has left a huge hole in their exterior wall. (more…)

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rapperSOUNDTRACK: SCHOOLLY D-Smoke Some Kill (1988).

schoolySince this disc is featured so prominently in Signifying Rappers (and the book is named after the best track on this disc) I thought I’d dust it off and listen to it again.  I got this disc probably in 1989 at the suggestion of my friend Al.  He recommended “No More Rock N’ Roll,” I think.

I haven’t listened to the disc in years, probably a decade.  The last time I listened, I think I wasn’t all that impressed by it, which is why it’s funny to me how much significance the book gives this disc/track.  In listening again, I felt more or less the way I did last time, although interestingly, after reading the book, I agreed that some of the tracks are pretty good.

“Signifying Rapper” in particular, seemed better after DFW’s analysis of it (he discusses it in the tradition of the trickster narrator, and I agree it’s a good one).  Although, at one point in the book DFW decries the misogyny in a lot of rap, but he doesn’t mention the homophobia.  And, despite the trickster style in this song, the homophobia is pretty outrageous (even if, in a surprising twist, the “faggot” kicks the “pimp’s” ass).  But really, the thing that upsets the pimp so much, that he went off to fight the faggot about is this rather absurdly childish set of insults:  your dad’s a faggot, your mom’s a whore, your granny’s a dyke and your brother’s a faggot too.  Now, homophobia aside, would these insults really get anyone so angry?   Hard to say.   But regardless of the whole thing, the song is set to the riff from Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” so, that’s pretty fun.

The rest of the disc is a mix of kind of lame tracks and a few good ones.  “Here We Go Again” has some great scratching on it (in fact the scratching throughout the disc is quite good), and there’s some really good background samples on “Gangster Boogie II.”  Although I think the best tracks come near the end: “Treacherous” (which samples or reinterprets Gil Scot-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Televised”) and “Black Man” which features the cool shout-out “What’s the Word?  Johannesburg!).

A few tracks are kind of flat.  “Mr Big Dick,” is, at best, silly and even the title track “Smoke Some Kill” is sort of uninspired.  What’s interesting about somewhat flat style is that this disc has come out after Public Enemy’s wall of sound changed the face of rap.  But Schoolly is sticking with the very sparse Run D.M.C. style.  The difference is that with Run, you had two vocalists, but Schoolly is by himself.  It’s just not quite as exciting.

And, then there’s the aforementioned “No More Rock N’ Roll” which is a companion to “We Don’t Rock, We Rap”.  The whole anti-rock trope rings hollow especially since he samples from it so freely.

It was still early days, but rap has progressed pretty far from this CD.  It also turns out that this disc is really hard to find.  It’s discontinued and lists on Amazon for $50.  How lucky for me!

[READ: October 2, 2009] Signifying Rappers

I wasn’t planning on reading this book this soon.  (I’m  not turning into a DFW addict, I swear).  But this showed up all because of the whims of the interlibrary loan system.  I put holds on books for people all the time, and usually it’s for new, popular books, so it’s often several weeks, sometimes months before the books come in.  I tend to forget that a 19 year old book that nobody is clamoring to read will show up in about 3 days.

So, those of you thinking about reading this book because you want to complete the DFW ouvre were probably wondering if this co-authored book should really count.  And, like, how would you know what he wrote?  Well, I didn’t immediately figure out the patently obvious system that they used in the book: When Mark Costello writes a section it is introduced with a large M.  When DFW gets a section it starts with a large D (see, obvious).   You can also tell because DFW’s section are laden with footnotes and very large words (no, really?)

I think for all readers, the main question is what are these two white, educated, twentysomethings doing writing about rap.  And, they both answer in their own way that, well, they like rap.  A lot.  In fact, DFW goes on to say that rap circa 1989 is the only musical genre that is interesting after some five years of commercial pap (and he’s pretty accurate with that, actually).  He also notes that as of their writing of the book there had been no real in-depth treatises written on rap.  Oh, and lastly, in the spirit of rap itself, they did it because they wanted to do it. (more…)

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