My 2014 Oscar Predictions

Before I begin today’s write-up, I have some great news to share: My Facebook group page finally passed 100 LIKES! WOOOOOOO-HOO! Believe me, it was a long, uphill struggle to get the number of “likes” to even reach 100, but thanks to a particular movie/soca-themed meme that I created and put up on my group page, and which shockingly made it to the Twitter page of a particular soca artiste (Check it out on my page. It’s there!), my little dream finally came true. So to those who stuck with my rantings from Day 1, those who commented and shared my posts, and to those who acknowledged my blog long enough to hit “like” (and no, I’m not being sarcastic here), I say THANK YOU! Right now, I feel like the happiest blogger in the world. Well, actually, the happiest in Trinidad and Tobago. At least for now.

 

Anyhoo, speaking about movies and soca, the countdown to the 2014 Academy Awards is winding down, and so’s the 2014 Carnival celebrations. And interestingly enough, the 86th Academy Awards ceremony will be held on the night of Carnival Sunday (March 2nd). So while some of you will be watching (or attending) the Dimanche Gras competition, or preparing themselves for the J’ouvert celebrations on Monday morning, a certain few will be at home watching the Oscars – and texting/tweeting/BBM-ing/Whatsapp-ing/Facebook status update-tagging their friends the results. For today’s post, instead of my traditional Best Picture Nominee reviews, I’ll be sharing my  predictions (not PREFERENCES, mind you) for this year. As an added bonus, I’ll also include the runner-ups, or nominees that have a huge chance of winning over my “predictions”, for each of the categories mentioned here. Fortunately for you, my dear reader, I won’t be counting down ALL the categories – just the ones that really matter! Now let’s begin.

 

Best Director: Alfonso Cuarón (Gravity).

 

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My pick for Best Film of 2013 is also my pick in the Best Director category. “Gravity” is a groundbreaking film achievement and it needed the sturdiest of hands to keep this (space)ship afloat. And Alfonso succeeded on all levels. He DESERVES the Best Director Oscar on Sunday!

 

Runner-ups: David O. Russell (American Hustle), Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street)

 

Best Supporting ActressLupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave)

 

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In her film debut, the Kenyan-Mexican (yep, that’s right) Lupita Nyong’o delivered an unforgettable performance as Patsey in the equally unforgettable “12 Years A Slave”.  She even appears in the film’s most cringe-worthy scene along with an actor who (spoiler alert) I think will win the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. She already won a ton of awards for her courageous performance. The least she can do is claim an Oscar.

 

Runner-ups: Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle), June Squibb (Nebraska)

 

Best Supporting Actor: Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)

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Michael Fassbender’s performance as the cold-hearted….fuck am I saying…..HEARTLESS Edwin Epps is enough to put anyone watching this film on edge! I’m hoping that he wins the Best Supporting Award, but I won’t be surprised if the Academy will pick one of the two less-terrifying runner-ups shown below.

 

Runner-ups: Bradley Cooper (American Hustle), Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

 

Best Actress: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)

 

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Even if “Blue Jasmine” was a bit of a let-down for a Woody Allen film, Cate Blanchett got the opportunity to show us once again why she’s the best actress of our generation. She will win the Best Actress Award. Let me repeat that, in bold, capital letters…and with three exclamation points. SHE WILL WIN THE BEST ACTRESS AWARD!!!

 

Runner-ups: Amy Adams (American Hustle), Judi Dench (Philomena)

 

Best Actor: Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

 

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Matthew McCoanughey has stepped his fucking acting game up for the past few years, and “Dallas Buyers Club” is his most career-defining work yet. I’ll be SO HAPPY for that guy if he wins. But if he doesn’t, then I’m guessing one of these two nominees will.
Runner-ups: Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)

Best Animated Feature & Best Song: Frozen / “Let it Go”

 

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Let it go, man! LET IT GO! No runner-ups, man. It’s not even worth it, dawg! Just let it go! Let it go.

 

Best Visual Effects: Gravity

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DURRRRRRRHHHH!!!

 

Runner-up: (yep, only one deserves to be runner-up in this category): The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug 

 

Best Foreign Film: The Great Beauty (Italy)

 

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Despite its ridiculously non-linear narrative, Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Grand Beauty” is still a visually stimulating, hypnotically dreamlike and fantastically directed film that will appeal to the cinephiliac in all of us. Even you. And you, sitting in the back.

 

Runner-up: The Hunt (Denmark)

 

Best Documentary Feature The Act of Killing

 

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Certainly not for the faint-hearted, “The Act of Killing” is a powerful, provocative and unnerving documentary (and one of the toughest I’ve ever had the experience of sitting through) that proves, more than anything, that the things implied off-screen are more disturbing than the things being shown on it.

 

Runner-ups: 2o Feet from Stardom, Cutie and the Boxer
 

Best Picture: At the moment, the top 3 picks for the Best Picture Oscar are “American Hustle”,”Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave”. While I will feel nothing but elation…and a bit of shock…if “Gravity” wins, and I do have a feeling that the Academy will get cold feet – probably at the last minute – and allow “American Hustle” (a.k.a. the shoe-in) to win the Best Picture Oscar, I honestly think that “12 Years a Slave” has the biggest chance of taking the top prize. It’s bold, ambitious, unflinching, emotional, indelible and an important piece of cinema, and well deserving of the Academy Award for Best Picture.

 

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So what did you think of my Oscar predictions? What were your favourite and least favourite films out of the Academy Award categories this year? And what are your predictions for the big night on Sunday? Whatever they are, leave your thoughts in the comment section below. Until next time, folks!

 

– Matthew

Hey look! A music review – Eminem – The Slim Shady LP (1999) / The Roots – Things Fall Apart (1999)

To celebrate the release of Eminem’s second studio album “The Slim Shady LP” and The Roots’ fourth studio album “Things Fall Apart” – both of which came out on February 23rd 1999 (HEY, that’s FIFTEEN years ago! Damn, I’m old), I’ve decided to give you – for the first time in this blog’s history – a double album review. So you know what that means? Yep. Get that coffee out (or whatever beverage keeps you stimulated. Alcohol’s always a good option) ’cause this is going to be a pretty LENGTHY write-up. You’ve been warned!

 

But first, a bit of history. Eminem, born Marshall Bruce Mathers III, is a Detroit-based rapper/producer/songwriter and once-in-a-blue-moon actor. In August 1996, he released his debut album “Infinite” (a MUST-HAVE for die-hard Eminem fans) which received mixed reviews for its production and praise for Marshall’s rhyming skills, though he was criticized for his lyrical flow sounding similar to that of Queensbridge legend Nasir “Nas” Jones and his collaborator Anthony “AZ” Cruz. Following the release of “Infinite”, Marshall’s personal struggles of alcohol and drug addiction caught up with him. After an unsuccessful suicide attempt, he returned to the rap game with “The Slim Shady EP” (another MUST-HAVE for die-hard Eminem fans), a darker, more violently over-the-top recording which introduced a manic, high-pitched-voiced persona of his: Slim Shady. On the EP, he explored newer topics like his marital problems with his wife Kim (who had given birth to their daughter Hailie prior to the release of “Infinite”), difficulties with his family (i.e. his absentee father Bruce and his mother Debbie whom, at that time, he accused of neglecting him during his childhood), depression and everyday struggles in making money. After the EP’s release, he did a number of shows with his rap buddies D-12 (which included the late DeShaun “Proof” Holton) and also brought out two non-album singles with Ryan “Royce da 5″9” Montgomery (who would become one half of the duo Bad Meets Evil), one of which was the fucking EXCELLENT “Scary Movies” which made it to….you guessed it….the “Scary Movie” soundtrack. “The Slim Shady EP”  caught the ears of a particular hip hop producer/rapper named Andre “Dr. Dre” Young (once the leader of the infamous and influential West Coast rap group N.W.A. or N****s Wit Attitudes), who eventually signed him to his Aftermath Records label. The result was “The Slim Shady LP”, an album which became one of the most popular, and talked-about, albums of 1999, thanks to its shock-value lyrics and controversial subject matter. Six albums, one Academy Award for the ultimate underdog hip hop song “Lose Yourself”, a starring role in the semi-autobiographical drama “8 Mile” (one of my all-time favourite movies), a shitload of controversy and years of soul-searching later, Marshall Mathers is now regarded as one of modern music’s greatest figures and one of the greatest MCs to hold the mic.

 

The Roots are a Philadelphia hip hop/neo-soul band – and the first of its kind – formed by rapper Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (who has the most AWESOMEST Afro EVER!) back in 1987. Rapper Malik Abdul Basit, or “Malik B.” for short, was added to the band, along with Leonard “Hub” and Josh Abrams. They independently released their first album “Organix” in 1993, which exhibited the band’s jazzy approach to hip hop, with their live instrumentation and free-form lyrics. That album caught the ear of DGC/Geffen Records, and helped secure The Roots’ first record deal. In 1995, they released their debut studio album “Do You Want More ?!!!??!” which saw the inclusion of producer Scott Storch and beatboxer Rahzel into the band’s line-up. A moderate hit upon its release, their first album has grown to be appreciated over the years thanks to its smooth, relaxed, jazzy atmosphere. Their second album “Illadelph Halflife”, released in 1996, was more successful, thanks to its hit single (and accompanying music video) “What They Do”. Ironically, this was the first Roots album I ever listened to and funny enough, it’s my absolute FAVOURITE of all their albums thus far. I loved the live instrumentation, the dark, moody tone and the intelligent, brash lyrical styles of Black Thought, Malik B. and the other MCs who appeared on the album. To me, it perfectly reflected the era of the East Coast-West Coast feud (i.e. 2Pac, Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg vs. Mobb Deep, Nas and The Notorious B.I.G.), where rappers who were perceived as “soft” and “weak” approached the mic with fire and hunger and reminded themselves and others why they were still relevant in the hip hop world (SIDE NOTE: One major example was the equally-dark third album from A Tribe Called Quest: “Beats, Rhymes and Life”).  The Roots’  third album “Things Fall Apart”, whose title was lifted from the Chinua Achebe novel of the same name, had the band finding their place in a new era of hip-hop. 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. were wrongfully murdered, hip hop became synonymous with the materialistic, “bling bling” culture, and after A Tribe Called Quest split up in 1998, the future of alternative rap was uncertain. Fortunately for The Roots, “Things Fall Apart” was a critical and commercial success, earning the band their first Grammy for the single “You Got Me”. Unfortunately for them, they lost the Best Rap Album Grammy Award to…..you guessed it….”The Slim Shady LP”. Six albums, two Grammy wins later, and a recent gig on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” which turned into (about a week ago) a current gig on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon” later, The Roots remain one of the most celebrated rap groups in hip-hop history.

 

But how do these albums hold up, after fifteen long, arduous ? Let’s find out, shall we?

 

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1. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT – Exactly what the title says it is

 

2. MY NAME IS – Also known as the song that skyrocketed Eminem into stardom. On his signature track, Em paints a portrait of himself as a fucked-up loser with a crazy, yet vivid imagination. Sarcasm and self-deprecation are prevalent on this track, with a slew of lyrics that poke fun of the media (“Hi kids, do you like violence?”), sex symbols (“Got pissed off and ripped Pamela Lee’s tits off / And smacked her so hard I knocked her clothes backwards like Kris Kross”), his mother (“99 percent of my life, I was lied to / I just found out my mom does more dope than I do”) and even himself  (“All my life, I was very deprived / I ain’t had a woman in years, my palms too hairy to hide”). Em’s high-pitched voice sounds HILARIOUS on this track, even when he’s rapping about twisted, over-the-top shit like stapling his teacher’s “nuts to a stack of paper”! OUCH!! The chorus is catchy as hell, Dr. Dre’s instrumental KNOCKS (especially its funky guitar loops) and the lyricism by Em is captivating (and I mean that as a compliment) from start to finish. “My Name Is” serves as an intriguing look into the warped mind of “Slim Shady”. It really makes you wonder how Em got away with releasing this song on the radio (albeit in a radio-“friendly” format) back in 1999 (*COUGH* ’cause he’s white*COUGH!)

 

3. GUILTY CONSCIENCE (feat. Dr. Dre) – Three scenarios, each with a different protagonist about to commit a violent or sexual crime, are introduced in a Twilight Zone / Unsolved Mysteries-like voice-over narrative style by Mark Avery. After each introduction, Em and Dr. Dre trade words with each other in what would become one of their finest collaborations. Playing the “bad side” and “good side” respectively, Em and Dre are the voices in each of the protagonists’ heads, telling him the “right” course of action to take in their current situation. While Dre’s advice is fairly rational, Em’s advice is….well…. deviant! The back-and-forth wordplay is entertaining as fuck, especially in the third verse where Dre takes his anger out on Eminem. I especially liked the subtle, “blink and you missed it” jabs between the two, like the lines (“Don’t even listen to Slim yo, he’s BAD for you” – which is a reference to Bad Meets Evil, followed by “You know what, Dre? I don’t like yo ATTITUDE” – which is a reference to….you guessed it….N.W.A.). With a brilliant concept, a mischievous piano-driven beat and wickedly clever lyrics, “Guilty Conscience” is yet another questionable but fantastic hit single from this album.

 

4. BRAIN DAMAGE – Eminem uses comedy, satire and fantasy to tell a deeply personal and very distressing childhood story about his victimization at the hands of a school bully (D’Angelo Bailey – who actually tried to sue Em for defamation after the album was released) and the neglect he received from his mother and other adults to his plight. This is the first track on the album where Em does the voices of all the other characters in the story – even an exaggerated one of his mother, for example, in a line that always cracks me up (“My mother started screaming, ‘WHAT ARE YOU ON, DRUGS?! / LOOK AT YOU, YOU’RE GETTING BLOOD ALL OVER MY RUG!!”). The downbeat piano-assisted instrumental provided by longtime Eminem collaborators Bass Brothers works well with the song’s underlying sadness. A darkly funny and deeply poignant track.

 

5. PAUL (skit) – Three songs in and Em’s manager Paul Rosenberg is already displeased at the album’s vile content. I’d stay clear of Paul’s wrong side if I were you, Marshall.

 

6. IF I HAD – Marshall puts Paul’s advice to good use with a remastered track from “The Slim Shady EP”, On “If I Had”, he sounds tired, frustrated, pissed off and fed up of everything and everyone who’ve gotten in the way of accomplishing his goals.  Even when he wishes for a “big-enough ass for the whole world to kiss” in the chorus, there’s no denying the raw honesty and sincerity in his lyrics. Decent track, although in retrospect, the female vocals were unnecessary. I get the use of a female back-up singer in the chorus and outro, but every time I hear her voice, I can’t help but be reminded of mid-1990s rap music where a LOT of songs relied on R&B-like choruses to give them a mainstream appeal (“I represent the streeeeeeeeeet life…..even though I live in the subuuuuuuurbs. I pour a lil’ liquor for my dead goooooooldfish. I just flushed him down the toilet this morniiiiiiiing”). LOLZ.

 

7. ’97 BONNIE & CLYDE – Another remastered track from “The Slim Shady EP” and the subject of “The Slim Shady LP’s” album cover. “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” (titled “Just the Two of Us” on the EP) is the first song to bring Em’s homicidal, baby momma-murdering urges to life. An official sequel to the highly controversial song “Kim” from “The Marshall Mathers LP” (even though it came out one year after), Em spends the entire duration of the song conversing with his baby daughter Hailie during a nighttime trip to the beach where he disposes of his ex-wife Kim’s body. While the lyrics and sound effects (like the constant chirping of crickets throughout the song) from “Just the Two of Us” remain unchanged, the murky instrumental is replaced with a haunting, cloudy and pleasantly dreamlike beat in this version. Upon first listen, “’97 Bonnie and Clyde” sounds like a sick, demented fantasy placed in a colourfully-wrapped gift box with a big red bow on top of it. But if you look past the extremely dark subtext, the song (at least in my opinion) smartly addresses how parents – and adults in general – fall prey to telling children LIES. Whether it’s the existence of Santa Claus, or the real reason why Dad was kicked out the house, parents love to sugar-coat the harsh reality surrounding their kids’ environment. And who can blame them? But the song’s prominent theme – that unfortunately goes unnoticed – is Eminem’s role as a father. The title “’97 Bonnie & Clyde” refers to the relationship between a father and daughter, and not a boyfriend and girlfriend like Jay-Z and Beyonce’s “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” did. Eminem has chosen to stay with Hailie through thick and thin – even when he throws her mother’s body into a lake during the song’s climax. Yes, it doesn’t change the intentionally creepy nature of the song, but when you read between the lines (which are REALLY funny – in a twisted kind of way), the song is really about the bonding between a father and his child.  Both themes merge together in the intro and outro of the song, where Em re-assures Hailie that he loves her, will always love her, and will always be there for her. While it sounds like the typical things one would expect Marshall to tell Hailie when she was a baby, you can’t help but shake the fact that deep down, he wishes that his father told him the same things, hadn’t left him at such a young age, and most importantly, LOVED him. Think about it. Long-ass analysis aside, this is a FANTASTIC track! Two car trunks up!

 

8. BITCH (skit) – Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey! Just because she’s disgusted by the lyrics on the album so far does NOT make her a bitch! She’s entitled to her own point-of-view. I’m just saying.

 

9. ROLE MODEL – One of the best Eminem songs EVER conceived! Em goes into competitive mode on this track, as he spits some of the sharpest and wittiest bars I’ve ever heard in a rap song (“You beef with me, I’mma even the score equally / Take you on Jerry Springer and beat your ass LEGALLY!”). With hard drums, vicious punchlines and a KICK-ASS chorus (“Now don’t you want to grow up to be JUST LIKE ME?!”), “Role Model” is loud, ballsy, crazy and freaking AWESOME!

 

10. LOUNGE (skit) – I can picture myself singing this lounge song at the top of my voice….at a bar…..drunk as hell……and with the extraordinary ability to play an acoustic guitar.

 

11. MY FAULT – A perfect example of Eminem’s dark, zany humour. On “My Fault”, he recalls an incident (which MAY or MAY NOT be true) where a girl named Susan OD’s on a bag of mushrooms that was shared by Em during a pre-Spring Break rave. This is the one song on the album that is guaranteed to have you ROFLMFAO’ing from start to finish. Seriously! This song is hilarious as fuck! If this song doesn’t teach you about the dangers of ingesting too much ‘shrooms, I don’t know what will. SIDE NOTE: There’s actually a radio edit of this song, ridiculously titled “My Fault (Pizza Mix)”. Do a YouTube search and you’ll find it! Let’s just say instead of a bag of mushrooms, there’s a large pizza with mushrooms on top! GENIUS!!

 

12. KEN KANIFF (skit) – Yes, most of us have matured from the homophobic vibe of this track, but it is still quite funny. You can skip this track though, if you know you’ll be annoyed by it.

 

13. CUM ON EVERYBODY – Em’s parody party/club track. He talks a LOT of self-deprecating shit on this track, which works well with the underlying spoofing of the popular party rap and pop songs of the 1990s (Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy with It” anyone?)  The title of the track (I mean, “Cum on Everybody”? Seriously?!) and its chorus in particular (with its sensual female vocals) poke fun at those songs. Funny thing is, he doesn’t even talk about partying on this song. Honestly, “Cum on Everybody” is the weakest track on the album from a lyrical perspective, but the fun, groovy instrumental makes the song way more bearable than it actually is.

 

14. ROCK BOTTOM – From a party song to this……that was odd.”Rock Bottom” was actually recorded two years prior to this album’s release, after Marshall suffered defeat in a major freestyle rap battle in Ohio due to his ‘choking’ on stage. That incident would serve as inspiration for both the opening rap battle scene in “8 Mile” and this song.  Em sounds stressed and worn-out on this track, and the instrumental itself, with its disenchanted guitars and mournful ‘angelic’ harmonizing, brilliantly captures his emotions at that moment. You can’t help but feel sorry for B. Rabbit….oops, I mean, the poor guy. Depressing but relatable,  “Rock Bottom” proves that there’s more to Eminem than shock value.

 

15. JUST DON’T GIVE A FUCK – A remastered and remixed track from “The Slim Shady EP”, “Just Don’t Give A Fuck” shows Em unleashing his “new” persona to the world: Slim Shady. In retrospect, it made perfect sense to place this song immediately after “Rock Bottom”, as it shows the “rebirth” of Eminem into his Slim Shady persona. And the title of the track best expresses his mindset at the time as a rapper. He didn’t care and he didn’t give a fuck! He says some hilariously crazy shit on this track, but with a keen sense of lyrical dexterity (“You wacker than the motherfucker you bit your style from / You ain’t gonna sell two copies if you press a double album”). And he sounds FIERY on the Bass Brothers’ harsh, mechanical instrumental. Definitely one of Em’s classic joints.

 

16. SOAP (skit) – To be perfectly honest, I never got into the soap opera “As the World Turns”, but I was a huge “Young and Restless” fan growing up though.

 

17. AS THE WORLD TURNS – Heavy bassline, check.  Periodic DJ scratches, check. OVER-THE-TOP storytelling by Marshall, CHECK ONE TWO!! Em’s storytelling abilities, which are the main focus on “As the World Turns”, are stretched to the limit on this track. He tells two stories, each moving at BREAKNECK SPEED, about……well……getting back at women he clearly has no respect for. Sure, it’s misogynistic and offensive, but it’s also insanely funny thanks to bar after bar after bar of hysterics. I’m not gonna lie. This is one of my personal favourite Em songs, and it’s probably one of yours too. Admit it! You like that shit, don’t you?!

 

18. I’M SHADY -With a chorus inspired by the classic Curtis Mayfield song “Pusherman” off the “Super Fly” movie soundtrack, and a surprisingly upbeat instrumental, “I’m Shady” has Marshall differentiating between the persona of Slim Shady and his real self. He intentionally blurs the line between both selves with lines that’ll have you questioning their “credibility”. My absolute favourite of these lines has got to be: “Well, I do take pills, don’t do speed / Don’t do crack, don’t do coke, I do smoke weed / Don’t do smack, I do do shrooms, do drink beer / I just wanna make a few things clear”. Trust me. You don’t get any realer than that!

 

19. BAD MEETS EVIL (feat. Royce da 5″9) -Marshall joins forces once again with his partner-in-crime Royce da 5″9 in this Western-influenced track.  They play the roles of the meanest, baddest lyrical outlaws this side of the Pecos, each with a non-stop delivery of demented, twisted and QUOTABLE lyrics (“I used to be a loudmouth, remember me/ I’m the one who burned your house down, well I’m out now / And this time, I’m coming back to blow your house up / And I ain’t gon’ leave you a window to jump out of”) that sound FANTASTIC over the Mariachi-guitar-assisted instrumental. Speaking of which, the guitars on this track sound vaguely familiar to the ones on the Big Tymers’ (remember them?) 2000 smash single “#1 Stunna”. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. SIDE NOTE: At the near-end of the track, Royce says “See you in hell for the sequel”.  That sequel would be the very decent 2011 EP “Hell: The Sequel” by Bad Meets Evil. See?! They told you! They fucking told you!!!

 

20. STILL DON’T GIVE A FUCK – A grandiose sequel to “Just Don’t Give a Fuck”. Em ends the album with a hard-hitting closer full of angry, unapologetic and defiant lyrics, and little to no concern over who was offended by the album Marshall just doesn’t care, dude! On the third verse, he paints a painfully bitter portrait of himself, with lines that seem to suggest that his birth was a curse (“My worst day on this Earth was my first birthday”, “From the second I was born, my momma lost me” and “I was born during the earthquake”). In this portrait of his, he was put on this Earth to be miserable, and to make others miserable. Even more ironic is that he’s now the child who refuses to grow up, the bully who takes advantages of people in the way he was taken advantage of, and the rap icon he was destined to be. FIN.

 

And now for the exciting conclusion of “Things Fall Apart”

 

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1. ACT ONE (Things Fall Apart) – Consisting of a euphony of snippets from particular tracks on “Do You Want More ?!!!??!” (“Proceed”, “Lazy Afternoon”, “What Goes On Pt. 7”, “Essaywhuman?!!!??!”, “You Ain’t Fly”, “The Lesson Pt. 1”),  and “Illadelph Halflife” (“Clones”), as well as a vocal excerpt from director Spike Lee’s jazz-themed drama (which was one of the few movies to spearhead the jazz rap movement of the early 1990s) “Mo’ Better Blues”, this album intro addresses the relevance of hip hop and jazz in today’s society and the fact that both genres may soon be disregarded and forgotten over time. The gloomy keyboards in the background, along with the disconnection of the sounds on both the left and right channels, give an indication of the moody, experimental vibe of the album. Not a bad way to kick things off.

 

2. TABLE OF CONTENTS (Parts 1 & 2) –  The album/play/novel/whatever begins with a chilly, lo-fi beat (complete with cymbals, hard drums, keyboards and tambourine) for Black Thought to spit fire on. Which he does exceptionally well. The sound disconnection from the intro is applied here, with Tariq’s ad-libs on the left channel and his vocals on the right. In a rather ballsy, man-what-the-fuck move, the track fades out while Tariq is still rapping. “Part 2” begins immediately, with Malik B rapping over a minimalist beat with dusty drums, an underlying popping sound effect and a fucking AWESOME (at least, in my opinion) keyboard chord! Fortunately, Malik’s rhyming doesn’t fade out, but unfortunately his section ends rather quickly – just when I couldn’t get enough of those keyboards. Doo doo doo! Goddamn, I love that sound!

 

3. THE NEXT MOVEMENT (ft. DJ Jazzy Jeff & Jazzyfatnastees) -The second single from the album, “The Next Movement” has a laid-back jazzy beat, decent lyrics from Black Thought, sweet female vocals from the duo  Jazzyfatnastees (who did the chorus on the fantastically haunting “Episodes” off the “Illadelph Halflife” album), and efficient cuts and scratches from DJ Jazzy Jeff (i.e. Will Smith’s partner-in-crime both in their early rap careers and in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, and the guy who got thrown out the house by James “Uncle Phil” Avery—RIP). Fortunately, this song still sounds great, and still holds up to this day, even if its goofy, simplistic music video isn’t as memorable.

 

4. STEP INTO THE REALM – Though the instrumental on this track was okay, with its plodding, suspenseful pianos and murky drumbeat, it’s not quite a good fit for Malik B. He sounds desperate to breathe life into this instrumental, which seems to dip in and out of consciousness by fading out after every fourth line uttered. And after two verses and a hook, the track still feels incomplete. Maybe a third verse from Black Thought would’ve made this track a lot better. Ah well. At least it sounds good.

 

5. THE SPARK –  Now this is more like it! I LOVE this fucking beat! It’s so incredibly mellow and calm. Malik B’s flow matches the vibe of the beat perfectly, with a great chorus and some stand-out lines thrown into the mix (“I used to live life, like there was no manana / Now I’m treating every breath, like it was your honor”). Though I wasn’t particularly fond of the outro, where Malik obnoxiously repeats the retro-as-hell line “This is what it’s all ABOUT!”, I still enjoyed the hell out this song. This is the type of music to chill out to on a Sunday night, with the lights off and the AC on (or fan if you can’t afford AC). Ahhhh yeeeeeh. It’s THAT kinda shit!

 

6. DYNAMITE! – Black Thought and Elo the Cosmic Eye (Nandesuka??) – who last collaborated with The Roots on “What Goes On Pt. 7” – team up on this J-Dilla (RIP) instrumental.From the time the catchy-as-hell chorus opens the song, you can tell that they’re having fun on this track. Their braggadocious rhymes and naturalistic flow move smoothly along the groovy, mid-tempo, jazzy beat. A major highlight on the album, “Dynamite!” is not as explosive as the title implies, but it is guaranteed to get your head nodding and your hips moving, even if you’re sitting down in your office chair in front of a desktop computer or laptop listening to the album when you’re SUPPOSED to be doing your work!

 

7. WITHOUT A DOUBT (ft. Lady B) -From the get-go, this track sets up a sonic canvas for Black Thought and Lady B (one of the earliest female rappers in hip hop history) to pay tribute to old-school hip hop. The highly-popular drumbeat from golden-age rapper Schooly D’s “Saturday Night” (you should definitely check out his 1987 classic “Saturday Night: The Album”, by the way) is used prominently on this track, and Black Thought’s verses are reminiscent of the “I’m better than all you sucker MCs” raps of the 1980s. Even the “Yes, yes, y’all”-inspired chorus by Lady B is a nostalgic, albeit dated, throw-back to that era of rap music. At the final minute of the track, the song shifts into a J-Dilla-ish musical interlude/jam session. It’s nothing spectacular, but it sounds good enough to warrant its placement on the album.

 

8. AIN’T SAYIN’ NOTHIN’ NEW (ft. Dice Raw and Eve of Destruction) – Nope, that’s not a typo. Before Eve starred in “Barbershop”, “Barbershop II” and “Beauty Shop” (REALLY?!) before she won a Grammy for her collabo with Gwen Stefani on “Let Me Blow Your Mind” (remember that shit?!) and before she dominated the airwaves with the BANGER “What Ya Want” back in mid-1999 (Come on! At least, you should remember THAT song), she was known as Eve of Destruction. In-te-res-ting. Well, thank goodness she doesn’t go by that moniker anymore. Anyhoo, on “Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin’ New (BEST TITLE EVER), she provides backup vocals while Black Thought and Roots collaborator Dice Raw rip the absolute SHIT out of this track! I LOVE the slow guitars on this beat, as well as the jazzy vibe of the song itself, which contrast heavily with the boasts and brags being delivered by Black Thought and Dice Raw. Great track overall!

 

9. DOUBLE TROUBLE (ft. Mos Def) – Black Thought joins forces with Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) – who had achieved popularity with his Talib Kweli (who was originally slated to do a third verse on the song) collabo album “Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star” and would achieve hip hop greatness with his debut album “Black on Both Sides” (ALBUM REVIEW COMING SOON 😀 :D) released in October 1999 – on a FANTASTIC tribute to Rodney Cee & KK Rockwell a.k.a. Double Trouble, well-known for their iconic raps on the equally-iconic 1983 hip hop movie “Wild Style”. The 1980s-like drumbeat, the serene keyboards and xylophone (yes, there’s a XYLOPHONE on this instrumental) sounds fucking SOLID!! The back-and-forth between the two rappers are riveting and entertaining from start to finish. Mos Def even finishes the track with a re-working of Double Trouble’s iconic rap from “Wild Style” (“Here’s a little story that must be told / About two young brothers who got so much soul”), and a reference to both Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” and Run DMC’s “King of Rock”. A tribute to b-boying and golden-age hip hop, “Double Trouble” is, by far, one of the best tracks on the entire album, and one of my favourite songs from The Roots.

 

10. ACT TOO (LOVE OF MY LIFE) (ft. Common) –  After some finger snapping, lovely vocalizing and quirky keyboard chords segue into an airy, neo-soul beat, Black Thought begins to express his passion and love for hip hop. When the legendary Chicago MC Common steps to the mic, the song becomes a sequel of sorts to his 1994 masterpiece “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, which, if you’re unaware, vividly describes the relationship between Common and a girl – who just so happens to be a metaphor for (SPOILER ALERT) hip-hop. In his verse, he mentions the ups-and-downs he had in his “relationship” with “H.E.R.”, like the beef between him and Westside Connection (of which Ice Cube was a member) that started off from a misinterpreted line from “I Used To Love H.E.R.”). Yet he still has nothing but love for hip hop music. The musical breakdown following Common’s verse is incredibly moving, especially the lush violins used in this section. Though it’s not my favourite ode to hip-hop by a longshot, it is still an affectionate and heartfelt love letter to my all-time favourite musical genre.

 

11. 100% DUNDEE -Human beatbox Rahzel provides the vocal spine for this instrumental, which kicks fucking ass!! Seriously! Black Thought and Malik B slice, dice and throw the remains of this beat into a frying pan with some of the best lyrical wordplay I’ve ever heard from both MCs. I’m still not sure why the title needed to reference “Crocodile Dundee”, but it sounds really decent when it’s rapped on the chorus. In any case, this song freaking KNOCKS! One of my favourites on the album for sure!

 

12. DIEDRE VS. DICE (ft. Dice Raw) – OK, this is the second time a guy’s rapping is faded out just when it started to get interesting! That’s two strikes, “Things Fall Apart”. THREE strikes and you’re out of this game!

 

13. ADRENALINE! (ft. Dice Raw & Beanie Sigel) – Also known as the first appearance of Philly’s own Beanie Sigel before he got signed to Roc-a-Fella Records. The beat, co-produced by Roots member Scott Storch, has a slight commercial sound to it with its classical-like piano and mid-tempo drumbeat, but it sounds really, really good under Black Thought, Malik B, Dice Raw and Beanie Sigel’s hard, battle raps. As a single, it’s not as popular as, say, “The Next Movement” or “You Got Me” (which is coming right after the following interlude, for you impatient listeners out there), but it still holds up today. Surprisingly!

 

14. 3RD ACTS: ? VS. SCRATCH 2… ELECTRIC BOOGALOO – Rahzel beat-boxes his ass off in this “Paul Revere”-inspired interlude. The short running time on the track prevents him from pushing his luck, which is a good thing.

 

15. YOU GOT ME (ft. Erykah Badu & Eve of Destru….ah hell, let’s just call her Eve) – The perfect marriage of jazz rap and neo-soul. The hook by R&B innovator Erykah Badu (who replaced the original writer of the hook – Philly-born Jill Scott – as she was more well-known at that time) was, to me, unique at the time of the song’s release, with its opening sentence stretched out over three and a half of the hook’s four lines (“If you were worried ’bout where /  I been or who I saw or / What club I went to with my homies,”/ Baby, don’t worry — you know that you got me”). Thanks to Erykah’s inclusion on the track, “You Got Me” was an instant smash, and helped earn The Roots a Grammy win for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group in 2000. The song deals with Black Thought’s doubts whether his girl (played by Eve in the second verse) will stay true to him (even when he’s recording music, doing shows or traveling across the world – believe me, it sounds a lot more poetic than how I just described it) or let go due to their constant physical separation. Though Eve assures him that she’ll always stay true to him, Tariq still remains doubtful and skeptical about the relationship he’s in. Can’t we all relate to this, folks? Anyway, the music sounds great, the lyrics sound great, the drum-and-bass section in the outro is FANTASTIC, and the chorus – ah, the chorus – still resonates with me up to this day. It’s not one of my all-time favourite Roots tracks (I would put it somewhere in my Top 10 list though), but it’s still one that I truly, TRULY appreciate.

 

16. DON’T SEE US (ft. Dice Raw) – Black Thought, Malik B and Dice Raw swim up and down this groovy beat, with its shadowy bassline, neo-soul-esque keyboard and jazzy guitars. This beat, unfortunately, stands out way more than the lyrics, which are more braggadocious shots fired at “fake MCs”. Well, at least the chorus stands out. A sure-fire sign that the album is about to wind down.

 

17. THE RETURN TO INNOCENCE LOST (performed by Ursula Rucker) / ACT FORE (THE END?) (Hidden Track)

 

This track begins with a 5 1/2 minute spoken-word piece by Ursula Rucker, whose gritty, brutally realistic and thoughtful pieces concluded the tracklists of both “Do You Want More ?!!!??!” and “Illadelph Halflife”. After a haunting jack-in-the-box handle sound effect (slowed down and distorted to give it a “broken” sound to it), Ursula delivers a grim tale of the cycle of violence that begins at the home of a woman physically abused by her baby father, and ends on the street where her son (already caught up in the temptation of crime and easy money) dies violently. A tough listen, “The Return to Innocence Lost” is Ursula’s most impactful, most heartbreaking and most unforgettable contribution to The Roots’ musical library to date. And I guarantee that when the emotionally payoff is revealed, and the jack-in-the-box sound effect comes back on, you’ll be left speechless – or in tears, if you’re the type who cries easily.
And speaking of silence, you’re given about a minute and a half of silence before an unlisted bonus track (entitled “Out There”) – begins. This is a first in the Roots discography thus far, where their last two albums ended with a vocal outro. The beat isn’t the greatest in the world (I did like the three-key cell-phone sound effect that permeates on the instrumental) but Black Thought does a great job of lightening the mood from Ursula’s depressing spoken-work piece and giving the album the proper sendoff it deserves.

 

And then we get five seconds of dead space (which makes up “Act Fore (The End?)”) before the album ends.

 

 

MY THOUGHTS: I’ll make it short and sweet. “The Slim Shady LP” and “Things Fall Apart”, different as they are in terms of style, sound and lyrical content, are great albums in their own right. Each album comes with its fair share of flaws, which become more and more apparent with each listen, but fortunately, these flaws don’t affect the album’s overall quality. If you’re an Eminem fan, you NEED to have “The Slim Shady LP” in your collection. If you’re a Roots fan, you NEED to have “Things Fall Apart” and “Illadelph Halflife” (which is still the BEST Roots album, in my honest opinion) and “Do You Want More ?!!!??!” in your collection. If you’re a fan of one of these albums, and you never bothered to listen to the other, I definitely recommend you check the other one out. If you never listened to any of these albums,  check them out! And listen to them all the way. You won’t regret it. Trust me on this!

 

And now, as a token of my appreciation for reading through this post in its entirety, I present to you Eminem’s 2003 Grammy Award performance of “Lose Yourself”, backed by The Roots. Enjoy!

 

 

 

MY RATING:

“The Slim Shady LP” – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely listen to this album”)

“Things Fall Apart” – 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely listen to this album”)

 

– Matthew

Hey look! A music review – Kanye West – The College Dropout (2004)

January is already over, and I’ve finally posted my first official review for the year. Hey, what can I say? There’s money to earn, bills to pay, kids to feed and Amazon pre-orders to make since I don’t have kids to feed. But apart from that, I’ve been busy planning and scheming ways to add some flavour to this blog of mine. So what I intend to do this year (I say intend because the future isn’t set. Forgive me for the”Terminator 2″ reference but it is true) is write some anniversary-themed music and movie reviews, along my usual reviews of stuff I’ve seen or listened to recently. Why, you ask? Because as much as I enjoy current movies and music, I find myself continually drawn to and inspired by the movies and music of the past. Why anniversaries, you ask? Because, believe it or not, a number of great films and albums will be celebrating their anniversaries in 2014. Now I don’t intend to review EVERY single one of them, so please don’t Google search “2009, 2004, 1999, 1994, 1989, 1984, 1979, 1974, 1969, 1964, 1959 and 1954 in film and music” (since I already did that) and request that I review “Mary Poppins” (1964) or some shit like that. I’ll simply be offering a selection of movies and albums to watch/listen to/revisit – recommended by yours truly.

 

I’d like to start today’s proceedings with a review of the hip hop debut album “The College Dropout”, released a mere 10 years ago (February 10th 2004 to be exact) by Kanye West. Now, Kanye is an Atlanta-born, Chicago-raised rapper/music producer/singer-songwriter/film director (Yep, he directed the music video/short film for his 2010 smash hit “Runaway” and the 2012 short film “Cruel Summer” based on the *COUGH*disappointing*COUGH album of the same name from his record label GOOD Music)/ fashion designer/entrepreneur/husband to television personality (THAT’S the profession she’s listed under on Wikipedia, folks) Kim Kardashian and father to their baby girl North West. Prior to “The College Dropout”, Kanye had gained widespread acclaim in the music industry for his melodic, soulful hip hop production on Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter’s CLASSIC 2001 album “The Blueprint” (my second favourite Jay-Z album, by the way). Apart from being an established producer, Kanye had dreams of becoming a famous rapper. However, record labels doubted his existing rapping skills, and denied him a record deal since he didn’t embody the “gangsta” image that was prominent in the hip hop culture at that time. Everything changed on the night of October 23rd 2002 when, while driving home from a California recording studio, he fell asleep at the wheel and nearly lost his life in a car crash. His jaw was shattered in the crash, and had to be wired shut in reconstructive surgery. Two weeks after being admitted to hospital, Kanye composed and recorded the song “Through the Wire”( in a California recording studio and with his jaw still wired shut) where he recalled the events leading up to, and after, that near-fatal night. With a new lease on life, he began work on a full-length album that both distracted him from the pain of surgery and provided him with another shot at his rap dreams.

 

“The College Dropout” was a critical and commercial success, with magazines such as Time and Rolling Stone hailing it as one of the greatest albums of all time. And Kanye became a major figure in Roc-A-Fella Records as a rapper/producer powerhouse. Singles such as “Slow Jamz”, “All Falls Down”, the Grammy-winning “Jesus Walks” and….of course….”Through the Wire” made Kanye a SUPERSTAR.  After the album’s release, Kanye’s unique production style of applying high-pitched vocal samples from soul songs to his music was imitated by other producers. Since then, Kanye has aspired to stay two to ten steps (average) ahead of his musical peers. His production styles and musical compositions have literally EVOLVED with every album after “The College Dropout” – like the film score vibe of 2005’s “Late Registration” (which is surprisingly enough my all-time FAVOURITE Kanye album), the Auto Tune-assisted “808’s and Heartbreak” of 2008, the grandiosity and over-ambitiousness (I mean, look at the fucking number of collaborators on that album) of 2010’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and the minimalist, metallic, noisy, unconventional and experimental nature of last year’s “Yeezus” which divided critics and fans alike. In 10 years, since the release of “The College Dropout”, Kanye has grown to become a notable figure in hip hop. pop culture and the media. Whether it’s inspiring up-and-coming rappers to forego the gangsta image and be unafraid to express themselves musically, releasing Air Yeezys shoes, calling George Bush a racist, being criticized for his ever-developing egotism and narcissism, interrupting country singer Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, being called a jackass by President Barack Obama for that unexpected outburst, being mocked on not one, but TWO episodes of Comedy Central’s “South Park”, and most importantly, getting Kim Kardashian knocked up (which made him the sworn enemy of Kim’s ex-lover Ray J), Kanye West is an artiste that’ll be talked about for decades to come – for better or for worse.

 

And now, the album that started it all: “L’abandon du Collège”.

 

 

Kanye-West-College-Dropout

 

1. INTRO –  The high school theme that would become the staple of Kanye’s second and third albums (“Late Registration” and “Graduation”) begins in this album’s intro. Here, comedian DeRay Davis (who does his best exaggerated Bernie Mac (RIP) impersonation) plays a lecturer who begs Kanye to sing a motivational song for the school’s graduation ceremony.  Fortunately, this track runs for 19 seconds, which is about one second short of DeRay’s impersonation completely annoying the shit out of me.

 

2. WE DON’T CARE – And what does Kanye sing at that ceremony? Why, an anthem to the drug dealers who make more money than both the teachers and post-graduates in their dead-in jobs, of course. Or at least that’s what the chorus – which is CATCHY AS HELL, and sung by little kids in the second and third verses (it’s meant to be ironic, folks), by the way – implies. But in actuality, “We Don’t Care” is a social commentary centered on the popular notion of “getting money by any means” and its positive and negative influences on society. Apart from exploring the legal (9-to-5 jobs) and illegal sides (drug dealing) of money-making, he addresses the lack of after-school programs for young people to learn a skill or hone a talent that may prove financially beneficial to them in the future. Kanye’s bars are laced with social satire and brutal honesty, and contrast perfectly with his seemingly-triumphant, “Yo, we finally made it”-like beat. Overall, this track succeeds as both an inspirational song to those trying to ‘get by’ (whether academically or economically), and a lyrical middle finger to the undermining higher-ups (teachers or otherwise) trying to get in the way.

 

3. GRADUATION DAY (feat. John Legend) –  And…..he’s……pissed! The lecturer from “Intro” is furious as fuck after hearing “We Don’t Care” and lashes out verbally at Kanye. While Kanye receives the beratement of his life from DeRay’s still Bernie Mac (RIP)-impersonating character, self-proclaimed “hip hop violinist” Miri Ben-Ari performs Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1” (you know – that song they played in every graduation-themed sitcom episode in the 90s – *COUGH*“Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”*COUGH!!) in the background. This section of “Graduation Day” segues into a mournful violin performance by Miri, and an equally mournful, and Auto-Tune assisted for some weird reason, vocal and piano performance by R&B crooner/GOOD Music artiste John Legend. John expresses Kanye’s thoughts at this point in this story: he’s kicked out of college for telling kids to sell drugs, but he doesn’t want anyone to find out, especially his mom. Kanye wants to pursue his dreams of being a producer/rapper by any means, but will he succeed or will he fail miserably? Find out the answer in……”“L’abandon du Collège”.

 

4. ALL FALLS DOWN (feat. Syleena Johnson) – This particular song has a rather interesting history. First, it started off as a track from Kanye’s demo mixtape “The Prerequisite” entitled “Dream Come True”. Then, it was remade into “Self-Conscious”, a track from his “Freshman Adjustment” mixtape, where he added the same two verses from the original song, but with a few minor adjustments here and there. Then, that song was remade into “All Falls Down” (with the aforementioned two verses and a new third verse) which contained an uncleared vocal sample from Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged 2.0 performance of “Mystery of Iniquity” used in the chorus. Kanye’s attempts to clear the vocal sample were unsuccessful, so he called on songstress Syleena Johnson (who I was first exposed to with the music video for her remix to “Tonight I’m Gonna Let Go” which featured Flipmode Squad members Busta Rhymes, Spliff Star and Rampage, and a sample of Busta Rhymes’ CLASSIC “Put Your Hands where My Eyes Can See”) to do the chorus. And lo, a Grammy-nominated hit single was born. That’s what you call perseverance! And a willingness to deliver a message to the world, which is, within the context of the song, that we are all plagued by self-consciousness and insecurity. Kanye mirrors these plagues to the materialism of modern society, and the hip-hop culture in particular, by talking about purchasing clothes, cars and chains just so he, like so many others, can feel “good” about himself. This is a thoughtful, profound track that still rings true to this day, and one of Kanye’s best songs to date.

 

5. I’LL FLY AWAY – More of an interlude than a full song, “I’ll Fly Away” is a soulful rendition of the classic gospel hymn of the same name, albeit a shortened version, clocking in at a mere 1 minute and 9 seconds). From the way it was used in the intro to the first music video for “Jesus Walks”, I assumed, when I first listened to the album, that the following track would’ve been….. “Jesus Walks”. But nope, I got this instead…..

 

6. SPACESHIP (feat. GLC & Consequence) – A FANTASTIC track from Yeezy!!! Yes, I know the word “fantastic” is in bold capital letters. That’s how freaking fantastic this song is! On the aptly-titled “Spaceship”, Ye vents his frustration and disappointment of working in a dead-end job, and expresses his need for mental escape (hence the title “Spaceship” – which can mean practically whatever you want it to mean, be it a car, weed, sex from a hooker or the Starship Enterprise). Chicago rapper GLC and New York rapper Consequence (a.k.a. rapper/producer Q-Tip’s cousin, a.k.a. the guy with the biggest grudge on rapper Joe Budden in VH1’s reality series “Love & Hip-Hop”) deliver impressive verses on this track as well. And the pitch-shifted vocal sample from Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover” is the literal icing on this delicious-ass cake.  SWEET!

 

7. JESUS WALKS – The Grammy-winning single that changed hip hop forever. EVERYTHING in this song works! The rousing male chanting, the soulful female vocalizing, the militant marching percussion, the choir singing the hook, the violins by Miri Ben-Ari, even the auto-tuned vocals sound perfect on this track! “Jesus Walks” is yet another remake of a track from his “The Prerequisite” mixtape, which only contained the first verse and hook. In the second verse of this version , Kanye criticizes the urban music radio stations who’d rather play songs about sex, drugs and violence instead of a song about Jesus (“So here go my single dog, radio needs this / They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies, videotape / But if I talk about God, my record won’t get played, HUH?!) Smartly enough, this was all reverse psychology (according to Kanye himself), and those same radio stations, thanks to that line, suddenly wanted to play “Jesus Walks”. Well done, Yeezus….oops, I meant Yeezy.  A groundbreaking moment in hip hop history, “Jesus Walks” is undoubtedly one of the greatest rap records ever made.

 

8. NEVER LET ME DOWN (feat. Jay-Z & J. Ivy) –  An extended re-recording of the track of the same name from “Kanye West – The College Dropout: The Mixape”, “Never Let me Down” has Kanye joining forces with Jay-Z.  Over a soulful, soul-stirring instrumental and beautiful female vocals, ‘big-brother’ Jay affirms his “GOAT (Greatest Of All Time)” status while ‘little-brother’ Ye confirms that it was destiny (from his grandmother – whom he shouted out in the intro of the original version of this song – who made his mother sit in a non-coloured area, resulting in her arrest at age 6…..WOW!……to the car accident that almost killed him) that led him to the point of becoming a great artist in his own right. After Kanye’s verse and before Jay’s closing verse, hip-hop poet J. Ivy presents a POWERFUL, inspirational spoken-word piece that always moves me on an emotional level every time I hear it. A certified favourite of mine, for sure!

 

9. GET EM HIGH (feat. Talib Kweli & Common) – Kanye, along with Brooklyn MC Talib Kweli and Chicago veteran Common, spit braggadocious bars over a BANGING instrumental. I love the way Talib (who, by the way, became a hip hop icon thanks to his 2002 hit single “Get By” which was….you guessed it….produced by Kanye himself) steps out of his conscious-rap mode and puts on this cocky persona in his verse (“Anyway, I don’t usually fuck with the Internet / Or chicks with birth control stuck to they arm like Nicorette / You really fuckin’ that much or trying to get off cigarettes?”). Common is pretty good on this track too, even though his flow, which reminded me of the way he rapped on his CLASSIC 2000 LP “Like Water for Chocolate”, sounds a tad bit slow-paced on Kanye’s mid-tempo beat. Minor quibble aside, this track is the SHIT!!!

 

10. WORKOUT PLAN – Practically the same intro/skit that opens the LONG version of Kanye’s “The New Workout Plan” music video.

 

11. THE NEW WORKOUT PLAN –  Kanye is clearly having a fucking BALL on this song!  “The New Workout Plan” is intentionally silly with its “hip-hop workout” premise and subtly satiric in its emphasis on women getting physically “fit” just so they can be sexually appealing to “a rapper, a NBA player, or at least a dude with a car” (LOL). But with its BUMPING beat, catchy lyrics and fantastic violin solo by Miri Ben-Ari (yes, her again), this track is nothing short of fun. Oh, and the official remix featuring Lil’ Jon (REMEMBER HIM?!!) ain’t half bad. SIDE NOTE: There is a bit of “Talk Box”- assisted male vocalizing nearing the very end of this song (it goes “doo doo doo doo dooooo”) that was used as a prominent sample on rapper J. Cole’s 2011 hit single “Work Out”. That was the very song that led Cole to write the song “Let Nas Down” (which made it to his 2013 album “Born Sinner”, which is worth checking out) where he expressed his hurt over East Coast hip hop legend Nas’ displeasure over the overly radio-friendly, watered-down half-assedness of that particular song. So…umm…if you actually liked “Work Out”, STOP LIKING IT!! ‘Cause Nas hated it, and you’ll be letting Nas down if you do!  And believe me – you DON’T want to let Nas down! Trust me on this shit, mang!

 

12. SLOW JAMZ (feat. Twista & Jamie Foxx) – Ah yes! Something nice and slow for the ladies, after that fast-paced workout from the last track. After a spoken intro from Django (the “D” is silent) himself – Jamie Foxx – where he comments on the need for more slow-paced music for the ladies to dance to in the club, Luther Vandross’ pitch-shifted vocals (at the time of the song’s release, I could’ve sworn that was a female voice in the background, and I still get caught off-guard every time I hear it) opens the second single from “College Dropout” that is “Slow Jamz”. A MONSTER hit when it first came out in 2003, with heavy rotation on BET, MTV and…. I think VH1, “Slow Jamz” has a laid-back, relaxing beat, a medium-paced bongo drumbeat that periodically increases in speed, lyrics referencing a slew of great R&B singers (from Ready for the World to Teddy Pendergrass) and a smooth-as-silk chorus by Jamie Foxx. Though Kanye gets points for his WITTY first verse (“I’ve got a light-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson / Got a dark-skinned friend look like Michael Jackson” still cracks me up), it’s Chicago wordsmith Twista who purposefully steals the show. His top-speed, multi-syllable flow on the track, which matches PERFECTLY with the slow-it-down-speed-it-up nature of the instrumental, is (still) fucking incredible – and instantly made him a household name. It’s no wonder that this single also made it to Twista’s 2004 album “Kamikaze”, although it was shortened from the original version. A brilliant track, although every time I hear it, I can’t help but be reminded of Twista’s second single “Overnight Celebrity” (also produced by Kanye) – which featured an ANNOYING-as-fuck, pitch-shifted, chipmunk orgasm-sounding vocal sample from Lenny Williams “Cause I Love You” in the chorus and UNBEARABLE bridge before the third verse. Don’t believe me? Check out the song/video on YouTube – if you’re a sucker for punishment.

 

13. BREATHE IN BREATHE OUT (feat. Ludacris) – Unfortunately, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges is stuck doing chorus duties on this track. In retrospect, he could’ve at least done a third verse on “Breathe in Breathe Out”. Ah well! The instrumental KNOCKS (I love the horns and guitars on this beat), Kanye dishes out three verses full of humourous bragging and blatant shit-talking, and the chorus by Ludacris kicks ass! I even enjoyed the DJ scratching nearing the end of the track (“Can you say Chi-City” is scratched over and over), which sounds eerily similar to the ad-libs in the chorus to rapper Grand Puba’s 1995 hit “I Like It (I Wanna Be Where You Are)”. Damn, I loved that song!

 

14. SCHOOL SPIRIT (SKIT 1) – One of three ironic and fucking HILARIOUS skits centered around the following track.

 

15. SCHOOL SPIRIT – Oddly enough, all the expletives on this song are censored. Why, you ask? ‘Cause R&B/soul goddess Aretha Franklin, whose vocals from her 1970 single “Spirit in the Dark” were sampled, and pitch-shifted (AGAIN with that term) on this song, don’t like no cussin’. That’s right, lady and gent. The only way Kanye could clear the sample, and keep Aretha happy, was to censor the song. And fortunately, this decision doesn’t dilute the track’s stinging sarcasm. On “School Spirit”, Kanye talks about the displeasure he felt while he was a college student, having to put his dreams on hold for a degree that wouldn’t even get him a satisfying job. He also talks about hitting on college girls in the brash, absurdly witty second verse which works in the sense of the “college mockery” vibe of the song. Even the chorus is reminiscent of the stepping chants synonymous with African -American college clubs. Irony never sounded this good!

 

16. SCHOOL SPIRIT (SKIT 2) – The long-awaited sequel to Track 14.

 

17. LIL JIMMY (SKIT) – Winner of 5 Academy Awards, including FUNNIEST skit on the entire album!!

 

18. TWO WORDS (feat. Mos Def, Freeway & the Boys Choir of Harlem) – Two words: FUCKING EPIC!!!!!

 

19. THROUGH THE WIRE – Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of this song when its music video was on constant rotation on BET’s “Rap City Tha Bassment” (REMEMBER THAT SHIT?!! No, not Rack City. RAP CITY!). It was my first exposure to Kanye’s “chipmunk style” of pitch-shifting (I promise that’s the last time I’ll be using that term) soul samples – in this case, Chaka Khan’s 1984 single “Through the Fire”. But when I understood the story behind the song (Kanye recounts the near-fatal car accident and his road to recovery), and listened to Kanye’s words (which he spoke with his jaw still wired shut), I slowly began to appreciate…and love….”Through the Wire”. Kanye appears humbled and appreciative of his second chance at life, and he expresses that with bold, well-thought-of, pop-culture referencing lyrics (“I must got an angel/ Cause look how death missed his ass / Unbreakable, what you thought, they’d call me Mr. Glass?”). And the soulful beat, doubled with Chaka’s admittedly well-chosen vocal sample, gives these lyrics a much-needed emotional edge.  A personal story of triumph over adversity, this is one of Kanye’s greatest, and most powerful, songs. And the aforementioned music video is just as heartfelt as the song itself. And so’s the remix  (Yes, there’s a remix, and a very decent one at that, and without the wired jaw) even though he does get away with interpolating the lyrics to Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins’ club banger “Get Low” (REMEMBER THAT SHIT?!! No, not Get Lucky. GET LOW!) in the chorus. But whatever! “Through the Wire” is still a bonafide classic!

 

20. FAMILY BUSINESS – A re-recording of a an incomplete track from “The Prerequisite”, “Family Business” is a sweet (not syrupy, sugary, sensitive-teeth-resulting sweet, fortunately) tribute to Kanye’s family, more particularly his incarcerated cousin. With some beefy drums, pleasant pianos and lovely, choir-assisted chorus, Kanye paints a beautiful portrait of the times spent with his family  – through good days and bad, happy and sad, thick and thin. A rather touching way to wind down the proceedings, if I may say so.

 

21. LAST CALL – And now we reach the end of our story. In this 12 minute and 40 second track (yeah, it’s a long-ass song, but the jazzy drums and horns make it a pleasurable experience), Kanye expresses his joy for surviving the crash, his new-found fame as both a producer and a respected rapper, and of course, getting signed to Jay-Z’s record label Roc-a-Fella Records. It’s upbeat, it’s celebratory, it’s arrogant, it’s cocky, it’s braggadocious and really quite inspirational in a “hard work really pays off” kind of way. After about 4 minutes of sharp lyrics, some of which were recycled from past mixtapes (“Oh my God, is that a black card?” / I turned around and replied, “Why yes / But I prefer the term African-American Express”), Kanye goes into an 8-minute outro (not a rant, mind you) where he talks about, in detail, the long road it took him to get through the door of Roc-A-Fella Records to obtain a record deal. And the rest, they say, is history.

 

MY THOUGHTS: Though it has lost some of its sparkle over the years, “The College Dropout” is still a worthwhile listen. The instrumentals are still very, very decent and the themes covered on the album (from self-consciousness to personal perseverance) are still relatable. Kanye’s lyrics can be brash and obnoxious at times, but they were socially conscious, self-aware, humourous, satiric and intelligent. You don’t need to be a hip-hop fan to enjoy “The College Dropout” and you don’t need to be the biggest Kanye fan(atic) to appreciate the album. Whether you like or hate Kanye West or his music, there is no denying the accomplishments made on this album. It molded a sound and style that contrasted heavily with the negativity of the gangsta rapper stereotype. It made soul music more sought-after in hip-hop music production than ever before. And it made its soul music-sampling formula the “blueprint” (HA! Get it?) for classic hip hop albums like Common’s  “Be” (2005) and “Finding Forever” (2008) and MANY great hip-hop/R&B songs like Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know my Name”,  Game’s “Dreams” and Talib Kweli’s “In the Mood”. In short, “The College Dropout” is indeed one of the most significant albums of the past decade, and is definitely worth checking out (if you haven’t listened to it already) or revisiting (if you did listen to it). Through the wire, through the wall, and through 10 long years, it’s still a very impressive debut album.

 

And now, for a reward for sticking through this review, here’s a Kanye West / Common freestyle for you to enjoy! Until next time, folks!

 

 

 

MY RATING: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars (“Definitely listen to this album”)

 

– Matthew