Hey look! A music review – OutKast – Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)

 

Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik-cover

 

With today’s post, I continue my anniversary music reviews with the debut album of one of rap music’s….hell, MODERN MUSIC’s most influential duos, Outkast. Now regardless of whether you enjoy rap music or not, let alone follow up its constant evolution, there should be at least ONE Outkast song that you remember growing up to – and enjoying the hell out of. Whether it’s the mellow sounds of “Elevators (Me & You)” from their second album “ATLiens” (1996), or “Rosa Parks” from their 1998 LP “Aquemini” (arguably the BEST Outkast album ever recorded), “Ms. Jackson”, “So Fresh, So Clean” or the epic, earth-shattering musical masterpiece “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)” from 2000’s “Stankonia”, or even “The Way you Move” or the crossover SMASH hit that had women up to the age of 85 “shaking like a Polaroid picture” “Hey Ya” from the 2003 double album “Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below”, there’s literally no fucking way that you can say you NEVER heard about Outkast.

 

Formed in 1992 in East Point, Atlanta, Georgia, Outkast is comprised of two rappers: Andre (“Andre 3000”) Benjamin and Antwan (“Big Boi”) Patton. Thanks to their debut project “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” (a word which encompasses their passion for  “Dirty South” hip hop, fancy cars and the player lifestyle), and its Billboard-charting single “Player’s Ball”, Andre and Big Boi became the latest torchbearers of the Southern hip hop movement. Though their album itself was well-received, Outkast was still being looked down on within the wider hip-hop musical landscape, then dominated by East and West Coast rap. At the 1995 Source Awards, they were booed when they came on stage to accept the award for Best Newcomer. Andre 3000’s famous response to his detractors was: “The South got somethin’ to say”. And from that point, Outkast has proven just that. Every album that followed after “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” saw the duo experimenting with a variety of musical styles like funk, rock, soul and jazz. On their second album “ATLiens”, Outkast change their musical personas from players to….well….extraterrestrials as a means of incorporating existentialist themes into their songs. 1998’s “Aquemini” (a portmanteau of Big Boi’s Zodiac sign Aquarius and Andre’s Zodiac sign Gemini) highlighted the duo’s growth as artists, as they explored other musical genres like gospel, reggae and blues.

 

In the psychedelically abstract (even by mainstream rap album standards), yet highly popular “Stankonia” (2000), the individual musical interests of Big Boi and Andre began to take shape. Big Boi stuck to his G-funk and soul-influenced hustler music, while Andre branched out to rock and funk, even opting to add more melody to his vocals and hooks. And 2003′ s “Speakerboxxx / The Love Below” saw the complete divide in their musical tastes, with Big Boi’s “Speakerboxxx” offering funky Dirty South hip hop and Andre 3000’s “The Love Below” offering pop, jazz, electro and a LOT of singing from Mr. Benjamin himself. After their fairly decent Prohibition-themed musical feature film “Idlewild” and its aight soundtrack album came out in 2006, the duo took a hiatus. In 2010, Big Boi came out with his debut LP “Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty” (what a title) which, even though I wasn’t a personal fan of the album, gained critical acclaim. He followed that up two years later with “Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours”, which was honestly hit-or-miss for me. Andre, on the other hand, appeared on a number of singles from artistes like John Legend, Rick Ross and Frank Ocean. To this day, a solo album from Andre remains to be seen, as well as a new Outkast album. But for now, we’ll have to accept that they are back together, only this time as part of a worldwide tour promoting their 20th anniversary as the duo known as Outkast.

 

Speaking of 20th anniversary, does “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” hold up after its release on April 26th 1994? Well….

 

 

1. PEACHES (Intro) – Early Outkast collaborator Peaches (not to be confused with the female half of the R&B/soul duo Peaches & Herb or the Canadian electronic musician Peaches) kicks off the album on a smooth note with a DJ-like spoken intro layered on top of a modal jazz piece. Short and sweet.

 

2. MYINTROTOLETUKNOW – On this track, Big Boi and Andre talk about where they hail from, what they’re interested in (Cadillacs, weed, making cheddar etc. etc.), how times have changed (black-on-black crime, people who were once friends don’t even associate with them anymore) and the hustler mentality they’ve adapted during the time of the album’s recording. The beat was pretty decent, and I liked the sampling of Andre’s vocals from the third verse of “Player’s Ball” (Oops….SPOILER ALERT). Clever title aside, “Myintrotoletuknow” is indeed an intro to let you know what to expect on this album.

 

3. AIN’T NO THANG – If I’m not mistaken, this is the ONLY instance in Outkast’s career where they blatantly rapped about gun violence. Big Boi and Andre (YES, Andre! The loveable guy who acted as the entire fucking band in that “Hey Ya” music video that YOU loved back in the day)  lyrically threaten to bust caps at their enemies’ asses if they ever cross the line. However, the song’s CATCHY-ASS hook (“Ain’t no thang but a chicken wing / We having a smoke out in the Dungeon with the Mary Jane…..”) suggests that they’d much rather get high than ‘catch a body’ (murder someone).  Hearing Andre in particular rap about shooting people is a bit awkward to listen to, but over the trunk-rattling, bass-heavy instrumental provided by Outkast musical providers Organized Noise, he sounds really convincing. And so does Big Boi, who sounds more at home on this instrumental than his rhyming partner. Entertaining track overall.

 

4. WELCOME TO ATLANTA (Interlude) – Not to be confused with the Ludacris & Jermaine Dupri (REMEMBER HIM?!!) collabo of the same name, “Welcome to Atlanta” is a interlude / skit / watchamacallit where a bus driver takes his passengers on a tour through Atlanta. I was REALLY impressed by the sound design on this track. You really feel as if you’re inside the bus, with the track’s use of engine and air condition unit sound effects, as well as the driver’s voice which sounds like it’s spoken into a speaker mic. GREAT JOB…..for a sorta-unnecessary interlude. Yo, I said SORTA!

 

5. SOUTHERNPLAYALISTICADILLACMUZIK – a.k.a. the title track,  the second single from the album, a word that needs to be added to the English dictionary, and one of Outkast’s BEST songs. Organized Noise’s groovy beat, with its wah-wah guitar pedals, jazzy trumpets and relaxed female vocals in the hook, perfectly compliments Outkast’s laid-back lyrical tribute to the Dirty South life. The Southern slang may sound a bit ATLien (HAH! Get it?) to the casual listener, but it grows on you with each listen. This song is GUARANTEED to have you throwing your hands up in the air like the extras did in the song’s music video (which was directed by, believe me or fucking not – P-DIDDY  – formerly known as “Puff Daddy”. Now that’s just southernplayalistic!

 

6. CALL OF DA WILD (ft. Goodie Mob) –  A far darker song than “Ain’t No Thang”, both sonically and lyrically. Andre and Big Boi, with assistance from rap group Goodie Mob members (and fellow members of the Dungeon Family clique to which Outkast is still a part of) T-Mo, Khujo and The Voice’s own Cee-Lo Green, rap about their worries, pessimism, stress, social pressures and paranoia over a beat that sounds like the perfect music to play during the end credits of a ghetto-themed horror movie (“Tales from the Hood”, anyone?). Though they’re out-shined (intentionally) by the evening’s hosts, T-Mo and Khujo do a pretty good job individually in the second and final verses of the track, and Cee-Lo’s one-line hook (“I hear voices in my head and they keep calling me”) manages to seep itself into the dark corners of the human subconscious – which is actually a good thing.  If you’re looking for a homage to the Jack London novel of the sorta-same name (“Call of THE Wild”), look elsewhere…..’cause this is NOT it!

 

7. PLAYER’S BALL (Original Version) – Inspired by a pivotal scene from the blaxploitation cult classic “The Mack”, “Player’s Ball” was the FIRST Outkast single to gain mainstream attention. Primarily a Christmas song (yes, ladies and gents, this is a CHRISTMAS song), with its underlying sleigh bell jingling in the beat, but with a non-Christmas-sounding instrumental attached to it, Big Boi and Andre gives the listener a glimpse into how they “celebrate” the Christmas season in their neighbourhood. And yeah, they spend their time doing what they normally do throughout the year (hustle, make money, get high etc.) to the point that even Big Boi says in the second verse that “It’s just another day of work to me / The spirit just ain’t in me”. And believe me, we’ve felt that way at some point in time during Christmas. But the name of the song is “Player’s Ball”, and that means that our heroes are in “Goldie Mode” (‘Goldie’s the name of the pimp/ player/ protagonist in “The Mack” – which you REALLY should check out, by the way) as they spit game to the ladies. From start to end, this song fucking KNOCKS! The verses by Big Boi and Andre are sharp and witty (“This is ridiculous, I’m getting serious, I’m getting curious / ‘Cause the house is smelling stank, the chitlins old as bitches”), the soul-inspired, male-sung chorus fits the blaxploitation vibe of the song’s title, and the outro by Peaches (remember her?) sounds smooth over the groovy, head-nodding beat. Regardless of what time of the year it is, “Player’s Ball” is a perfect song to cruise to in your low rider, seventy-seven Seville, El Do, Cadillac….or scooter if that’s all you can afford.

 

8. CLAIMIN’ TRUE – After a brief, nocturnal-like interlude, Big Boi and Andre paint a grim portrait about their growth and maturity in the ghetto, from living a childhood without a father (a ridiculously prominent theme in one too many rap songs over the past two decades or so) to living the life of a hustler. Big Boi’s hook justifies the fact that even if their methods of making money back then were unlawful, they paid their dues to gain the respect they now have (“I wonder how you would react if you was in my shoes / I put in work and did the dirt, that’s how I payed my dues”). While I did appreciate the mellow, bluesy beat and the STELLAR verse by Andre and Big Boi individually, I would have preferred a third or fourth verse from either rapper, or even a guest spot on the track. But nope – the beat just rides out after Andre’s verse and Big Boi’s hook. Ah well. Can’t have everything, I guess. Sigh.

 

9. CLUB DONKEY ASS (Interlude) – Hey ladies, if a guy came up to you one day and told you that you had a DONKEY ASS, would you take that as a compliment or kick him in the fucking nuts? Second option? Thought so. Moving along….

 

10. FUNKY RIDE – Andre and Big Boi figuratively remove themselves from the recording booth in this section of the album, leaving their R&B buddies The Society of Soul (a group affiliated with the Dungeon Family, with its two most well-known members being crooner Sleepy Brown and spoken-word poet Big Rube) to hold the fort. What they bring to the table is a song to…..ummm…. make love to. The lyrics from the lead singer (Sleepy Brown, I believe) aren’t Marvin Gaye-perfect but they are direct – in a “I can sing REALLY good! And that’s reason enough for you to fuck me!”-kind of way. The female moaning layered underneath the music (which, for some reason, always reminds me of the outro to the 1975 Major Harris soul song “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” – feel free to ask your parents about that song) stood out to me a lot the first time I heard this track – maybe because I didn’t expect to hear moaning throughout 7/8 of the song’s 6 1/2 minute running time (SERIOUSLY) and because I didn’t expect to hear a R&B SONG on the album! But the more I listened to it, the more prominent the funky R&B instrumental, the silky-smooth vocals and even the electric guitar solo (which reminds me of Andre’s guitar solo in the spacey, ethereal and fucking BRILLIANT R&B track “Prototype” from his album “The Love Below”) that pops up after the second verse became. Though it does feel out of place on the album, “Funky Ride” works as a nice change of pace from the rough rhymes Outkast gave us so far, and as a clear homage to the 1970s musical styles that influenced the album. By the way, it really must be a SKILL for a woman to fake sexual pleasure for at least 6 minutes on a R&B song. How do you ladies do that?

 

11. FLIM FLAM (Interlude) – This skit/interlude is among the funniest I’ve ever heard on any album. I’m not bullshitting you. While The Society of Soul were making girls moan, Andre and (I think) Big Boi are in their car, cooling out, sipping on some Henny, until a crackhead persuades them to purchase some stolen gold chains from him. Props go out to the guy who played the crackhead, because he is fucking HILARIOUS on this track. I enjoyed the dialogue he dishes out to the duo, and its underlining message about getting paid, and I appreciated the use of rap trio Parental Advisory’s (i.e. the first group from the Dungeon Family to drop a debut album) grimy, nocturnal track “Ghetto Head Hunta” in the background. And in case you were wondering, I never knew the name of that song until just now! Seriously! After years of listening to “Flim Flam”, I finally found out the name of the song, while writing THIS paragraph, thanks to good ol’ Google! Ah, Google – you make blogging so much easier for me to do!

 

12. GIT UP, GIT OUT (ft. Goodie Mob) – The slow-paced beat alone will have your head nodding throughout this 7 1/2-minute long (but still VERY entertaining) song “Git Up, Git Out”, the third single from the album, has, in consecutive order, Cee-Lo Green, Big Boi, Big Gipp (who had his fair share of mainstream buzz with his 2003 album “Mutant Mindframe” and 2007 collaborative album “Kinfolk” with rapper Ali from Nelly’s (REMEMBER HIM??!!) group, the St. Lunatics) and Andre rapping about – simply put – their need to get off their asses, get a job and make a living. Cee-Lo, who provides the song’s inspirational, anthemic chorus, delivers a potent, introspective look at his own life and the rough road he had to walk to achieve his dream of becoming a rapper. Big Boi talks about investing his time into making money instead of wasting it entirely on weed and women, and Big Gipp describes his self-motivation to get out the house and hustle, while taking into consideration the risk of getting arrested. But it’s Andre who brings the house down with a FANTASTIC final verse, where he reminisces on committing minor crimes to support his laid-off mother, being more concerned about looking good and getting girls instead of succeeding in high school, and paying the price of wasting his time by not graduating (which led to him dropping out of high school to pursue a rap career). Andre’s final two lines are quite crucial to the song’s message as he shows that regardless of what happened to you before in your life, you can still make something of yourself (“But it don’t matter though, I am a O-U-T-Kast / So get up off your ass”). This is,  hands down, the greatest collaboration between Outkast and Goodie Mob, and one of the best Outkast songs EVER MADE! Period.

 

13. TRUE DAT (Interlude) – In what sounds like a pirate radio broadcast set to some modal jazz (if I’m wrong, please forgive me. I’m now getting into old-school jazz music), Big Rube does an insightful spoken-word verse about the meaning behind the word “outkast” or “outcast” as it’s properly spelt.  This is the first in a line of magnificent spoken-word verses that will become the staple of future Outkast albums (SIDE NOTE: His composition on “Liberation” off the “Aquemini” album is still his greatest thus far. Just thought you should know)

 

14. CRUMBLIN’ ERB –  With its airy, dreamy instrumental, “Crumblin’ Erb” is designed to make you relax, kick your feet up, smoke a blunt or two and nod your head – or at least relax, kick your feet and nod your head if you’re like me. In their blunted mindstate, Andre and Big Boi rap about the seemingly endless black-on-black violence affecting African-American society, making the most of the time one is given, and opting to get high off weed…..and life…. as opposed to losing their lives over some bullshit. I loved the bongo drums and church organs that flow throughout this song, and Sleepy Brown’s laid-back chorus sounds perfect on this beat. A must-hear for the bluntheads out there!

 

15. HOOTIE HOO –  Outkast’s tribute to White Owl cigar blunt wraps (Nope. “Hootie Hoo” is NOT a reference to the mating call of the cape eagle owl (Bubo capensis)) has the duo rapping over a lo-fi, minimalist instrumental that sounds okay for the most part – especially with the kick drums which breathe some much-needed life into the overall song. “Hootie Hoo” in itself sounds like a demo track, or a a B-side to a hit single, where it sounds like Big Boi and Andre are showcasing their skills for the very first time, before they unleash a better song – like say….hmmmm….. I don’t know….

 

16. D.E.E.P. –  Now THIS is more like it! After an electronic-voiced intro that would serve as a precursor for their next album “ATLiens”, and a kick-ass chorus by Andre, “D.E.E.P” launches into full gear with a BANGING instrumental from Organized Noise., full of creeping pianos and hard drums. Andre and Big Boi slaughter the shit out this track, as they go “deep” into numerous black stereotypes and bash them accordingly. Both Andre and Big Boi dish out excellent verses, with Andre taking the lead for most memorable lyrics (my favourite being the one about his gold chain that’s really made out of bronze that “weighs a ton” and makes his “neck turn green”). An outstanding track, even if Big Boi’s line “Pimping way mo’ hoes than there’s peoples out in China” is a bit mean-spirited. And goofy.

 

17. PLAYER’S BALL (Reprise) –  The shortest song on the album, and the BEST closer of any Outkast album. Yes, I fucking said it! Better than “Aquemini’s” “Chonkyfire”, better than “Stankonia’s” “Stanklove” and yes….even better than “The Love Below’s” “A Life in the Day of Benjamin Andre (Incomplete)”. With its warm four-note piano chord (that I  really, REALLY love). kick drums, groovy beat and laid-back vocals by Sleepy Brown, this reprise to “Player’s Ball” truly embodies the 1970s pimp/player mentality, suggested by the song’s title, even more than the original song did. The vibe of this song really feels like you’re driving home from the Player’s Ball in your Cadillac ’64, thinking to yourself: “Man, what a night!”.  In short, “Player’s Ball (Reprise) was the ideal way to close the album.

 

(NOT EXACTLY A BONUS TRACK, BUT STILL WORTH CHECKING OUT)

PLAYER’S BALL (O.N.P. EXTENDED REMIX) –  If you’re one of those who truly enjoyed the beat for “Player’s Ball (Reprise)”, then you’ll be in southernplayalistic nirvana with this track. “Player’s Ball (O.N.P. Extended Remix) contains the Sleepy Brown vocals and chorus from the reprise, along with Big Boi and Andre’s uncensored verses from the original version of “Player’s Ball” (mind you, there’s only a few minor, unimportant cuts in that version), all of which are placed in a nice gift box of a gloriously extended version of the Player’s Ball (Reprise) instrumental and wrapped up in a neat bow provided by Peaches’ outro from the original song.  Hip hop heads should take note that the drums on this remix were sampled on Kanye West’s hit single “Through the Wire” off his “College Dropout” LP. In retrospect, this remix would’ve made an even greater conclusion to “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”, but hey? Who am I to complain?

 

 

MY THOUGHTS: Like “Illmatic” which came out less a mere week before it, “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik”  is an excellent debut album, and one of the finest debut albums to come out of rap music. The lyricism from both Andre and Big Boi, and the production by Organized Noise, still impresses. And aside from a few flaws here and there, the album has enough clever rhymes, dope beats, Southern slang and Cadillac funkiness to keep you satisfied. In short, this is an essential Southern hip hop album with the words “replay value” written all over it. If you’re an Outkast fan (even if you hated the song “Land of a Million Drums” from the “Scooby Doo” soundtrack), you need to have this album in your collection. And if you never listened to it, make sure to check out the Southernplayalisticadillac goodness as soon as you can. But players, when you choose it, you better make sure you don’t abuse it.

 

Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, Big Boi, Andre, Outkast…..forever. For-ever….ever? For-EVER….EVER???

 

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

 

– Matthew

 

 

Hey look! A music review – Nas – Illmatic (1994)

“Illmatic” (not a real word) is the debut album from Queensbridge, New York-born rapper Nasir “Nas” Jones.  Though it was a commercial disappointment, “Illmatic” received so much critical praise over the years that today, it is considered to be one of the GREATEST albums (rap or otherwise) of all time. On the strength of his bold, daring contribution to rap group Main Source’s “Live at the Barbeque” (his most famous line being the over-the-top statement “When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus”. And yes, you Illuminati-researching conspiracy theorists out there. He’s only kidding. He’s merely exaggerating the fact that he’s a “bad-ass”. It’s not like he ACTUALLY killed Jesus! I mean, come on!), Nas was signed to Columbia Records. Main Source’s own rapper/producer Large Professor produced three songs on “Illmatic”, along with the legendary producer and one-half of the rap group Gang Starr (R.I.P. Guru) DJ Premier, Pete Rock, L.E.S. (who produced the first collabo between Nas and then-rival-now-business-buddy Jay-Z  – the entertainingly grandiose “Black Republicans” off Nas’ 2006 album “Hip Hop is Dead” – one of my personal favourite Nas albums) and Q-Tip (You know? The leader of the GREATEST rap group of all time – A Tribe Called Quest? The one who produced and rapped on “Midnight Marauders” and “The Renaissance” – my ALL-TIME FAVOURITE albums of the 90s and the 00s respectively? Yeah, THAT guy!)

 

Saturday April 19th 2014 marks the 20th (yes, lady and gent – TWENTIETH) anniversary of the album’s release. A commemorative double album “Illmatic XX” was released on Tuesday with a bonus CD of remixes and never-before-heard songs from Nas (all of which were not included on the 10th anniversary (yes, lady and gent – TENTH) edition of the album). And a documentary based on the life of Nas before, during and after “Illmatic’s” release, entitled “Time is Illmatic” , will be premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday. But the question you’re probably asking yourself is: “What’s the big fucking deal?”

 

Read on and you shall find out, my dear Watson.

 

 

illmatic-front

1. THE GENESIS – At first listen, this track sounds like your standard 1990s rap album intro, but it’s actually the first few paint strokes Nas uses to begin his densely-layered portrait. The subway rail sound effect and subsequent movie dialogue sample from the 1983 hip hop cult classic “Wild Style”, along with the use of Nas’ FAMOUS verse from rap group Main Source’s 1991 hit “Live at the Barbeque” (the first song to ever feature Nas), represent a sonic transition of hip hop from its birthplace in the South Bronx (where “Wild Style” was based in) to Queensbridge.  Both Nas’ rapping and the “Wild Style” dialogue scene stop abruptly, as another beat comes on: DJ Grand Wizard Theodore”s “Subway Theme” (also from “Wild Style”). Nas, along with his brother “Jungle” and rapping partner-in-crime “AZ”, spend the rest of the track smoking blunts, drinking Hennessy, enjoying the financial spoils of their labour and scheming to take over the rap game. But even in the simple execution of the track’s second half (guys talking shit over music playing on the radio), there is a sense of acknowledgment of hip hop’s foundation in the South Bronx (via the use of “Subway Theme”). Ultimately, the actual birthplace of hip hop is beside the point. What matters is that New York is the metaphorical heart of hip hop, with its influence flowing outward to the world around it. Nas is part of that “heart”, and for him to know where he’s destined to go in the hip hop world, he must remember where it all started. Hence – “The Genesis”.

 

2. N.Y. STATE OF MIND –  DJ Premier lays down one of his most celebrated instrumentals on this track for Nas to rhyme on. The menacing high-pitched guitar notes that appear on the opening, middle and conclusion of the track, the dark piano notes and the creeping drumbeat perfectly compliment Nas’ grimy exploration into the impoverished New York environment he was raised in. Nas describes, in superbly vivid detail, the elements from his neighbourhood that made an impact on his early life – from drug dealing and drug addiction to gang violence and shootouts with the police. He expresses his fear of losing both his life and mentality to the dangerous conditions he faces daily with stand-out bars like “I never sleep – ’cause sleep is the cousin of death” and “Life is parallel to Hell, but I must maintain”. One of Nas’ greatest songs, “N.Y. State of Mind” BRILLIANTLY visualizes the world that he’s in and his need to survive within it, by any means.

 

3. LIFE’S A BITCH (ft. AZ) – A tonal departure from “N.Y. State of Mind”, “Life’s a Bitch”, despite its title, is a smooth, relaxed, and surprisingly optimistic track (with a pleasant beat by producer L.E.S., groovy bassline, and a FANTASTIC trumpet solo from Nas’ dad Olu Dara) where Nas and AZ (the ONLY guest rapper on the album, interestingly enough) convey their joy and appreciation for being alive, as well as their daily goals to get paid, get high and enjoy life. AZ himself admitted in an interview with The Source Magazine that, at the time, he was dissatisfied with his verse on this track. Which is funny, since his rhymes on “Life’s a Bitch” are arguably THE most memorable he’s ever done in his career. And his hook kicks fucking ass! Just saying.

 

4. THE WORLD IS YOURS – Over Pete Rock’s (yet another legendary producer) BEAUTIFULLY bluesy instrumental that samples the piano solo from the Ahmad Jamal record “I Love Music”, Nas takes the motto of Al Pacino’s Tony Montana (you know? “SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!!”, “Hey, fuck you mang”, “How ya get a scar like that from eating pineapple, mang?”)  from the Holy Bible of gangster movies (“Scarface”) and adapts it to his life.  From top to bottom, Nas puts in a SOLID performance on “The World is Yours”, with profound, introspective lyricism from beginning to end (“I sip the Dom P, watching Gandhi ’til I’m charged / Then writing in my book of rhymes, all the words past the margin / To hold the mic I’m throbbin’, mechanical movement / Understandable smooth shit that murderers move with”).  Pete Rock’s simplistic but very CATCHY hook (“Whose world is this? It’s mine, it’s mine, it’s mine”) perfectly embodies the Scarface mentality of acquiring what you deserve by any means, and the scratched-in T La Rock sample from “It’s Yours” (get it?) makes sure that the overall message of the song sticks in your head. A bonafide classic!

 

5. HALFTIME – a.k.a. Nas’ debut solo single. Originally recorded for the soundtrack to the 1992 urban drama “Zebrahead”, “Halftime” has an upbeat instrumental provided by Large Professor and a display of Nas’ intellectual rhyming abilities. The song’s title, its placement on the track playlist and its overall braggadocious nature, all make perfect sense as to why it’s called “Halftime”. It’s the album’s interval – a half-time show, if you will, and a rather entertaining one at that.

 

6. MEMORY LANE (SITTIN’ IN DA PARK) – DJ Premier delivers another FANTASTIC beat, and one of my favourites on the album, for Nas to do damage on. And holy fucking shit, does he come through! Nas unleashes bar after bar of complex lyrics (“Jungle survivor, fuck who’s the live-er / My man put the battery in my back, a difference from Energizer”, “Peoples are petro, dramatic automatic, .44 I let blow / And back down po-po when I’m vexed so”) – among the best on the entire album – while reflecting on the good and bad days of his past and present. DJ Premier’s contribution to this track is a laid-back instrumental with haunting male vocalizing (and no, I’m not calling the vocals “haunting” just because the guys are singing “Oooh oooh oooh oooooooooooh”), a nostalgic-sounding organ sample and some well-chosen vocal samples from Craig G’s “Droppin’ Science” and Biz Markie’s “Picking Boogers” (Don’t let the title fool you. That song…..and the album it came from (1988’s “Goin’ Off”) fucking KNOCKS!). Excellent track overall!

 

7. ONE LOVE – Q-Tip provides the jazzy instrumental and backing vocals for this track. In the first two verses of “One Love”, Nas writes letters to his two friends doing time in prison. He informs them of how their friends and loved ones are doing, and the mere fact that nothing has changed since their incarceration (“Out in New York, the same shit is going on / The crackheads stalking, loudmouths is talking…”). In the beginning of the third verse, Nas blames the public school system for failing the youth, thus forcing them to pursue a life of crime and increasing their chances of getting arrested or getting killed. The increasing stress and frustration he deals with in Queensbridge compels Nas to skip town for a weekend to relax and focus on writing rhymes. When he returns home, he meets a 12-year old kid nicknamed “Shorty Doo-Wop” whom he shares a blunt-passing conversation with (This scene was “visualized” in music video director Hype Williams’ 1999 crime film “Belly”, by the way). Shorty is trying to survive in the streets, and in one line, states that he wears “a bullet proof and pack(s) a black trey-deuce”. Nas is aware that if Shorty makes the wrong moves, he’ll be killed or incarcerated, so he spends the rest of the verse offering advice to him – even telling him in the final line to “keep an eye out for Jake” (i.e. the police). “One Love” is a well-thought-up and well-executed track that pays tribute to Nas’ incarcerated friends (hence the phrase “One Love”), while warning those outside of prison to avoid getting caught up in the negativity of life that can result in incarceration. In short, a MASTERPIECE!

 

8. ONE TIME 4 YOUR MIND – And here we have the weak link in the “Illmatic” chain. The smoky, jazzy beat from Large Professor sounds okay, and Nas does his best to match it with his freestyle-like delivery and “just-an-average-day-in-the-life”-type lyrics, but the slow pace of both the music and vocals, and the lack of a third verse (even Large Professor himself asks Nas at the end of the track to do another verse – HOW IRONIC) make this track feel a tad bit flat and incomplete. Not a bad song at all, but certainly not a memorable one.

 

9. REPRESENT – The third and final collabo between Nas and DJ Premier. Nas sounds fiery and hungry on Primo’s hard-hitting beat, as he raps about the illegal activities he got himself involved in from a young age (from “breaking into candy stores” to selling crack cocaine) and the friends who rolled with him during his years of deviance. It’s still unclear whether all these “brags” are indeed true or not (the line “Pulling a Tec out the dresser”, for example, was cited in Jay-Z’s INFAMOUS 2001 diss record “The Takeover”, where Jay accused Nas of lying about owning a Tec-9 in the first place) but it doesn’t detract from the song’s gritty, grimy vibe. To top it off, the gang vocals kick so much ass that you WILL be shouting the chorus (“REPRESENT, REPRESENT!”) to yourself (in your car, in the shower, at work, in the bathroom, in the bank, in the kitchen when you’re preparing Sunday lunch for your family etc.) whenever this song comes on. A true East Coast anthem!

 

10. IT AIN’T HARD TO TELL – Sampling the exquisite guitars and synths from the late, great Michael Jackson’s smash hit “Human Nature” (1983), a sultry saxophone loop from Kool and the Gang’s “N.T.” (1971) and a medium-paced drumbeat from Stanley Clarke’s “Slow Dance” (1978), Large Professor delivers a mellow, head-nodding instrumental to end the evening’s proceedings. On this track, our host cements his status in hip hop history as one of the greatest MCs to hold the microphone. Though the track is primarily braggadocious, Nas brings enough charisma, intelligence and dazzling wordplay to hold the listener’s interest. For its 3 1/2 minute run, this track contains bar after bar after bar of memorable and quotable lyrics (“It ain’t hard to tell, I excel then prevail –  The mic is contacted, I attract clientele” / So analyze me, surprise me, but can’t magnetize me – Scannin’ while you’re plannin’ ways to sabotage me” / “My poetry’s deep, I never fail – Nas’ raps should be locked in a cell, it ain’t hard to tell”). One of the greatest closing tracks of any rap album ever made in the last 20 years, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” is guaranteed to  “leave your brain stimulated” and leave you “froze like her-on (heroin) in your nose”.  Which is a good thing. Not heroin, ’cause drugs are bad. But y’all already know that!

 

BONUS TRACK TO ADD TO YOUR PLAYLIST: (ILLMATIC XX BONUS TRACK) THE WORLD IS YOURS (Tip Mix) – On the aptly-titled “tip mix” to “The World is Yours”, Q-Tip takes a tiny sample from jazz musician Les McCann’s “Seems So Long” (1972), slows it down, adds a BANGING drumbeat and creates a fucking MAGNIFICENT soundscape for Nas to spit his hardened rhymes on. This is, hands down, one of my favourite Q-Tip instrumentals, and one that truly encapsulates the aggressive sounds and jazzy undertones of 1990s East Coast hip hop. Nas delivers the same first verse from before, save for the final line “I’m out for dead fucking presidents to represent me” – a line that would become the highly-memorable hook for Jay-Z’s equally fantastic “Dead Presidents” (the original and the sequel – yep, there’s a sequel and it’s EPIC!!!) in 1996 – including a revamped second verse and slightly altered third verse. The chorus is a lot more wordier in this remix, and I really, REALLY loved how Nas flipped the song title on its back by saying “Fuck it, the world is mine”. And the haunting “la la la” vocalizing in the chorus forms the literal icing on this musical cake. Two Q-tips way up!

 

MY THOUGHTS: Time has passed since “Illmatic” left its imprint on modern music, and today, it’s still an outstanding piece of work. The beats and production hold up remarkably, and Nas’ intricate rhyming is still captivating to listen to. It’s no wonder that his lyricism influenced a multitude of rappers from Chicago’s own Common (“Back in ’94, they call me Chi-town’s Nas”) and Compton’s Game (“For my n***az, it was too complex when Nas rhymed / I was the only Compton n***a with a “New York State of Mind”) to East Coast rising superstar Joey Bada$$ and West Coast hip hop flag-bearer Kendrick Lamar. And for its 10-track, 39-minute running time, “Illmatic” delivers a solid, cohesive musical experience from start to finish. Whether you’re an occasional or die-hard hip-hop head, you NEED to have this album in your collection! It’s like…..the law around these parts! If you never listened to it, and you definitely should, you can check out the YouTube video at the bottom of this review to listen to the full album. And then….if you really, REALLY enjoyed “Illmatic”, BUY THE ALBUM! Yeah, I said it! Buy….the….al….bu….m. It is WORTH it! Trust me on this shit!

 

And in case you were wondering, I already ordered a copy of “Illmatic XX”. SUPPORT GOOD MUSIC!

 

This has been a public service announcement from “A Legally Black Blog”!  And remember, the world is yours! Illmatic forever!

 

 

 

 

MY RATING: 5 out of 5 stars (“Listen to this album before you die”)

 

– Matthew

My thoughts on “Noah”

noah-poster2

 

The latest film by director Darren Aronofsky (director of the mind-bending sci-fi cult classic “Pi”, the disturbing, emotional sucker punch of a drama “Requiem for a Dream”, the visually-dazzling but still head-scratching sci-fi /fantasy “The Fountain”, the I-made-a-grown-man-cry drama “The Wrestler”, and the ballet-themed psychological thriller that earned actress Natalie Portman her first Academy Award “Black Swan”, “Noah” is a effects-laden INTERPRETATION of the famous Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. Notice that I used the word “interpretation” and not “adaptation”. This is Darren’s version…or should I say vision…..of the story that almost everyone and their great grandparents should be familiar with.

 

From the moment I heard the names “Noah”, “Russell Crowe” (who plays the lead character) and “Darren Aronofsky” in the same sentence, I knew this film would be misinterpreted and misunderstood by the masses. I imagined churchgoers from far and wide expressing their admiration for Hollywood for FINALLY doing a big-budget ADAPTATION of the Noah’s Ark story for the new generation of moviegoers, posting the trailers for the film on their Facebook walls, and encouraging their Brothers and Sisters in the Church to spend their money (not the money collected during Sunday service, mind you – Just kidding) on this Biblical EPIC! Sure enough, the reviews came out, which were surprisingly positive. But with it came a FLOOD (Hah! Get it?) of controversy due to the “creative decisions” applied to the source material, as well as a slew of negative reviews (some of which you can find on the IMDB page for “Noah”) condemning the film for diluting the original story into a bizarre, nonsensical popcorn movie. The mere fact that this film was released 10 years after the extremely controversial, numbingly violent yet commercially-successful and critically-praised (especially by Christians, which I personally think is quite ironic) Mel Gibson film “The Passion of the Christ” makes this situation an interesting one.

 

Y’see, “Noah” is a radical departure from the story read to kids in Sunday School every year in churches around the world. This is a dark, grim and apocalyptic film that presents Noah as a morally and spiritually-conflicted individual. Noah is “told” through nightmares and hallucinations (one of which involves himself being completely immersed in flood water in one of the film’s standout scenes) that a great flood will wipe out humanity. He must build an ark for himself, his family (wife Nameeh played by Crowe’s co-star from the Oscar-winning “A Beautiful Mind” Jennifer Connelly, sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), stepdaughter (and Shem’s wife) Ila (Emma Watson) and two of each species of animal (male and female) to stay inside until the flood waters subside. However, in true Hollywood epic fashion, there is an antagonist – in this case, Tubal-Cain (played by Ray Winstone) – originally mentioned in the Book of Genesis as a descendant of Cain, the man who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy – a marauder who, along with his army of savages, will stop at nothing to survive the flood. Morally guiding Noah on his journey is his grandfather Methuselah (played to a gleefully Obi-Wan Kenobi-like degree by the scene-stealing Anthony Hopkins) and assisting Noah in the construction of the ark are the Watchers, a group of fallen angels forced to live out their existence on Earth as gargantuan rock creatures.

 

But wait a minute, you’re probably thinking to yourself. Army of savages? A conflicted Noah?! Methuselah?! ROCK CREATURES?! OBI-WAN KENOBI?!! That wasn’t in the original story! Why are all these things in this movie?! What the hell kind of Bible movie is this?! And who’s Ila?!! Like I mentioned earlier, this is Darren’s VERSION – and VISION – of the source material. It was never intended to follow every word in every passage of the Biblical story.  “Noah” is Aronofsky’s first attempt at both the Biblical epic and the blockbuster epic fantasy. However, coming from a film history of thought-provoking features, Aronofsky uses his film to challenge the expectations of the audience with regards to both genres. Many fans of the Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings books (or any other fantasy novel turned into a movie), for example, complain that certain ‘important’ elements of the stories are altered, merely stated or removed altogether. But does the overall theme of the story remain, or is it forgotten amidst the flashy visual effects, bankable actors and rousing music? So how should viewers react if the story of Noah, which they may have read about for years, was boldly revised on-screen? Will they dismiss the film as cinematic garbage or grab their torches and pitchforks and attempt to burn the movie theater down? Or will they watch the film, examine it afterwards, and ask themselves if the overall theme of the story is still there?

 

As for the rock creatures and villain respectively, I believe that Aronofsky and screenwriter/producer Ari Handel (who also helped out on “The Wrestler”, “The Fountain” and “Black Swan”) are borrowing elements (and subtly poking fun at them for entertainment sake) from popular fantasy films like “The Lord of the Rings” (the creatures are eerily similar to the talking trees in “The Two Towers”) and celebrated Biblical epics like “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur”. Even the dialogue, acting and story plausibility in “Noah”, at times, feel over-the-top and theatrical like the bombastic, and admittedly cheesy, dialogue, acting and story plausibility presented in “The Ten Commandments”. It is a film experience, after all, and with the film’s budget of $125 million, Aronofsky and Handel set out to give viewers their money’s worth. There’s danger, wonder, love, death, darkness, light, action (Yes, ACTION. Noah brings the pain in this movie. Search the scriptures if you want to), hopelessness and hope. All the things one comes to expect in a modern film epic.

 

Despite the radical changes made in its narrative, “Noah” is still, in essence, the SAME story. And no, these aren’t spoilers. Noah is warned about flood, Noah builds ark for his family and the animals, storm comes, flood cleanses the world, Noah and the others are safe in the ark until they discover land. You KNOW this is what happens. But what I truly appreciated the film for, and what sparked a lot of negative feedback, was the courageous depiction of the protagonist. As I mentioned earlier, Noah, played convincingly as a Biblical action hero of sorts by Russell Crowe, is conflicted – both morally and spiritually. He has an idea of why God had to literally wipe the world’s slate clean. Humanity had succumbed to wickedness and decadence. However, the film presents Noah as not fully understanding the significance of his and his family’s survival.  If humanity was supposed to be eliminated, then why were Noah and his family meant to survive this ordeal? And why was he told NOT to save anyone else from the flood? It’s these questions that challenge both Crowe’s character and the audience. The film intentionally places you in the shoes (which are most likely waterlogged) of Noah. If you were given this incredible responsibility, how would you feel? How would you react? Will you perform the task that was given to you without a moment’s notice, will you think it through and try to understand what your role REALLY IS, or will you abandon it altogether? Even Ray Winstone’s (who plays a great antagonist for Noah, by the way) Tubal-Cain is conflicted. He wonders why God wishes for ALL of humanity to be wiped out, and he chooses to survive by his own terms, by any means necessary. And it’s these clashes of beliefs and misunderstandings between the protagonist and other characters in the film that makes this film so profound and intriguing.

 

So did I enjoy the film? Once I was able to accept the creative decisions made in “Noah”, and I got into the moral and spiritual dilemma it presented, I ultimately enjoyed the film for what it was. Aronofsky and his team set out to make a Biblical film – or should I say, Biblical-themed film unlike any ever put to screen, and they succeeded. The performances were great, the visual effects were pretty decent and the direction, cinematography and music were all fantastic. It’s as thematically provocative as “The Passion of the Christ” – and even Martin Scorsese’s less violent, but also extremely controversial film “The Last Temptation of Christ”, but WAY more entertaining. It is indeed a film for a new generation of moviegoers, and one in which the viewer is required to think about the images and themes shown on-screen, and form his or her own viewpoint about the film’s message. Not everyone will enjoy this film for sure. Some will complain that the film is too weird and abstract, and doesn’t deliver the “blockbuster” thrills that they paid their money for. Others will argue that the film is blatantly blasphemous. And a select few won’t give a goddamn. It may appear on critics’ best or worst movies lists by the end of the year. But for me, “Noah” is a rare exception of a famous story being retold in such a unique, original and fascinating way that you really have to sit back, put on your thinking cap, and ask yourself “Is that what the point of the story is? And if so, what do I gain from it? And how can I apply what Ive learned to my life?”  Then ask yourself, “When was the last time a big-budget, effects-laden epic blockbuster forced me to dust off the old thinking cap?”

 

MY RATING: 4 out of 5 stars (“See this movie”)

 

– Matthew