Gowhere Hip Hop

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City Hall: The Justification of Bieber

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You probably hate Justin Bieber.


And nobody's ever challenged you on that. Maybe you have a friend who kinda likes him, but has never been up to fighting for him in a public domain. Maybe your boys will torch you for ever listening to one of his songs fully, much less mentioning it as something you enjoyed. Maybe you think you know his story and assume he's a product of the Disney teen-star system, a boy who has replaced the Jonas Brothers as undeserving and soon-to-be irrelevant stars. Maybe you even contributed to the hate-fueled 1.2 (of ten) user rating of his documentary, February 2011's Never Say Never, on IMDB.com.


Maybe you hate his floppy hair, his baby face and his shoes-three-sizes-bigger-than-his-feet swag. If you're a little more tuned in, maybe you hate how Usher and Justin Timberlake had a full-out bidding war for his services. Once signed, maybe you hate how he had stone-cold hitmakers The-Dream and Tricky Stewart write his two biggest hits. Maybe you think, since you have an average voice, that those two could turn a star out of you. Why him, why not you?


Simply? Because he's legit.


No offense to you, of course. But for not giving the kid a true shot, for writing him off for a few iffy issues, for chalking his success up to "luck" or "hair," you're completely missing the point. You're stereotyping, pigeonholing. If you'll continue to do that after reading my intro, do us both a favor and stop reading. Seriously. But if you're open-minded and secure in yourself, stick with me.


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City Hall Minutes: Jim Jonsin Productions

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('City Hall Minutes' will be City Hall's countdown series of songs, albums, etc. in a certain artist or producer's discography. At least, that's what the idea is now. It may change. For now, it's a countdown. This is the first entry in that series.)

 
In my "Road to Recovery" piece on Eminem, I mentioned a certain "criminally underrated" producer by the name of Jim Jonsin. After reading the final draft, that line clicked a bit more. He really is criminally underrated. Can that be changed? Hell, I'm a writer with minimal pull, might as well do my part to properly rate Jonsin, a guy who has quickly become one of my favorite producers.
 
Jonsin's influence has popped up in so many places -- this season on American Idol, signing B.o.B as the first act on his Rebel Rock label, etc. -- and has collected many accolades -- a Grammy, multiple No. 1 hits -- that you probably haven't even realized. By definition, he's underrated. Let's change that.

From an XXL Magazine interview in April of 2009:

XXL: Why do you think your music is bigger than your name?

Jonsin: I don't know. It's funny, I was just...the past few artists I worked with, even with Lloyd. I was with Lloyd a couple of weeks ago and one of his buddies and they asked me to tell them what songs I've done. When I named the songs they flipped out, like 'Wow, you did that? You did that?' And so I made a CD the other day off my lady's computer. I said, 'Let me just put something together just to reflect back on the records I've done.' And I'm talking about what I call my new run being this new stuff and then the old run and then the very old run when I was Jealous J back when I had bass music out [in the early '90s]. But now, I'd say from like 2003 until now, there was some really good songs on there. So to myself it's pretty impressive, but yeah I've moved on from that, from winning awards from stuff I did yesterday... I think my name is a lot smaller than the music I've done, and I just hired a publicist for the first time in my career really. I had a publicist in the past, I wasn't really interested in being this famous guy. I just wanted to make the music, but now I think having the notoriety, people know who I am and just inspiring other people, is important to my legacy and to everybody in my family."
 
Honorable Mention:
Beyoncé "Sweet Dreams" (2010)

Beyoncé has done much better, as has Jonsin. But the producer's ability to cross over genres and styles, proven with this song, warrants its inclusion. He's tremendously versatile. Gotta appreciate that in a producer.
 
10:
J. Cole "Pass Me By" f/ B.o.B (2010)

A tight piano loop compliments Jonsin-drums (heavy and rock-esque), with a little love from B.o.B on the hook. J. Cole, in my relatively limited experience with his music, seems to thrive on heavy beats like this. He's extremely comfortable and tackles some pretty taboo stuff on this track, further fueling his hype machine. This record is complete: interesting lyrics, great beat, catchy hook. Very interested to see if this makes J. Cole's debut album; here's to hoping it does.

9:
Soulja Boy "Kiss Me Thru The Phone" (2008)

Up front, let me just say that I don't like Soulja. I think he sucks. I think he helped start -- and has since been (shockingly) limited to -- "ringtone rap." His hand in the creation of that term/genre means I'll always hate him. (And on "Crank Dat:" If you have a brain, you shouldn't enjoy that song more than a five out of ten. If it wasn't for that dance to go along with it, the song would be even worse. Gag.)
 
As for "Kiss Me Through the Phone," I give the majority of credit to Jonsin and smooth-yet-generic-voiced Sammie for making me legitimately like a track that's credited to Soulja. Who cares if it sounds veryyyyyy similar to No. 5 on this list? It's catchy. It's stupidly relatable. It contains great depth, especially in the verses. (That last one was a joke.) But I don't want to talk about Soulja any longer, might get too frustrated. Let's move on.

8:
Nelly "Just A Dream" (2010)

It's crazy what has happened to Nelly. The guy created great, and I mean great hip-pop in the early part of the decade -- "Country Grammar" and "Ride Wit Me" to name only two -- yet severely fell off a cliff (not unlike the infamous O'Doyles) musically since. I would venture to say that he hadn't made a legit, good song in five years (I'm counting "Grillz"). Until this one dropped.

Sure, it was inescapable on the radio (a pattern you'll see with Jonsin productions) for a month or so, but don't let that deter you from appreciating its quality. A cool guitar lick opens and sets the tone for Nelly to absolutely kill the melody, a common thread in Jonsin productions. Maybe there are better songs in Jonsin's discography, but there mere fact that this song resurrected Nelly from a musical graveyard in STL kicked it up a few notches in my book. When Nelly is good, he's very good at creating well-rounded hip-pop. Give Jonsin a Deron Williams-esque assist on this one and enjoy.

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Find out the rest of the countdown, including which #1 hit is #1, after the jump!


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City Hall Re-Reviews: Tyler, the Creator (of Odd Future) 'Bastard'

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Features 15 Tracks!

Three stars (of five)


As recently as a week ago, I didn't like Tyler the Creator. I'd read various things in passing about him and his crew, "Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All," which included uproar over devilish rhymes, lyrics straight out of Arkham Asylum's daycare and stirring up trouble with B.o.B (among others). I don't like instigators, and that's what I wrote Tyler off as. Then I caught him on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; granted, I was falling asleep, but I saw him bouncing around stage and could barely make out a single word of whatever song he was performing. (I watched it again today, wide awake... Result was the same.) I flipped the TV off and fell asleep. That wrote him off even further.


But a guy's mind can change. I make it a personal mission, a crusade if you will, to not write something off, not totally discount it, unless it's tried. I don't always succeed, but I try. So Tyler was in my head, nipping at me over the past month: "I was compared to Eminem. You love Eminem. I've gotten a ton of pub recently, gotta be something to it. You read some of my lyrics... they made your jaw drop. Who says stuff like this? I do. Listen to me. Give me a f*cking shot." He won; I did.


Odd Future's system is inherently modern. Their website has links to each of their members' releases, whether mixtapes or albums. To them, I'm not too sure what the difference is. But there are a ton to choose from, to their credit. They roll these albums out on an assembly line.


Tyler, the Creator is the founder and leader of Odd Future. He's the mouthpiece, by far the most famous member (117,000+ Twitter followers as of this weekend). So naturally, I chose his solo effort -- entitled Bastard, posted to the group's website in February, 2010 -- to dive into. (Fitting that his new album, Goblin, should be out this month.)


I didn't know what to expect; but when the middle-finger shaped dust cloud cleared, I was impressed. The guy may be an instigator, but he's a talented one. And although he has a fraction of Eminem's charisma, I found myself gripped to the lyrics, wondering what the hell he could possibly say next. Because the good tracks -- "French!" "AssMilk," "Session," and "Inglorious" -- suggest a guy with real ability under that, to put it oh-so-delicately, coarse exterior.


It's also possible that the exterior is a front. In the phenomenal opening track "Bastard" -- if you hear this track and expect something as good to pop up again, nothing does -- Tyler lays out a blueprint for the chaos to come, while shining a shockingly human light on himself. Bars include: "I roll with skaters and musicians with an intuition/I created O.F. cuz I feel we're more talented/Than 40-year-old rappers talkin' 'bout Gucci/When they have kids they haven't seen in years/Impressin' their peers."


(A number or percentage couldn't express how much I agree with those lines. Tyler may delve into what Satan would rap if given a mic, but as crazy as it sounds, at least he's saying something. With every generic song from some club-cars-and-hoes rapper, music dies a little more. Tyler is more likely to kill a person than music itself.)


Then he dives into his father issues, which pop up more often than anything else (hence the album's title): "The shit is so bare/My diary isn't hid/My father didn't give a f*ck/So it's somethin' I inherit/My mother's all I have so it's never meet the parents/When Danielle or Malonda decide to f*ckin' share/This confused boy/I want a hug hoy/I'm bad for you kids to listen to/Soy is not the choice/I'm bad milk, drink it."


After hearing bits of his story, his raw emotion and the undeniable talent he possesses, you feel a bit sorry for him. That feeling doesn't last too long.


"When it comes to your perception of my shit, I'm Helen Keller," he raps on "French!" Well, there's no way that's possible. Sweet line though, right? It brings up something my mind wanders into occasionally, the paradox of artist vs. actuality. Is there any way Tyler, in his real, day-to-day life, really thinks all this stuff? Is he cool with butt rape? Does he really think anyone cares that he does or doesn't pay $50 for head, as he incessantly tweeted about on Friday? Does he live to push buttons and get off on the reaction? His lyrics literally need to be heard/read to be believed. The stuff he touches on... I could make a list, but It would be two times longer than this post. Does he truly believe what he says? I don't know him, so I can't say anything for sure. But it's possible. And it's unnerving.


As a whole, Bastard stands as a representation of what any jilted kid with a MacBook could do. It includes glowing bright spots as well as tracks I'll never listen to again. But he made me listen.


Kidd Russell, a writer for Gowhere, wrote this when posting the video for Tyler's new single "Yonkers:" "This kid may turn out to be one of the most important new personalities of 2011. Just like when Kurt Cobain & Nirvana arrived & helped end the hair band metal movement; Tyler & his crew could be the start to a new wave in hip hop that goes against the Hip-Pop movement of the last few years. Either way you look at it he created an amazing piece of art to be just 19."


I agree partially. I agree that Tyler is doing his damnedest to push rap out of the current hip-pop (a great term) phase, and I commend him for that. Especially at 19? That's nuts. But he won't do it unless he makes better music. One of Eminem's first albums, 1996's Infinite, was not good but showed great promise. He was figuring his style out, discovering what kind of artist he wanted to be (which is fascinating to listen to now). I'd put Bastard above Infinite, but assuming Tyler will make an Em-like jump is not something I'll guarantee, or even expect. The guy is rapping about these things to raise our eyebrows and drop our jaws, and doing so with an advanced skill level. But let's temper our expectations a bit. 


To me, the bottom line is that Tyler may be a douchebag; but who cares? Concerning his musical ability, there's plenty of promise. And in the end, isn't that all we should care about? We don't have to hang out with him. Just listen; he's not going away yet.


Must-hear: "Bastard," "French!" "AssMilk," "Session," "Inglorious"

City Hall Re-Reviews: Road to 'Recovery' - Eminem

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BUY: Eminem 'Recovery'

5 stars (of five)
 
I'm a sucker for epic and the extraordinary struggle to reach it. The human mind/body jostling with a seemingly insurmountable foe, sometimes coming through when expected but other times defying all odds and doubters? I love it. I always have. It's why I think Avatar not winning the 2010 Best Picture Oscar, after revolutionizing the way films are made, was a disgrace to the industry. It's why I think Jurassic Park, with its still-phenomenal effects and life-will-find-a-way meaning, is one of the greatest movies ever. It's why I have crazy respect for Josh Hamilton and Lamar Odom (among others). It's why I think having the confidence to go big -- regardless of the outcome -- is a victory in itself. And it's why I think Recovery, Eminem's most recent offering, is his greatest album.

What's important to mention is the record's context. Considering Em's own words -- "Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushing 'em out" from "Talkin' 2 Myself" -- Recovery was the first disc he made with a clear mind in at least eight years; maybe ever.


"But it's music," you think. "Who needs a clear mind for that? The Beatles made the majority of their later triumphs on acid." This isn't the same. The Beatles were experimenting with new stuff, and they had reached a level so stratospheric that whatever they released would be worshiped by critics and fans alike. Em's situation wasn't like that. His was life-threatening. (And yes, I just compared Eminem to The Beatles. Deal with it.)


It was the album Em shouldn't have been able to make. The album which candidly chronicles the rock-bottom-and-subsequent-rise-from-the-ashes of one of the biggest (if not the biggest) stars in music. The album that many other drug-influenced musicians were never able to make. Recovery, to put it plainly, is his "I should be dead" album.

The Road...

I've followed Em very closely since he emerged on the mainstream -- remember this? -- in 1999. Sure, the guy could rap like crazy, make great beats and construct true songs, a severely underrated part of rap. (Example: Game is a great rapper. His voice is the perfect blend of raspy and powerful, yet he hasn't proven to be a good crafter of song since he and 50 Cent broke up. Have you really, genuinely liked any of his albums/mixtapes since borderline-classic The Documentary? Didn't think so.)


Yet it was quite clear, from the very beginning, that Em had demons. And where there are demons, there's hostility. And where there's hostility, there are episodes. Em had episodes. But these episodes were chronicled in classic songs -- "Cleanin' Out My Closet" perhaps the greatest of all -- that became huge hits and made millions of dollars for himself, his label, his handlers and clones, so everyone was cool. The calm before the storm, you might say. That was 2003.


Then things got a bit silly, to Em's own admission. As he told Rolling Stone in a riveting interview with contributing editor Josh Eeels (Nov. 25, 2010, Issue 1118), he would enter the studio with a "pocketful of pills, and I would just go into the studio and goof off." He referenced the 2004 sessions of Encore as his goofy peak. " 'Rain Man,' 'Big Weenie,' 'Ass Like That' -- that's when the wheels were coming off," he admitted.


Drugs had permeated the music. The mightiest star in rap -- a title which cannot, in terms of record sales, critical acclaim, pop culture impact, et al., be debated -- had fallen victim to what so many before him had. He would become the new Brad Nowell, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain, a star whose creative peak was blurred and washed away by addiction. Tupac and Biggie were killed -- these men were killed by their demons.


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City Hall Reviews: Chris Brown 'F.A.M.E.'

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BUY/PREVIEW: 'F.A.M.E.' - Chris Brown


4 stars (of five)


I usually have a problem with R&B. Not so much with the music itself, but with whoever's singing it. In my opinion, there are far too many generic singers out there, guys (and girls) who are content to have other people write and produce their songs, with their only objective to sing it and make it not sound like everyone else. Usually it does. A few people -- Ne-Yo, The-Dream, Ryan Leslie, Keri Hilson, Ester Dean and (soon) Skylar Gray among them -- have consistently passed my test, those who (at least co-) write their music and have their hands in its production as well. These artists take risks, and as a result, move the genre forward.


Chris Brown further cements his inclusion in that club on F.A.M.E; He co-wrote every song on the album, including sole credit on over half of the 13 songs. Call me old school, but this kind of artistry is appealing: it's the cathartic process of music pressed and burned onto MP3s or CDs; it's idealistic in the world of big business, but music is still music. And Chris Brown does music -- and musicianship -- very well.


It's been a long and emotional -- FF to 4:10, apologies for the crappy quality -- journey back from America's gutter. But as each day passes, Brown gets closer to where he should've been.


Under-appreciated classic Graffiti -- which I wrote about last week -- set the bar very high for F.A.M.E. "Deuces," "Yeah 3x" and "Look At Me Now" were dynamite singles, pushing the bar even higher. To that standard, the album falls a bit short. But to today's music standard, to today's R&B standard, F.A.M.E. thrives.


As with all Brown releases, the balance of club bangers, midtempo sex romps and lovers-lament slow jams is a plus. The flow of F.A.M.E. keeps the running time to a strong 13-song, 55-minute performance.


The album's titular acronym is rather curious -- "Forgiving All My Enemies" or "Fans Are My Everything," so he can cover all moods -- seemingly makes him a victim. Chris, you are where you are because of what you did. Those enemies didn't exist before the "incident." I just hope you truly know that and do well to remember it.


(Personal note: The Rihanna questions will dog him forever. Any song featuring regret, sadness or longing for lost love could always be about her. But they could also not. That was one of my favorite things about Graffiti -- a guilty pleasure, admittedly -- that we know exactly who the songs are about. We know exactly what happened to him, exactly what he lost, exactly how he lost it. It was clear on Graffiti. On F.A.M.E.? Not so much. But I digress.)


One song in particular was an enigma: "No Bullshit" has a great and catchy slow-jam melody, one which has been stuck in my head for days. As far as its content? Its intention is to chronicle Brown's bedding of a young woman; instead, it's a war against subtlety. Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" is a masterpiece of R&B, partially because anyone over the age of 13 can listen and catch the subtext. You won't hear lines like: "3 in the morning/You know I'm horny," "Take off your clothes now/You already know what time it is/Reach up in the dresser where the condoms is" or "If you can't take it all, baby say when/Make you come over and over again/And Imma leave it in." Classics leave room for interpretation and imagination; "No Bullshit" bludgeons us over the head and makes me feel kinda dirty. And not in the good way. Brown should know better.


And for the most part, he does. It takes Justin Bieber to soften Brown for "Next 2 You," a heartfelt duet from two guys who should continue to work together. "Should've Kissed You" is a gem, a melodically phenomenal confessional of regret in the vain of "Lucky Me" and "Crawl." "All Back" follows suit.


"Yeah 3x" is a brother to his classic, 2008's "Forever," one of the best pop songs of the decade. Want an epic dance track? Call Breezy. "Wet the Bed," with Ludacris, is weaker, but had me laughing. "Beautiful People" is lyrically simple yet pointed, a good and positive way to close the album.


A few years ago, Brown was being lauded as the next Michael Jackson. But after the Rihanna incident, something strange happened: his approval rating plummeted, and his musicianship skyrocketed. He's a kid coming to grips with his talent in the midst of hate, and on an album that's No. 1 on iTunes/is expected to sell 275k this week/already has three top-15 singles, he's doing just that.


"She Ain't You," which opens with as memorable a guitar lick you'll ever hear in R&B, brought the MJ comparison back. Calling Brown the next Jackson -- nod to the guitar from "Human Nature" -- borders on blasphemy. So I won't go that far. What I will say is that Brown, to his absolute and undeniable credit, sees a vacant throne. And he wants it.


F.A.M.E. isn't as groundbreaking as Graffiti, and it doesn't quite vault Brown onto the R&B throne yet. But after a couple more albums on this level, his haters will have no choice but change their minds. Brown has found his groove. Consider this another strong statement on his application for the new King of Pop.


Must-hear: "Look at Me Now," "She Ain't You," "Yeah 3x," "Next 2 You," "Should've Kissed You"

 

City Hall Re-Reviews: Chris Brown 'Graffiti'

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4.5 stars (of five)

Chris Brown's fourth album, F.A.M.E., is scheduled for release on March 22. Its leak date has already arrived. In anticipation of its official release, I'm revisiting Brown's previous release -- Graffiti, from November 2009 -- which was critically mauled, yet one I found to be an incredible step forward for an artist that has become one of the most polarizing members of not only the music community, but the country.

Some reviews from well-respected music critics:

Jody Rosen, Rolling Stone: 2.5 stars (of five)
Pete Paphides, The Times: 2 stars (of five)
Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times: 1.5 stars (of four)
Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune: 1 star (of four)
Jim DeRogatis, Chicago Sun-Times: 1 star (of four)
Eric Henderson, Slant Magazine: 1.5 stars (of five)
Andy Kellman, Allmusic.com: 1 star (of five)
Michaelangelo Matos, The A.V. Club: F
Rich Mayor, Gowhere Hip Hop: 4.5 stars (of five)

The general population doesn't like Chris Brown, and maybe they shouldn't. It's difficult for anyone who's seen the TMZ photo of Rihanna, beaten, bruised and (yes) bitten by Brown to find remorse for the (young) man.

After this incident, Brown's talent, which had been lauded as comparable to early-Michael Jackson (FF to 4:17 for tribute), took a backseat. Over two years removed from their altercation, he's still paying for it. And he very well should.

So it's extremely difficult to focus on the music, to separate the man from the art. But isn't that what a critic is supposed to do? Because with or without the incident Brown, now only 21, is a young man with a lot of growth, both musically and mentally, ahead.

Upon its release, Graffiti was critically panned. And by "panned," I mean absolutely mutilated. Of the dozen-plus reviews I've read, he maxed out at 2.5 stars of 4. He received some "F" grades, some "1 of 5" ratings (as you can see above). On Metacritic, the "Rotten Tomatoes" of music, the album received a score of 39 of 100, signaling "generally unfavorable reviews," a gross understatement if I'd ever read one.

Most reviews dripped with hatred of the man, thus carrying over into intense disdain for the music. It was "bland, occasionally obnoxious" (Rolling Stone), "a simply below-average collection of paint-by-numbers R&B beats" (Slant Magazine). The lyrics were seen as not only poor, but complete fabrications. Jim DeRogatis of the Sun-Times finished his review with this flurry: "Sometimes, great art is made by reprehensible human beings, and squaring the two is enormously difficult. Thankfully, that problem isn't nearly as thorny when reprehensible human beings make art that is thoroughly mediocre and at times just garbage."

Brown was a monster, and anything he said, sang or created was a reflection of that. There wasn't a genuine bone in his body.

My appreciation for the album hinges primarily on my disagreement with the previous sentence. What Brown did to one of America's sweethearts was reprehensible. But was he lying each and every time he apologized, both rehearsed and candid? Rihanna has "forgiven" him and moved on; is that not enough? Why are music critics -- who are paid to give unbiased critiques -- so insistent on trashing his music to prove their hatred for him? It's irresponsible, and honestly, discouraging.

Upon hearing Graffiti for the first time -- on a leak, which came before all the scathing reviews -- I knew I was hearing something different. It was a kid my age who had made a terrible mistake and had only just begun to pay for it. It showed an incredible talent at a crossroads in his life, a boy attempting to become a man in the burning, despising eye of the American fishbowl. It was a hodgepodge of feelings, conflicting thoughts of lost love, extreme regret and the desire to, much like any 19-year-old, have a good time.

It was an artistic expression of the greatest kind. Much like Kanye West in his universally-acclaimed My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Brown's mind was everywhere. He didn't know how to feel, couldn't narrow it down. So he let it all out. The album itself is far from a cohesive unit - but each of the songs are. And in that, the album makes a statement that we, as human beings, can relate to at our cores.

"Crawl" and "So Cold" are melodic, slow-churning, modern-R&B masterpieces of regret and internal turmoil. "Famous Girl" is a riveting commentary of mutual fault, contributing to the end of his and Rihanna's relationship. In it, he suggests that they both cheated during their time together. Ah, the perils of young celebrity love. "Take My Time" contains one of the most graphic sexual-moaning outros you'll hear today (can't say he's not attempting to push the envelope). "I.Y.A." and the Steve Winwood-sampling "Pass Out" are pop gems with nods to the 1980s. "I'll Go" and "Fallin' Down" are simple, vocally-impressive confessionals, the latter of which is Brown at his most human. And "Lucky Me" is the best of all, a building commentary of life in the spotlight when, quite frankly, being hated by everyone.

Perhaps you despise Chris Brown and always will -- what he did is impossible to erase -- but has enough time passed? His prodigious talent means he won't be going anywhere anytime soon. Are you ready to forgive him? Because in this never-forgiving, Brown-boycotting mindset, you likely let this gem slip under your radar. You may have missed a classic.

Must-hear: "So Cold," "Crawl," "Famous Girl," "Pass Out," "Lucky Me"
 
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ED NOTE: City Hall is our newest writer and will be contributing album reviews for Gowhere Hip Hop!
 

Eminem's path to 'Recovery'

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As longtime Eminem fans, Maks G. & I were reflecting the other day about his career and how he came to this point today, with the release of his new album. In fact, we were able to draw connections to as far back as Encore that led him (and all of us) onto his path to Recovery.

In one of Eminem's most brutally honest songs of his career "Talkin' 2 Myself" (and there's been many), Eminem describes the insecurities he dealt with bouncing back from drugs and an absence from hip hop. The lines that explicitly connect the dots between Encore to Recovery, however, is this:

"Hit my bottom so hard I bounced twice,
This time around it's different,
Them last 2 albums didn't count,
Encore I was on drugs, Relapse I was flushin' 'em out.
I've come to make it up to you now, no more f**kin' around,
I got somethin' to prove to fans because I feel like I let 'em down"

- Eminem "Talkin' 2 Myself" (from Recovery)

Upon this revelation, we reflected back to Encore - an album that featured his usual mix of serious, emotional records with some silly 'Slim Shady' singles. There wasn't all too much in the music that indicated he was on drugs (ok, maybe the "Ass Like That" video), but the music also received mediocre reviews across the board. By 2009's release of Relapse, the hip hop world was at the very least curious about Eminem's return from a 5 year exile. Many of Eminem's early fans ended up disappointed with the agitating accents and a stark change in content on Relapse. Eminem put his pill addiction to the forefront and spilled some honest, yet disconnected rhymes about trying to rid the drugs that primarily caused such a long lay-off from hip hop and one of the darkest periods in the life of Marshall Mathers. People who could directly relate to drug addiction can definitely vibe with the album, but many like myself, could not connect to the content and even redundant sounds of the production. Relapse was my least favorite Eminem album - a notion that I feel I'm not alone on. The hear-say this summer of Eminem as the 'best rapper alive' where no where to be found this time last year. Numbers don't lie, however, as Relapse was the highest-selling rap album of 2009 and took home the Grammy for 'Best Rap Album'. Shady was back on top, but with what many felt was a mediocre 'comeback' album. Interestingly enough, Eminem agreed on the lead single of the album that actually brings the comeback full circle, Recovery

One of the iconic lines from "Not Afraid" goes "In fact, let's be honest, that last Relapse CD was 'ehhh', perhaps I ran them accents into the ground". Not only did that line inspire a head-scratch and/or chuckle (both for me), but also the whole idea of a first single that was not like a "Real Slim Shady" or a "We Made You" perhaps inspired a similar response. After all, this was the first time Eminem strayed from the 'formula' so to speak and hit us with a serious first single, in fact indicating a different direction for Eminem with Recovery. That direction is really driven home upon a complete listen of the new album, which is undoubtedly the best illustration of Eminem's most intense rhymes and flows in his career. Eminem took inspiration from conquering his drug addiction, falling so far out of the limelight in hip hop that he felt disrespected, and even the criticisms of Relapse, to take Recovery to an unprecedented level, even for him. There is not one moment of relaxation on Recovery as the complete body of work shows how motivated and hungry the Detroit emcee is - a hunger that he had always shown, but not to this degree. 

I, for one, love it. 

In the process of spilling his most fast-paced, furious rhymes, Eminem also experiments beyond his usual backing of Dr. Dre productions to a sound more parallel to hip hop of the past couple of years (and one completely out-there production, the "What Is Love"-sampled "No Love" from beatsmith, Just Blaze). The new sounds and the eye-opening intensity combine for an uppercut of refreshment, knocking you out when you least expected it. As a result, there's nothing really to sit back and vibe with on Recovery and you may need to be in the right mood for Eminem's ferocity to fully appreciate the entire body of work. Having said that, Recovery is an amazingly powerful album if you are in the mood to really listen to Eminem.

So now that Recovery has settled in with us, Maks G. and I concluded that Relapse was the mere beginning of Eminem's comeback, instead of the comeback itself. Recovery brings the methodical comeback for Eminem full circle to where he's once again at the forefront of the discussion of 'best rapper alive'. But the strange thing is: we would not have Recovery if it wasn't for Relapse. And we wouldn't have had Relapse, had Eminem created Encore while on drugs. The five-year layoff between albums was chiefly created by the drug addiction, but so much had happened in that time period in hip hop to also contribute to the new concepts and sounds of Recovery. Everything had to come together to get to where we are now, which makes this comeback so much more interesting. It's not a classic 'I'm back, I'm still the s**t' comeback (see: T.I. and this time next year, Lil' Wayne), but rather a gradual comeback that we can see in the broader scope was triggered as far back as 2004. Now that we have finally come to Recovery, isn't it that much more powerful?

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Your reward for scrolling past all the text looking for new music reading all that? New music! Just the iTunes bonus tracks for your collection, if you fiend on the physical CDs like myself. Recovery available now!

Eminem "Session One" f/ Slaughterhouse
Producer: Just Blaze - FULL, CDQ, iTunes Bonus track off the album, Recovery *Tibs Fav.™

Eminem "Ridaz"
Producer: Dr. Dre - FULL, CDQ, iTunes Bonus track off the album, Recovery
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~ Sgt. Tibs

Lupe Fiasco 'I'm Beamin'' video premiere


BUY: Lupe Fiasco "I'm Beamin'"
Producer: The Neptunes - Track off upcoming album, Lasers *TIBS FAV.™

(UPDATED w/ commentary from both Maks G. and I).

Lupe is beamin' with the fresh new video for the lead single off the upcoming album, Lasers. The video is set amongst a black background with children contributing cardboard cutout props to match the lyrics. Combined with the neon colors that are electrified over Lupe's body throughout the video (1:20 is my favorite), the end result is an entertaining and straight up cool video. The kids and cardboard symbols are especially fun to follow once the second verse starts. However, we think the beamin' motif could have been pushed even further by doing more with less. We feel there are too many elements and aesthetics in the video with the kids, lights, cut outs, and darkness all into one. Perhaps a more minimalist video playing strictly with light or the duality of light shining through the dark could have been more artistic.

Many have noticed the 'Illuminati' symbol of the all seeing eye and pyramid (3:06 - screen captured below... meaning here). 

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But then notice in the immediate seconds after, the 'ha!' from Lupe (also in the song).

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Lupe adds that humorous touch to provide what we think is a double meaning/mockery of the all seeing eye symbol. Also consider the song and Lupe himself as a master of double meanings, so it is difficult to draw a concrete conclusion; he is like a shade with many different tones of interpretation. It is interesting to keep noticing symbols littered across music videos, movies, commercials, etc. and it seemed like this one in the "I'm Beamin'" video spurred a lot of reaction. Symbols have a greater impact than words on the subconscious mind, and we are seeing that there is a symbolic conflict going on behind the scenes of music videos in general. (Keep your mind peeled). What do you make of this and what does it all mean? That was the only symbol we caught for now, but are there more? Beyond what was talked about above, what was your favorite part of the video? Enjoy!
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~ Sgt. Tibs & Maks G.

RT @gowherehiphop Twitter's Transformation of the Music Industry #editorial

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Move over Optimus Prime, the biggest transformer of 2009 goes by the name of Twitter - the social networking giant that you hate to love has supplanted MySpace and Facebook as the most efficient way to instantaneously communicate with the world. Just a short year ago, the word 'tweet' was as recognizable as Rocky Balboa's face after 15 rounds with Apollo Creed. Today? Overhearing people mispronounce 'tweet' has become part of my daily routine. The phenomenon has made its stamp on culture worldwide and has doubled as the primary influence to today's evolving urban music industry.

One of Twitter's biggest appeals to fans is the direct, personal connection with their favorite artists - a connection that was previously nonexistent.  Conversely, artists use Twitter to connect with their fans in numerous ways, giving them a glimpse into their celebrity life, commenting on media controversies, and using the tool to instantly leak their music.

We reached out to Grammy-nominated artist Trey Songz who spoke on the subject saying, "Two years ago if I wanted to put a record out I'd have to send a white label to a DJ, multiple DJs, and they would play it in the club and they would have to test it and I'd have to wait for them to play it."

Now there's no waiting. Previously this summer, Trey Songz used Twitter to hype up his mixtape, Anticipation. "Anticipation was pushed through Twitter - 30, 40,000 downloads within the first 24 hours," Songz exclaims with a sly smile, "So I'd say Twitter has done wonders."

Since then, Trey Songz embarked on another groundbreaking moment for music's relationship with Twitter: premiering the video for "I Invented Sex". The link Trey Songz provided on his Twitter took users to TreySongz.com to watch the video and then automatically re-tweeted the video to their followers. In a mere 10 minutes, "#inventedsex" became an eye-catching trending topic to many Twitter users, and first-time listeners, further increasing Trey Songz' fanbase.

Increasing one's fanbase is an underlying goal for every artist in the game, and surely the primary goal for upcoming artists. But in today's world, you're just as likely to run into an aspiring rapper on the street as you are Jack Nicholson courtside at a Lakers game. So how does an aspiring artist separate themselves from the pack? By developing themselves as a brand and becoming business savvy Twitter users.

The difference between the mainstream artist and underground artist use of Twitter is best articulated through upcoming Chicago rapper S-Preme, who says, "Twitter, in terms of how it helps underground artists, allows you to get at other such artists for collabs, features, and everything. It allows blogs to give props to the artists they posted which the artists can then retweet to their fans and create a sort of grass roots movement for marketing."

The direct connection between all parties involved helps all parties involved. Upcoming artists can begin and continue relationships through Twitter's friendly, yet informal interface as S-Preme continues, "It [Twitter] allows you to connect with people in a way you couldn't before via e-mail". The fans are the real winners as those who are as savvy as the upcoming artists themselves can find new music and new artists even easier than before.

With other fan-friendly tools like TwitPic and UStream, artists can further utilize the powerful social networking application to give fans instant and direct insight with a live Q&A, pictures from an award show, of who they're working with in the studio, or even a new tattoo. If music is the universal language, then Twitter has successfully and powerfully simplified the language using 140 characters or less.

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Consider this an epilogue of sorts. I was inspired to write a piece about Twitter after our exclusive interview with Trey Songz a few months ago when we asked him about the subject. From there, I wanted another artist's perspective who would add another perspective themselves so I reached out to upcoming Chicago artist S-Preme for some input. Then I finally put things all together for a concise piece that described just how useful Twitter is for the music industry.

I understand that there's nothing groundbreaking about the information to many of us already on Twitter, but I also know that the general public is still unaware of how much Twitter extends beyond what we had for breakfast this morning (Cocoa Krispies btw). The latter fact is quite bothersome in fact, as many of my acquaintances simply do not try to understand Twitter's greater value. Essentially, my aim was to write an engaging, yet concise reflection of Twitter's transformation of the music industry to not only put things in perspective for those inside the music industry but also open up some new eyes at how Twitter is affecting today's culture. Hope you enjoyed it!

Special Thanks: @songzyuuup // @spreme

Follow Gowhere Hip Hop: Sgt. Tibs @gowherehiphop // Maks G. @limitedg

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~ Sgt. Tibs


Rhymefest discusses fairness issue: compensation for artists from corporate radio


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Rhymefest speaks for musicFIRST

Attention GWHH readers: this is a special editorial that deserves a little background information before you jump into it below. Earlier this summer, I was privileged to take part in a conference call where Rhymefest discussed a loophole in the law that does not require corporate radio to compensate artists for playing their songs on the radio. I was inspired by his talk and did some more research on the subject. The result: a fun and informative piece of freelance writing that will help bring awareness to the issues at hand using our platform to reach the masses here at GWHH. Rest assured, we will keep you updated on the bill's progress. We would like to thank Lindsay D., Sean Glover, and of course Rhymefest for their time and input for the piece below. All the details you need to know are covered in the article so without further adieu, enjoy!

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To radio: play me AND pay me!

You're in your car. You're changing the dial on your radio station when you come across "Boom Boom Pow" on not one, but two stations at the same time. Whether you get your groove on or turn off the radio in disgust, one thing's for sure: you're not thinking about how much money the Black Eyed Peas are earning from those same two stations. But now that I brought it up, you naturally assume they must make a million dollars from the radio for their #1 hit, right? Wrong. The answer: $0.00

It may come as a shock to you, but the fact is only songwriters get compensated for their songs being played on the radio; the artists who perform them do not see a dime. Corporate radio has made money off of the music that has defined generations and shaped today's culture - money that corporate radio refuses to allocate toward the performers that brought it to life. This loophole in the copyright has been the law for 80+ years. Frank Sinatra led the fight to fix this loophole 20 years ago while his daughter, Nancy, continues his legacy today. A civil rights bill for musicians - Performance Rights Act, H.R. 848 - introduced to Congress in December 2007 looks to change this disparity and bring fairness for the artists.

Since then, the musicFIRST Coalition has formed to bring artists together to fight for the fairness they are entitled to from corporate radio. Today's biggest stars like Jay-Z, Ne-Yo, and Rihanna join legends like B.B. King and Celine Dion on the Coalition's extensive list of artists who support their movement to ensure this bill gets passed in Congress.

These chart-topping artists are relatively unaffected by the absence of royalties that the current law fails to enforce because those artists earn superstar dollars in other fashions. However, other well-known artists in the music industry, like Chicago's Rhymefest, need these royalties, as he emphasizes, "We need the money to support our families, well after our career is over."

The NAACP recently reaffirmed Rhymefest's assertion by passing a resolution in support of musicFIRST and the pending bill before Congress. Spokesperson for the musicFIRST Coalition, Sean Glover says, "The NAACP recognizes that many black musicians are penniless in old age because Radio One and Clear Channel don't pay royalties. Performance rights is a civil rights issue, it is a workers' rights issue."

But before people jump to say this is a race issue, it is not. Race and politics should be left out of the debate about the bill because this is purely a fairness issue. To further prove that point, Rhymefest says, "The only countries that don't compensate artists for the performance rights on the radio are North Korea, China, Iran, Rwanda, and America." This chilling fact illustrates how far behind the U.S. is in proper compensation for performance rights. Consequently, American artists are experimenting by traveling overseas to Europe, in hopes to expand their fanbase and create a demand for (compensated) radio airplay.

The bottom line comes down to the music. Rhymefest continues, "The music is in public demand. The artists don't have the right to say, 'don't play my music'. They [the radio stations] are going to play it regardless." Corporate radio is not only taking advantage of the music to gain listeners but they are also closing its playlists to seemingly the same 10 songs a day across the entire country. In fact, the musicFIRST Coalition even filed a complaint with the FCC in April that top-selling artists were being threatened and intimidated by several radio stations because they supported musicFIRST's efforts to require radio stations pay royalties to the artists. The filing even went on to say, "Several stations within a major radio broadcast group notified the artist's label that they would no longer play his single on the air."

How much longer can artists like Rhymefest afford to put their heart and soul into their work only to receive no support from corporate radio even if they play their records?

For more information on the Performance Rights Act, H.R. 848, visit musicfirstcoalition.org.

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~ Sgt. Tibs

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