shuffle lessons, vol 2.

in november of last year, my friend jon dropped “shuffle lessons, volume 1” over on his blog. while i’m not the iTunes freakazoid (chimpanzee) that he is, i try really hard to maintain a solid library myself.

the whole idea is this: put iTunes on random and write a little bit about the first handful of songs that come up. jon pulled from his “top 1000” playlist, but i’m just pulling from my entire library…makes the element of surprise that much greater. my goals are three-fold:

– first, i hope to reminisce a bit on some songs i never listen to anymore.
– second, i hope to connect with you all randomly on a new level of music appreciation.
– third, i hope this inspires jon to drop volume 3 sometime.*

* – disclaimer: I do not necessarily have jon’s permission to swipe shuffle lessons…let alone claim volume 2 to be my own and apart of the series. i hope he looks upon this blog with favor.

that said – lets see what happens here…

20120818-014842.jpga new hope – five iron frenzy – all the hype money can buy
consider goal number one to be complete. i haven’t listened to this album in way too long. probably 6 years. five iron used to be my jam. i still break out “our newest album ever” on occasion – I always thought that was their strongest LP – but “all the hype” never got nearly enough playing time. not sure why – what other albums landed in 2000 that it was competing with…

this track, a new hope, is a response to the columbine high school shooting I think. five iron frenzy is a band from the columbine area, so the shooting there sort of framed a lot of their lyrics and their theology. some of the tougher lyrics to get around: did the halls smell of gunpowder still/what made the human mind dark enough to kill?…we all saw it on that day/stunned we stood stuttering/ what did the news say?

rumor has it that five iron is recording some new material – and again their home was hit with tragedy with the movie theater shooting during the “dark knight rises” premiere last month. would be shocked if there wasn’t a response on one of the later tracks similar to this one.

in somewhat related news, the theme of the middle school retreat I am leading next month is “the greatest story ever told” – which is the title of track 1 off this album.

20120818-014852.jpgre: definition – black star – black star
the first thing I think of when i hear any track from black star is “dave chappelle’s block party”. i knew who mos def was, and I knew talib kweli from his verse in kanye’s “get em high” and his mention in jay-z’s “moment of clarity” (if skills sold/truth be told/I’d probably be/lyrically/talib kweli), but I didn’t know of their duo “black star” until I saw DCBP. they perform this song early in the movie, and i think I had downloaded the whole album off limewire by the time the movie ended.

mos def is hilarious, and kweli is absolutely ridiculously good. how does he do it? he and twista should compete in some lyrical exercises sometime and put it on youtube. heck, sell tickets. i’d go.

speaking of, I remember when kweli was coming to kstate my senior year, but he got arrested after arriving in manhattan for possession of marijuana. he had to cancel his show and i didn’t find out until I was walking to the union and the rest of campus was deserted. I remember i looked up the situation on my red Palm Centro (which, fun fact, is the same phone Lily has in “how I met your mother”!). so I never got to see him. sigh. oh well.

20120818-014902.jpgfeel good inc (stanton warrior remix) – gorillaz – d-sides: remixes [disc 2]
one of the most remixable tracks ever created. it’s mash-ups on the dj hero soundtrack are some of my favorites: feel good inc/hollaback girl, feel good inc/heard it through the grapevine, feel good inc/ atomic. this track is alright I guess. not as strong as some other remixes I’ve heard – or as strong as the original for that matter – but it’s ooookay.

here’s the thing about mashups: they need to fill one of the following qualifications in order to be a success…
1. they make at least one of the two songs better – it’s like drinking a jack and coke…why would I ever want to ruin either of those beverages by combining them unless it makes a creation better than one of the the originals.
2. they isolate a unique part of the song that you wouldn’t expect – you can’t just lay the chorus of one song over the back beat of the other song and expect it to be a smash. you have to isolate some details that are easily missed in the originals and highlight them in a new way that makes it special.
3. they somehow combine the two so that you don’t miss the original – a good mashup is able to distinguish itself from the original in a way that makes the original forgettable in the moment. an even better mashup manages to replace the original, so that when you go back to the original you actually miss the elements of the other track. examples of this: feel good inc/heard it through the grapevine of the dj hero soundtrack, selected tracks from danger mouse’s “gray album”, kanye’s “say you will” and dido’s “here with me”…course both of those songs are pretty boring to begin with so it was easy to improve on.

this track does none of those things, so i can’t give it a thumbs up. odd that the gorillaz gave it the thumbs up to go on their “d-sides remixes” album.

20120818-014908.jpgi want you – savage garden – savage gardens
aka the “chicka-cherry-cola song”. two things I remember about this song/album…

1. I remember being in elementary school and sitting at the neighborhood pool trying to memorize all the words to this song when it would come on Z95.7 (now called “the vibe”…dumb). I used to get really tripped up on the “magenta” line in the first verse, and I get lost throughout the second verse until he says “deep sea diver” and then I’m back on course.

2. I remember one Christmas with all my cousins and we all got a different CD. mine was DC Talk, “Nu Thang” and I was ecstatic. I already had “free at last”, “jesus freak” and “dctalk”, so that completed the discography to that point. but then one of my cousins opened up this album and I remember being so jealous because I had spent the entire summer prior trying to learn the words and that was my golden opportunity to learn them all and it was given to my rival cousin instead. ugh.

20120818-014921.jpgisland girl – elton john – rock of the westies
love me some elton john – key word “some” – but certainly not all. this is maybe the worst ever. it’s is absolutely mind-blowing that this song made it to #1 on the US Billboard in 1975. I mean, c’mon, you’re telling me that in ’75 this song has more weeks at number one than the eagles “one of these nights”, kc and the sunshine band’s “that’s the way (I like it)”, and earth wind & fire’s “shining star”?!?! that’s just embarrassing. c’mon 1975…what were you thinking?

and don’t get me started on the subject matter. this “island girl” that elton is singing about is, according to the lyrics, a big girl/standing six-foot-three/turning tricks for dudes in the big city. awesome, so despite the jovial carribbean sound to the song, the “island” is manhattan, ny, and the “girl” is a prostitute. and a rather gargantuan prostitute at that. in fact, one might even wonder if this “girl” is actually a “girl” at all considering elton’s sexuality and the culture surrounding homosexuality in the 70s.

and here’s a fun little ditty: she wraps herself around you like a well worn tire/you feel her nail scratch your back just like a rake. what a wonderful image, elton. as bad as “daniel” and “nikita” and “little jeannie” are, “island girl” wins the prize for the worst track ever recorded by sir elton.

…well. there you go. the first five songs that came up on random on my iTunes, and those are my thoughts about each one. now please, leave your thoughts on one or all of them and maybe we can reach goal two together.


amy winehouse.

i was introduced to amy winehouse’s music about 4 years ago, shortly after she released Back to Black in late 2006. at the grammy’s the following year, she took home five awards – best pop vocal album, song of the year (rehab), best female pop performance (also rehab), record of the year as well as best new artist. that was easily enough to pique my interest (even though, at the time, i was ticked that she beat out justin timberlake in a couple of those catagories).

Back to Black is one of my all time favorite records now. soulful and gritty, yet upbeat and polished. produced by mark ronson, it features that oldies/60’s vibe that amy embraced and nailed better than anyone i’ve heard to date. i quickly sought out her first studio album, Frank, and loved it too.

I first heard that amy had passed away while i was on vacation with my wife in Europe. we had spent a week in London, exploring the entire city (including Amy’s home neighborhood of Camden Town, and the previous morning we had left for southern Spain. our second night there we got locked out on our patio at our condo and ended up having to holler up for help to the English couple hanging out on the balcony above us. in our conversation, the man – Roger was his name – asked down to us, “hey, are you all music fans?”

thinking that he was simply interested in enhancing our locked out experience with some tunes, i hollered up, “absolutely!” and he responds with, “do you guys listen to amy winehouse?” i responded, “absolutely! that’s awesome! put her on!” he replied, “she’s just died actually.”

now, i don’t know amy winehouse personally. in fact, i know very little about her actual life outside of her music and the persona she adopts in her songs. however, i would venture to guess she is one of the more honest musical artists of the last decade. when she sings about drinking and doing drugs, going to rehab, fighting the darkness of depression, falling sadly in and out of love, i believe her. so when i first heard that she had died, i wasn’t shocked. i don’t think any of us were shocked.

that was initially what was so sad about amy’s death – we really weren’t that shocked. it didn’t hit us hard in the face (unlike steve jobs’s death may have) because it was somewhat expected. the life she was living was always going to end that way…as sad as it is to say that. that was the real tragedy – not that a 27-year old woman had passed way too early, but because we weren’t surprised by the news.

but over the last few monthas, as i have reflected on her short career, i’m finding myself deeply saddened by it. sure, a lot of my sadness is strictly selfish; as a consumer of her music, i am really distraught that i won’t have the opportunity to digest her material anymore. she had just won 5 grammys 3 years earlier and was riding a steep track up the music success ladder. to know that she won’t ever get to put together a “junior” album is a real shame.

selfishness aside, i’m still plagued by a sadness that i didn’t expect. i think about the ultra-talented 20-somethings that i am close to – whether that talent be musically, artistically, relationally, athletically, whatever – and i start to realize what a tragedy this loss truly is. the world lost a truly talented individual; one who had already contributed something beautiful to society, but – in the chaotic and confusing world we live in – had her life cut short.

i wonder where amy’s soul is today. i sure hope she is in Heaven, but i really don’t know. it’s not my place to know. it’s not my place to judge her lifestyle and bestow salvation or not. all i know is that amy winehouse would make a terrific angel, and if God has no timeline and if it’s not too late to put in a good word – i pray she is with Jesus now.


watch the throne.

when jay-z creates something new – i freak out.

when kanye creates something new – i freak out more.

when they collaborate and create an entire album together – i can’t help but get super hyped about the potential the two of these power hitters could produce. these two really are “The Throne” of hip-hop: the kings of the genre who are worshiped by those who digest their tunes. cocky? sure, but as Justin Timberlake puts it, “is it really cocky if you know that it’s true?”* do i blame them for their collab title? no way. however, with great power comes great responsibility, and i’m not sure these two have fully grasped their roles as the kings of hip-hop quite as positively as they could. this album is strong – there’s no arguing that – but overall the content leaves me underwhelmed. however, there are bits and pieces of them moving in a mature direction.

let’s start by discussing their single “Otis” because that’s where they decided to start publicly. kanye is known for his samples, and the Otis Redding clip from “Try a Little Tenderness” is probably his most impressive sample usage since he released Graduation in 2007. it is catchy and creative, but it also adds the historical musical element which kanye is so intentional about. the song is enjoyable, but allow me to poke some holes in it.

first, there’s no chorus. no chorus?! no chorus. the sample loops and loops and loops as jay and ‘ye go back and forth battling rhymes. i nod my head and can’t help but “conducting” some of the lyrics with my hand a bit, but the lyrics are the second issue i have. the lyrical battle has one theme: how abundantly wealthy their lives are. i understand that bragging about wealth is one of the common themes in the hip-hop business. its important for artists to convey that they came out of poverty and that today they are wildly successful. i get that. it adds to the ghetto anthem. but this is kanye and jay-z we’re talking about here. we’ve heard it. we get it. you are already successful and you already have the world. you’re the kings of hip-hop and you don’t need to rub it in our faces or beat the dead horse. here’s what i wish: that “The Throne” would grab their responsibility by the horns and move on from the “last week i was in my other other Benz” and “smoking cubanos with Castro in cabannas” business. you have a massive platform to preach to the masses, and you’re re-introducing the same outrageous themes.

the saving track on this album is “New Day” in which they both address their future unborn sons. essentially they lay out all that they wish they’d done differently in their careers and talk about how they hope they can raise their sons to avoid the heartache they’ve gone through. kanye mentions his ego, breaking up with his college girlfriend, and even his “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” moment on the red cross telethon. it’s a look into his life that we’ve rarely been given. we all know he’s got an ego and that he’s pretty self conscious, but to hear him admit it on a track and hope to raise his son differently is a strong step for him.

in light of the news we all got at the VMAs last weekend regarding Beyonce’s pregnancy**, suddenly Hov’s lyrics feel real already. the world is expecting great things from Jay-Jr. and he/she is going to be forced to live in the shadow of Beyonce and Jay-Z. jay’s opening line: “sorry junior, i already ruined ya. cause you ain’t even alive and paparazzi pursuing ya.” while kanye talks about his regrets, jay-z talks more about how he strives to give his child a better life than he was given – “my dad left me and i promised to never repeat him.” it’s touching and it’s what i wish there was more of in this album. i suppose i should give them the benefit of the doubt: these elements i desire are at least present in small doses. perhaps they just need a time of transition to really own their fame and the responsibility that goes with it.

a few other interesting thoughts here…it’s interesting to see how they collaborated. it’s extremely evident that jay-z is a substantially better rapper – in fact, there are moments where kanye’s lines are a bit embarrassing. however, on the other side of the coin, the lines that jay-z raps are suddenly that much more potent because of the disparity with kanye’s. there are moments where i find myself excited for Hov’s verses – it’s like he’s being featured on certain tracks because the album isn’t overrun with only one voice throughout. and it’s not that kanye is bad – he certainly has his moments too. besides, the samples and the beats are certainly kanye-influenced and that’s where he pulls his Throne’s weight. its his production that got him to where he is.

it’s fun to just have them together too – hearing Hova mention “louis vuitton slippers” and to hear kanye quote “Lucifer” (a kanye-produced track off jay-z’s Black Album) with the line “i’m from the murder capitol where they murder for capital”. and to think about what their thought process had to be when deciding who did what verse and who got the best lines. i’m sure it was a power struggle, but i’m also sure that they pushed each other to create something stronger than they could do on their own.

also, the other artists are all voices – not other rappers as is the custom – but singers/crooners who add to the overall vibe of the album. frank ocean, mr. hudson, and curtis mayfield are all singers (also beyonce pulls the chorus on a track called “Lift Off”, but i hate it and don’t really want to talk about it). the album is less of a dance album and more of a casual listening album. some individuals are miffed by this. they want vintage bumpin club tracks, and while there are bits and pieces, it is certainly not an album i’ll be breaking out at future dance parties/wedding receptions.

in the end, i’m a fan of this album. wouldn’t say i love it, but it’s sound is strong. its lyrics are hit or miss for me, there are little twinges towards what i want from them, but overall they maintain their Benz and champagne glossed lines. and let’s be totally honest – any time these two can work together is a plus for the hip-hop and music world.


* – from the track “Sexy Ladies” off Justin Timberlake’s 2006 album FutureSex/LoveSounds…which, in my humble, yet correct, opinion, was the 3rd best album released in 2006 after Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and John Mayer’s Continuum.

** – which, btw, kanye appears more excited then jay-z about the news, and supposedly is hoping to be the kid’s godfather.

easter hymn: the roots – “walk alone”

had the opportunity to write a guest post over at my friend christian’s blog, he has been writing a series of posts titled “easter hymns” – telling the story of Christ’s death and resurrection through hip-hop tunes. i’ve really enjoyed them, so i am pretty honored to get to contribute to them. mine is the fourth post in the series.

check out my post here: the roots – “walk alone”

check out the previous three installments here:
kanye west – “Jesus walks”
T.I. – “dead and gone”
common – “a dream”

thanks to doubledizz for the writing opp.