If you’ve been paying attention over the years, you’ve probably already heard/collected a good portion of the new Meanest Man Contest album, Everything Worth Mentioning, coming out Oct. 29 on Gold Robot Records.
Yes, the album marks the first since 2003’s acclaimed Merit for the Bay Area duo of Noah Blumberg (aka Quarterbar) and Eric Steuer (aka Eriksolo). But in the years that followed, MMC released a series of singles, EPs, remixes – and the best of those songs (along with a new one, “In the Dark,” and some other unreleased demos and such) make up the collection on Everything Worth Mentioning.
Steuer told me: “The idea was to take a look at the dozens of songs we’d done since our first (and only) album, throw out everything that didn’t hold up, and remix, remaster, and in some cases re-record the stuff we liked the best.”
Well, now you’ve done it. You’ve gone and pissed Open Mike Eagle off. And in a mere three minutes and seven seconds, he’s scorched every last feeble rapper on “Middling,” a track off his new Sir Rockabye EP (yep).
This feels like some serious catharsis, the most aggressive/clever of diss tracks. Not even the diss-ees will get it. Mike Eagle cuts where it hurts the most, over the piano-loop production of Quelle Chris: “You eat plain frozen yogurt / and won’t know what to do when reality shows are over / I’d like to stick your head in an empty can of Folgers / I got with your member card from your local grocer.” This is Mike at his meanest, and I love it (”Pick a thing and you’ll ruin it.”). But even he softens the blow, admitting at one point: “OK, that was kind of mean.”
Like all Mike Eagle tracks, “Middling” demands your line-for-line attention. Don’t blink or you’ll miss a joke.
Musical synergy works best when you least expect it, offering a sense of surprise and inspiration all at once.
I knew the guys in Vampire Weekend were fans of hip-hop from past interviews, but I’d barely listened to the new album, let alone read the countless articles about it, before digging into Modern Vampires of the City on a vacation last week that required some road-trip material.
And that’s when “Step” stopped me dead in my tracks. The album’s third song stirred my subconscious, gently reminding me of a Souls of Mischief demo from long ago called “Step to My Girl.” The title was an obvious link, not to mention the familiar melody and chorus (you have no idea how much time I spent on the Hieroglyphics message boards back in the day). It all clicked – in one beautiful, mind-blowing moment in the car with my wife somewhere between Louisville and Cincinnati. Did Vampire Weekend really dig into Souls of Mischief demos to construct this ode 20 years after the fact? Was I really this excited about it? Yes and yes.
A Google search turned up my answer (and confirmed that I need to stay on top of music news more often). Singer Ezra Koenig told NPR in May:
“Souls Of Mischief I’ve always loved. I kind of associate them with the first time that I really started become a music fan as a young teenager. This song apparently was recorded around the time of their first album, which was called 93 ’til Infinity, but it never made the record and it floated around as a bootleg for awhile. I only discovered it five or six years ago but it always really stuck with me, especially the chorus. I didn’t know where it came from but they’re kind of like scratching somebody saying, “Every time I see you in the world, you always step to my girl.” Slowly as I listened to this song, I found myself kind of writing this alternate song based on that phrase. Later we found out that that in of itself is a sample from a rapper called YZ. We didn’t know that at the time. This was kind of the inspiration to write this other song that became ‘Step.’”
Even two months before that, in March, Koenig referred to the Souls influence on Twitter: “Who’s gonna draw out the Step family tree? Souls of Mischief (shoutout 2 those legends), of course, but then it gets a lil more complicated.”
Who's gonna draw out the Step family tree? Souls of Mischief (shoutout 2 those legends), of course, but then it gets a lil more complicated
Adding to the story line is the fact that Souls of Mischief have embarked on the “Still Infinity” tour (Aug. 14 at Club Red in Tempe) to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of 93 ’til Infinity, a favorite of mine and a downright classic. It’s clear I love when indie rock and hip-hop commingle, and twenty years later, it’s cool to see Souls’ influence at work in a most unexpected way.
I’ll forever have love for Jurassic 5, so even six years after the L.A. hip-hop idols broke up, curiosity pulled me back in (and now they’re on the comeback trail at Coachella). That’s a good thing. I might have otherwise overlooked this new single from Nu-Mark, one of J5’s two DJs (along with the esteemed Cut Chemist).
Nu-Mark released his debut full-length Broken Sunlight, and he’s been releasing songs as a series of 10-inch records over the past year or so. It’s an innovative method, but what do you expect from a guy that can rock toy instruments in a live set?
I’ve said it before, but one of my favorite live moments was seeing Z-Trip, Radar, Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark perform on an otherwise quiet Sunday night in Tempe at a bar called Mustang Sally’s in a secret-style show one day after J5 played the Nile Theater. I still can’t even believe I saw that. Much as I bemoan the constant smartphone recording of shows these days, I’d kill for some footage of that night now.
But back to Nu-Mark … the most recent release in the Broken Sunlight series, Don’t Play Around, is pure soul, showcasing the amazing vocals of Aloe Blacc and Charles Bradley over one bad-ass beat. Can the drummer get some?
Says Nu-Mark at Rolling Stone: “I did a lot of vocal experimentation for Broken Sunlight. Charles Bradley and Aloe Blacc were a perfect fit, capturing the raw heartache of best friends dating the same women.”
Lately, I’m constantly reminded of albums I overlooked or neglected to pay enough attention to in 2012. Cadence Weapon’s Hope In Dirt City falls into the latter category.
The third album by the Edmonton rapper (born Rollie Pemberton) is a bit of a mixed bag stylistically – more challenging of a listen, if not a touch incohesive. What remains a constant is Cadence Weapon’s awareness of his surroundings and his ability to sharply criticize all manners of culture (he is a former Pitchfork contributor, after all).
Hype Man takes a shot at the rap game. It’s a two-verse track, with Cadence Weapon playing the part of both sides: the ego-driven rap star (”At the strip club make sure that my song plays”) and the inglorious hype man, begging for a break from his famous connection (”I’d take a bullet / I’d probably pull it”). The tension comes to a head at the end of this video, co-directed by Cadence and George Vale.
I love this track because I’ve always been sort of fascinated by the tragic character that is the hype man, who dutifully waves his towel and drops in for every fourth word at a live show. And in this instance, the video draws a conclusion that you couldn’t really expect just by listening to the song. It’s the demise of the lowly hype man. There will always be another.
It takes a special type of dedication – a sick and twisted dedication – to seek out and collect bad rap for the past 25 years. Eric Steuer (aka Cuzzo D. of Not the 1s and also half of the great Meanest Man Contest) has done just that. There is no doubt plenty from which to choose.
Steuer has compiled a treasure/trash trove of some of the greatest worst raps you can imagine. It literally took everything in me to make it through Mr. T’s “I Am Somebody.” Not surprisingly, a few athletes show up on the mix (Darryl Strawberry and Ron Artest), but the real gem here might be Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who unbelievably tried his hand at rap with “Smart Girls” (produced by Matt Dike, no less). WFMU has the story on it here.
Says Steuer: “I’ve been collecting bad rap songs since I first heard Darryl Strawberry kick his endearingly wack verse on “Chocolate Strawberry” back in 1987. This mix is made up mostly of stuff from the late ’80s and early ’90s (the golden era of cynical, inept stabs at cashing in on hip-hop’s popularity), although I threw in a couple of newer terrible raps at the end, to keep things fresh & current. I just started working on the second volume of this mix, and my fingers are crossed that Denny “Average Homeboy” Blaze will record a drop for it (he turned me down for this one).”
Bad rap never sounded so good.
Download and/or stream the mix over at Dublab. The track listing is below.
1. DC Talk – I Luv Rap Music
2. Outlaw Posse (f/ David Faustino) – Brand New Star
3. Icy Blu – It’s Your Birthday
4. Mr. T – I Am Somebody
5. Darryl Strawberry – Chocolate Strawberry
6. Hulk Hogan and The Wrestling Boot Band – Beach Patrol
7. A to the D – The Renegade Jew
8. Dee Dee King (aka Dee Dee Ramone) – German Kid
9. Brian Wilson – Smart Girls
10. MC Skat Kat and the Stray Mob – I Ain’t No Kitty
11. Vanilla Ice – Havin’ a Roni
12. Biscuit – Biscuit’s in the House
13. Elvira – Monsta’ Rap
14. Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks – City of Crime
15. Surf MC’s – Can’t Get a Tan
16. 2 Bigg MC – High on Your Love
17. Joey Lawrence – I Like the Way (Kick da Smoove Groove)
18. Gerardo – My Name Is Not Rico
19. Aaron Carter – That’s How I Beat Shaq
20. Ron Artest – Michael Michael
21. Kids Hit Masters – Crank That (Soulja Boy)
Every year in December, as I comb over my favorite songs to include on a year-end CD to give to friends — Spotify is too easy; an 80-minute CD-R has a way of forcing you to self-edit — it becomes abundantly clear that I never listen to enough. Whether it’s time or patience I’m lacking, it seems harder each year to consume so much music.
In some ways, I guess I’d rather form a deeper relationship with a few albums than have just a passing interest in many. To that end, a handful of albums captivated me in 2012, including C.A.R. by Chicago-bred rapper Serengeti. (I beg of you to listen — and then keep listening — to Go Dancin, a crushing song built on the vacant promises of a crumbling relationship. “It’s different now, I’ll show you how.” Of course it made the year-end mix.)
In keeping with his prolific output — check out the Beak & Claw EP (a side project with Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux) and the Kenny Dennis EP from last year, not to mention 2011’s Family & Friends — Serengeti will be back with a new album in 2013. It’s called Saal, and it was produced by Sicker Man and will be released on Feb. 12 on Graveface Records.
Serengeti treads into more relationship territory on Breaking Vows, a bonus digital-only track. Listen below:
Here’s the tracklist for Saal (via Graveface):
4. Day By Day
5. Glassell Park
7. I Could Redo
8. Erotic City
9. All the Time (bonus track on CD)
10. Breaking Vows (bonus digital-only track)
Lastly, here’s a short clip of Serengeti and Sicker Man in the studio creating Breaking Vows:
One of the finest albums in my collection – and if you own it, I guarantee it’s one of the finest in your collection, too – is old enough to have a drink. So break out the shot glasses and raise a toast: We’re getting The Low End Theory shit-faced tonight.
I probably thought this last year, when Low End Theory turned 20, or in May, when Adam Yauch died, or even last week, when the formerly flannel-wearing masses celebrated the 20th anniversary of the movie Singles, but holy crap, I’m getting old.
If you’re asking me to pick a favorite album by my favorite group, I’m going to tell you Midnight Marauders. But that’s not fair: I’d never ask my parents if they like my brother or me more (it’s probably me, though).
I won’t go on and on here because 21 is sort of an arbitrary number, and the occasion never would have crossed my mind if not for this Q-Tip tweet. I’m glad I saw it, though. You really don’t need a reason to listen to Low End Theory, but I’ve got a good one today.
If you’ve listened to Serengeti, you know he’s a fan of baseball. It’s just not a Serengeti album without a “Hawk Dawson” reference – and tell me another rapper that has name-dropped Jeff Pico.
It’s been a busy year for the Chicago-bred emcee, who talked sports with me back in January. In March, he teamed with Sufjan Stevens and Son Lux on the Beak & Claw EP. In April, he dropped the Kenny Dennis EP, on which he raps as his Windy City superfan alter ego. More recently, Serengeti released C.A.R., another highly personal/vulnerable glimpse into his life (buy this album).
Leave it to a former teacher to base a song/video on a literary classic. Phoenix rapper Random (aka MegaRan) left the classroom behind to make the full-time jump into music, but he can’t quite seem to shake the teaching, uh, bug.
And that’s the album that brought us “Buggin’ (The Metamorphosis),” inspired by the Franz Kafka novella. The new video (directed by Max Isaacson) finds Ran playing the role of Gregor, waking up to find himself transformed into a vermin. High school English class was never this fun.
And while you’re catching up with Language Arts: Volume One, Random went ahead and dropped Volume Two today. A harder-working rapper would be impossible to find. That said, our TeacherRapperHero is returning home from tour and throwing a show on Saturday at Hidden House.