Week 25 Review (End of Summer Blow Up 4)

This week I’m reviewing my favorite hip hop album from 2013: Jarren Benton’s My Grandma’s Basement. It did chart but nowhere near as high as it should have. Actually, anything less than #1 is too low.

My_Grandma's_Basement_Jarren_Benton

Artist: Jarren Benton {Jarren Benton, emcee; Kato aka Christopher Ju, producer}
Album: My Grandma’s Basement
Year: 2013
Genre: Hip Hop
Rating: 5/5

Worth Your Time? Benton has an incredible flow that everyone should familiarize themselves with.

Twitter Review: The combination of Benton and his talented producer Kato make My Grandma’s Basement a fantastic album worthy of many repeat listens.

Top 3 Tracks:

  1. My Grandma’s Basement
  2. Heart Attack
  3. My Adidas

Things to Look For:

  • Benton’s Flow. I love when Jarren raps. I love it. He can spit fire word after word while making it all seem so effortless but he’s smart enough to break it up occasionally with some really interesting rhythms. On PBR & Reefer, Benton starts out with a stutter step for the first couple lines which actually complement the chorus perfectly. Now contrast with his delivery in Life in the Jungle where he’s going at a frantic pace to reflect the intensity of innercity life. I think that Benton is so used to going fast that going slow throws him off. In Dreams, Benton actually has a fairly slow delivery reflective of the subject matter. And this song contains the only moment on the album where I think Jarren isn’t flawless. It’s actually awkward for a fraction of a second. I’m not going to tell you where it is. I want to see if you can pick it out. And it only sticks out to me because he is so amazing everywhere else.
  • Kato! Kato’s name is said in the beginning of nearly every track in one way or another for every track he produced on this album.  And he absolutely deserves the recognition. The first three tracks of the album (Razor Blades & Steak KnivesLife in the Jungle and Don’t Act) are produced by Kato. The beginning  is probably the most consistently enjoyable section of the album in large part thanks to Kato’s big beats. The production of Razor Blades & Steak Knives is particularly impressive thanks to the false ending. The first time I heard it, I thought a new song had actually started but nope. I was still listening to the first track.
  • OMG Hilarious. Even More No Homo (skit) is not the most politically correct skit to laugh at. But George Carlin said even rape can be funny and further explains: “I believe you can joke about anything. It all depends on how you construct the joke. What the exaggeration is…because every joke needs one exaggeration. Every joke needs one thing to be way out of proportion.” And this skit absolutely nails it. My brother and I laughed about this skit for weeks. I think it is hilarious regardless of your outlook on gay rights. Feel free to disagree if you want. But I’m still probably going to keep laughing every time I hear it.
  • Serious Like A Heart Attack. I have to mention Heart Attack. The subject matter is very dark as it describes the brutal murder of an ex after an uncontrollable rage building up inside is finally let loose. Domestic violence is inexcusable, but Jarren does an excellent job communicating his rage to listeners. And thankfully, at least, has an ending with very real consequences with the cops closing down on him shortly after the murder.  The real surprise about this song is the last minute which sounds similar to Pink Floyd’s Great Gig in the Sky. Benton counts several non-rap musicians as primary influences so should I really be surprised to see some Pink Floyd pop up on his album? Probably not.
  • Even More Serious. The best song on the album is My Grandma’s Basement. Why? One reason is because this is one of the few songs on the album where Jarren does not resort to shock value in his verses. Now is probably an appropriate time to bring up that a lot of his delivery and word choice reminds me of Eminem’s Slim Shady LP. Even on Cadillacs & Chevys Jarren says “They say I sound like Eminem.” So I’m not the only one to notice the parallels. I honestly think that Jarren’s wordplay is a bit more inventive. So many times, I was impressed with the way Benton combines and relates ideas in his verses. Many times those ideas were meant to shock but they were impactful on me regardless. But in My Grandma’s Basement he seems to focus on some very real and universal fears about moving your life forward and making something of yourself before you become trapped. I really hope to see less shock and more tracks like this on his next album. I know he is more than capable of it with this track and My Adidas. Equally interesting is the beats used on the track, which make you feel like you too are going to be swallowed up by the basement with Jarren never to be seen again. Those are some seriously claustrophobic beats.

Low Points: While Big Rube Interlude is quite good and sounds like it belongs on a Quentin Tarantino movie with a beautiful trumpet solo, Dreams doesn’t appeal to me as much as the rest of the album. It seems too different from the rest of the tracks. It almost feels like an obligatory slow song more than anything. And with an album runtime of over 70 minutes, I probably wouldn’t have missed it if it was left on the floor of the recording studio. Big Rube, by the way, is known for doing these interludes. He has done them for several artists.

Anything Else: I just wanted to share the song that first introduced me to Jarren Benton. The song is Skitzo and it’s incredibly catchy. It highlights many of the reasons why I instantly fell in love with his music in the first place and it also has a great ending. If I remember correctly, Hopsin (who later signed Benton to Funk Volume) had mentioned it through social media. My brother caught hold of it and then showed it to me. And Skitzo is probably the only single I’ve bought since I got out of college, so that’s saying a lot of how much I wanted it. (I’m more of an album kind of guy if you couldn’t figure that out.) It was featured on a compilation and none of the other tracks really appealed to me so I bought the track by itself. And the rest is history. Now you all need to tune into his new album My Grandma’s Basement. I hope you like it.

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Week 14 Review

Eminem has never been afraid to share his many struggles with fatherhood in his lyrics so it seems appropriate to review the soundtrack to the 2002 movie, 8 Mile, just right after Father’s Day.       

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Artist: Various Artists {Eminem, Obie Trice, 50 Cent, D12, Jay-Z, Xzibit, Macy Gray, Nas, Boomkat, Rakim, Young Zee, Gang Starr}
Album: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture 8 Mile
Year: 2002
Genre: Hip-hop
Rating: 3.95/5

Worth Your Time? It’s not perfect but the who’s who of hip-hop helps hold it up to the height of worth hearing.

Twitter Review: 8 Mile soundtrack reminds you why Eminem rose to super-stardom in 1999 and includes a great collection of artists around him on this album.

 Top 3 Tracks:

  1. Eminem – Rabbit Run
  2. Eminem – Lose Yourself
  3. Gang Starr – Battle, 50 Cent – Wanksta (tie)

Things to Look For:

  • The Real PetermanWhile 8 Mile is not a biographical picture of Marshal Bruce Mathers III, it does share some similarities with Eminem’s life. This creates this blurring between Eminem and the character he played, Jimmy “B-Rabbit” Smith Jr., on the songs which Eminem raps. Sometimes he’s rapping as B-Rabbit and other times he’s himself. In one particular line he raps “… it’s no movie, there’s no Mekhi Phifer, this is my life” but in reality Phifer plays the character Future, who is based on his best friend, the late Proof. So much like the logic of Seinfeld’s The Muffin Tops episode, Marshal has his Phifer.
  • Who’s Who of Hip-Hop. Jay-Z’s 8 Miles and Runnin’ is entertaining as he picks apart those trying to take advantage of his success by claiming they were there from the start. Nas claims his crown in U Wanna Be Me with great lines such as “Pay me a half a million, I’ll consult your album and show you how to stay off my dick.” This track is actually aimed directly at his fellow trackmate Jay-Z. Rakim spits fierce fire in R.A.K.I.M. and there’s no doubt why Rakim is considered by many to be the greatest and most influential MC of all-time. Rakim was part of the golden era of hip-hop in the 80’s as he released several incredibly important albums with DJ Eric B. In Places To Go, 50 Cent delivers some textbook-perfect, laid-back flow that delighted me every time I heard it. Finally, Gang Starr brings some fantastic turntablism and old school boasting to the soundtrack with Battle. Sadly, Guru, Gang Starr’s MC, died while in a coma after a heart attack in 2010.
  • Eminem. While Eminem’s supporting cast certainly helps with the soundtrack, Eminem absolutely owns this album like he should. Lose Yourself is widely celebrated as one of Eminem’s best songs as it reached #1 on 24 charts worldwide, earned him numerous awards and was placed on many all-time best lists. Many of these awards and lists encompassed all genres instead of being hip-hop specific which really shows just how successful this song was. So why did I put Rabbit Run above it? It has no hook, compelling or otherwise. It has no driving guitar riff. Instead, it has just one long epic and intense delivery by Eminem from the perspective of Rabbit dealing with personal struggles of writing and life. It uses an aggressive back beat that slowly swallows up the listener but unexpectedly and abruptly stops. Then Eminem delivers the final line: “Rabbit, run” leaving the listener with a single haunting bell ring that fades out to end the album. It is without a doubt the best ending of I have ever heard for a soundtrack. And that is why I put it above Lose Yourself.
  • Slow Your Roll. While most of the album is incredibly aggressive to the point where I felt like I wanted to start something and throw down in the hallways of work as I listened to this album on repeat all week, there are two tracks that helped break up all the testosterone being pumped into my veins: Time of My Life by Macy Gray and Wasting My Time by Boomkat. For all you Orange is the New Black fans, one half of Boomkat is Taryn Manning who plays Pennsatucky. She also had a part in 8 Mile as well. Of the two, I prefer Wasting My Time but I think they are both good.

Low Points: Ellway ethay irstfay owlay ointpay isway ettypray easyway.
Itway isway enwhay Eminemway apsray inway igpay atinlay uringday D12’s Ethay Apray Amegay. Itway omescay offway asway ornycay.

The second point is pretty much the entire song, Love Me, which features the chorus of “I just wanna love ya, for the rest of my life I wanna hold you in the mornin, hold you through the night” by a female singer. This is surrounded with insults from the male rappers on the track like “I don’t love you bitch” and being preceded with the line “And all the bitches say…” which all this may have been tolerable if the verses in between weren’t as forgettable as they were. 50 Cent’s in particular is forever lost to time as it loaded with insignificant pop culture references that I don’t think anybody cares about 12 years later.

My final low point features Obie Trice’s Adrenaline Rush where Obie proceeds to rhyme the word muthafucka 10 times in a row. Now you would think that maybe he would have done something clever like rhyme the word before it in each of the lines but nope. So to me it comes off as a lazy 10 lines.

Anything Else: I was absolutely convinced that Eminem had sampled a classic rock song for Lose Yourself. It sounded so familiar. The most likely candidate for me was Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. But no. The song is completely original and samples nothing. In fact after I read a forum post on the analysis of the guitar riff I felt silly for even thinking it. Not the first time I was wrong about a song. And it won’t be the last.

Finally, there’s a sequel to this album: More Music from 8 Mile. Your first thought might be why would I want to listen to a bunch of tracks not good enough to be on the original soundtrack release? The answer is pretty simple. The second album only includes songs from the movie that were released in 1995 which is the year the movie took place in. I thought that was rather clever. I haven’t listened to it yet but it looks like a strong collection with songs from Wu-Tang, B.I.G. and 2Pac included.

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Week 8 Review

This week I’m reviewing Dr. Dre’s 2001. It is a triumphant return to rap and annihilates any question if Dre still had it in him since releasing The Chronic seven years earlier in 1992.  

Artist: Dr. Dre (also featuring Xzibit, Devin the Dude, Snoop Dogg, Hittman, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, Six-Two, Eminem, Ms. Roq, Knoc-Turn’al, Mary J. Blige)
Album: 2001
Year: 1999
Genre: Gangsta Rap
Rating: 5/5

Worth Your Time? Absolutely. Even if you don’t like rap, you should still give it a listen. It is a classic.

Twitter Review: Production and lyrics are unparalleled and refreshing. It is from a bygone era before materialism took center stage in the rap scene.

Please note that any links below should be considered NSFW. Expect strong language and sexual situations to be contained in all of these songs.

Top 5 Tracks:

  1. What’s the Difference
  2. Still D.R.E.
  3. Forget About Dre
  4. Bang Bang
  5. The Watcher

Things to Look For:

  • Guest Stars. Eddie Griffin is hilarious as the drunk bartender in Bar One and in his Ed-Ucation speech. While Ed-Ucation is done in a sobering matter, I don’t think you can take it any other way than a joke. Next, Jake Steed, a retired 90’s adult film star who may be currently hiding in South America from US law enforcement after skipping out on his trial date and may be central to finding the location of the jetpack is GTA V, makes an appearance on Pause 4 Porno. Finally, Tommy Chong makes a surprise appearance at the end of the album as part of a hidden track, Outro, where he tries to obtain illegal prescriptions from Dr. Dre. Including one of the most prolific potheads in a sequel to The Chronic was hysterical to say the least.
  • Those Big Beautiful Beats. Dr. Dre is actually better known for his producing than rapping. His ability for beat creation is legendary as he is known by many as the father of G-Funk which influenced just about any rap artist that came after him on some level. To give you an idea of his dedication to production, Dre will actually have in-house musicians play the music he wishes to sample from rather than taking the original material so he has more control over it to get it just the way he wants it. Another example of the care and dedication he puts into his work is Big Ego’s intro which starts with a conversation with air traffic control to request to land at LAX. It sets up a dramatic movie atmosphere for the rest of the song without even showing a single picture. I’ve hummed along and bobbed my head to so many songs on this album. I am in awe of his ability to turn some sparse notes and a bassline into a prolific influential genre-defining sound with widespread mass appeal. Plinking on a piano has never sounded so good.
  • M&M. While there are many incredible well delivered lyrics on this album and I probably have about 30 instances where a perfectly executed verse of clever word play will make me smile every time, the young Eminem really stands out from everybody. I look forward to his parts anytime I listen to this album.
  • Nods. Several times throughout 2001, there are some subtle and not so subtle references to Dr. Dre’s previous release, The Chronic and NWA’s Straight Outta Compton of which he was a member of NWA. It’s quite fun when you happen to catch one.

Low Points: I know some people are probably going to not like me for saying this but I think The Message is the weakest song on the album. The song is about about Dre’s deceased brother Tyree which makes it sacrosanct for a lot of poeple. I wish that this song had an emotional impact on me like so many other songs related to the passing of a loved one but it unfortunately didn’t. At times the lyrics felt too cliche and generic for me to make that connection. And I think I know why. The only writing credit for this song is Royce Da 5’9″ who is part of rap supergroup Slaughterhouse and one half of Bad Meets Evil with Eminem filling out the other half. My guess is if it had been Dre who wrote it rather than Royce, the emotional intensity that I was seeking would have been overflowing on this track.

Anything Else: Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit and pretty much anybody who has rapped on this album, I would like to introduce you to a person that I think you need to meet: Miss Ogyny. Miss Ogyny, may I present the current membership of the He-Man Woman Haters Club. The one interesting rapper on this album in regards to the topic of misogyny is Ms. Roc who completely turns the tables on the men during her verses at the end of Let’s Get High. Only rich well endowed men are of any use to her though manual stimulation is sometimes prefered as it is less cumbersome than dealing with otherwise worthless men. In addition, she forces men to perform oral sex on her rather than the other way around. Notice, I just said this was interesting. I don’t think the inclusion of Ms. Roc’s performance somehow undoes everything said by the other performers on the rest of the album.

The lyrics throughout this album are incredibly misogynistic. Women are consistently valued only for performing sexual acts and I use the term valued loosely since I’m not even sure the lyrics indicate any appreciation for those. If an alien had heard only this album and came to Earth, they would think women existed solely for the purpose of providing oral sex and annoying men with their feelings. I don’t think men should view women like that. Any man who has those views is despicable and is doing nothing but holding back our society from progressing to a more equal environment. I view my wife as my partner in our marriage. We work as a team and there isn’t anything she can’t do if she puts her mind to it. I look at my female family members, friends, co-workers and personal heroes and can only come to the conclusion that you are insane if you think men are somehow superior to women.

So how can I disagree with the lyrics so much and still enthusiastically tell you to listen to this album? Well, I don’t believe in censoring art in any way. I tend to compartmentalize art appreciation and social views. I’d rather have some negative views out there than telling somebody that they cannot say something simply because I don’t agree with it. Mostly because putting anybody in charge of deciding what can and can’t be said is far too much power for any person or group of people. Next, there are numerous instances of rappers that are playing characters rather than playing themselves when they rap. The horrorcore rap sub-genre is a prime example of that. I’d be willing to bet that there isn’t a single practicing Satanist in the entire genre. Just because you rap about the devil, demons and death on your albums doesn’t mean you are wearing black robes in your basement with lit red candles everywhere as you try to summon the prince of darkness in your free time. Finally, Dr. Dre didn’t create the misogynistic attitude we see so often in society. He’s just reflecting it back to us. You want to break that mirror? Start treating women the way they should be. Set an example to family, friends, co-workers and even strangers that women deserve to be treated equally by actually treating them equally. Try to be conscious of it so you can be aware of when you make a mistake. Then you can do better next time.

If you really want to see how big of a problem this issue is, please take the time to regularly visit The Everyday Sexism Project. Some of this stuff sounds like it should have happened in the 1950’s instead of yesterday. I get so incredibly sad and angry when I visit this site. I also encourage both sexes to visit. There are numerous posts of women inflicting other women with these horrible sexist attitudes. I think we all can do better on some level by taking some time for real self-reflection and introspection.

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