Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Good Experimentation, Bad Experimentation

I gotta admit, I’m addicted to XXL’s blogs. Sure I hate what they have to say but like rap Rush Limbaugh’s they know how to maintain their audience. Recently Bol decided to take a couple of shots at a couple of ambitious is terrible rap records that veered to the left. Fair enough, but ultimately a little easy. So here are 5 absolute experimental duds that fail because they’re all out WACK (not because of rap reviewer’s fear of a singing planet) and 5 records that actually do succeed at whatever the hell they were trying to do.

Terrible rap that tried to do it different.

5) Foreign Exchange – Connected
J-Dilla may have brought in lazy offbeat handclaps but at least he had the good sense to give them room to breathe in order to create a sparse sound for his collaborators to rap on.. These guys took those same drums and overloaded the rest of the tracks with cheesy synths and whining vocals about how life is tough when you’re a responsible underground rapper with bills to pay. If ever an album defined middle-of-the-road-alterna-rap, this is it.

4) Dangermouse and Jay-Z – The Grey album
If we’re going to diss a Dangermouse album, let it be this shitty claim to fame which senselessly mashes up 2 albums based on album titles alone. His glitchy take on Dirt off your shoulder is cool, but the rest resulted in terribly cliché irony which inspired half a dozen more of these things. Stick to The Gorillaz and singing rappers.

3) K-OS – Joyful rebellion
Canada’s best selling rapper isn’t much of a rapper at all and his half-baked Wyclef imitation really ain’t that special either. I think my metal head little brother defined it best when he mentioned that this is one of the few rappers he enjoys: this is clearly rap for rap haters.

2) Cage – Hell’s Winter
I could have picked a number of Def Jux releases here seeing as the quality of their output took a stupendous drop sometime around 2003, but this highly disappointing follow up from Cage continues to be my favorite personal punching bag as the former master of Kubrick-hop jumped on the My Chemical Romance bandwagon and gheyed up his entire career. For shame.

1) The Roots – Phrenology/The Tipping point
Rap Jam Bands get no love. Sure Illadelph Halflife and Things fall apart were dope and they’re mighty good at being Jay-Z’s backing band, but the last two albums managed to be both alienating experimental flops and disastrous crossover attempts at once. They’re Rap’s Grateful Dead… because they’ll never capture their live show in the studio.

Dope rap that will have you going WTF

5) Edan – Beauty and the Beat
The sixties and early seventies made the best rock music. The eighties made the best rap music. Combine the two with one of the few white rappers who doesn’t make your ears bleed and you get a fantastic, bizarre free association of Sp12 beats and crazy drug influenced melodies. Awesome dude.

4) Kool Keith – Dr Octagon
Sure he’s coasting on it 10 years later since nearly all of his subsequent releases have been terribly confounding treaties on doodoo and Outkast biting him, but once upon a time Kool Keith bounced back from the Ultramag breakup to record a classic record about a space age gynecologist. Entirely produced by Dan the Automator and with scratches by DJ Q-Bert, this thing is as nerdy as rap gets and its still doper than anything involving the word trap. Quite an achievement.

3) The Pharcyde – Bizarre Ride to the Pharcyde
Before their Dilla assisted re-up, these guys unleashed a weird funhouse record full of Public Enemy spoofs, your mama jokes, Hendrix loops and all around goofiness. While they later joined De La Soul in becoming crusty old coots (they named their album plain rap for god’s sake!), this is one for the ages.

2) Wu-Tang Clan – Wu-Tang Forever
Wu-Tang were on the verge of prog-rap with this one. There’s no other way to explain a double disc rap album about 5% ideology combined with Kung-fu samples, no hooks and a dark depressing vibe that could kill any dancefloor in seconds. In retrospect, it’s a miracle that this record sold anything at all and the Wu-Tang downfall was pretty much inevitable. Still, one has got to admire the balls it took to actually record something so insular only to have it go platinum in a week. Best performances go to Rae and Ghost for their back and forth banter on MGM Grand.

1) Outkast – Aquemini/Stankonia
The ultimate experimental rappers, at least until their last record. Aquemini featured live instrumentation, singing (Liberation is probably the best song by rappers without any rapping), a running theme about technology killing the environment and some of the best rap performances ever put to record. Stankonia meanwhile put the gloom and doom aside in favor of a funky pimp record with drum and bass beats, spaghetti western guitars and Andre-as-Quasimoto rapping. These two records are proof that we need a strong reunited Outkast.

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