Saturday, March 21, 2009

20 degrees with no jacket.

It's really tiring to hear fellow bloggers complain about how bad rap is, how rap (beef) is boring, etc. To me, this sounds like empty talk. For one, there are people with excellent taste sharing that new new for you you. If you don't know where to look, that's one thing, but to complain that nothing good exists is tiresome. To be clear, I am not thinking of the (thankfully) dead argument about "real" rap or whatever, just good music regardless of its source. Secondly, there is so much music of all kinds out there, including rap, that it is nearly impossible to be up on everything as it happens. So, while I haven't been following the latest in Rick Ross leaks, though I have heard something about Weezy saying he's "in the all black Maybach, sittin' in the asshole," I do have plenty of time and energy to look for somewhat old or overlooked records that I didn't check for when they came out because I was busy or doubted the quality of the full album.

About three years ago, I remember being home for spring break and doing what I do normally when I was back at my parents' house: watching TV and eating food out of boredom. I didn't have a car, and being on the internet all day didn't appeal to me, so those were my last two options. It was abysmal. Anyway, I remembered seeing, in the fall I believe, the video for Da Backwudz single, "You're Gonna Luv Me," and during spring break, I saw the video for their second single, "I Don't Like the Look of It." I was pretty sold on them as a group.

Keep in mind, at this time, crunk was king and at this point in time I was decidedly against Southern rap in that manifestation. It was nice to hear a song like "You're Gonna Luv Me" that let the beat breathe as opposed to trying to start a riot, and if you watch the video, the duo felt very entrenched in the culture of Atlanta. They weren't trying to imitate anybody else from their city and still felt authentic, which I think is hard to do when such a strong movement exists. The simultaneously bizarre and brilliant choice of sampling the Oompa Loompa song for their second single was too creative to to hate on, and they really did the beat justice. Reading this, you may think I picked up Wood Work, their first (and at this point, only) album, excited to hear what else they had to offer the rap world. But, I figured that it would be like many other rap albums released since 2006: an uneven affair with the singles as the best songs, a lot of trend chasing, and one "reflective song." Sometime a couple weeks ago, I was reminded of their existence, though I forget how, and decided to finally give the album a listen three years later.

Now, if you were to listen to only the two singles mentioned above, you might think of Da Backwudz as extensions or updates of OutKast's stylings. Personally, I tend to think of Field Mob as more fitting of that description. A better example of a group of Southern rappers similar to Da Backwudz is more likely Trenton Takes favorite Jim Crow. Both work with similar A-Town heavyweights Organized Noize and Mr. DJ for a track, are more playful in tone than OutKast or other DF members, and Crow's Nest and Wood Work are both mainly backed by one producer. In the case of the former: Jazze Pha. The latter: Milwaukee Black. I think many of us agree that having a primary producer for at least a debut album is good for all rappers, and it is certainly the case here.

Something that is really striking to me about Wood Work is that it really plays like it was meant for vinyl or cassette. That is, it's tone switches halfway through the album as though there are two separate sides. The first half is where the heavy hitters can be found: both singles, a good intro (what?), a great Killer Mike feature. Side A sort of falls off when the snoozer "Fantastic" comes in (read SMS's take here). The second half is really the impressive part to me. These guys show a lot of depth in their subject matter, are introspective, and with help from Sleepy Brown, Gipp, and George Clinton, how can you really go wrong? With those names, I guess I can see the OutKast tribute thing, but none of those songs remind me of DF at all, except maybe the album closer "Smoke N Ride."

As rappers, Big Marc and Sho 'Nuff are competent enough. The second half of the album is really interesting to listen to, since they show great range that was sort of missing from their singles. This is certainly worth a listen, in my mind.

I Don't Like The Look Of It (Oompa) (Feat. Caz Clay)
Whatcha Know 'Bout My Life (Feat. Big Gipp)


tray said...

I'd say that Field Mob is more playful in tone than Outkast too, and obviously a lot more countrified. I also happen to think that the Oompa Loompa song is gimmicky and annoying. Also that, if I were their A&R, I wouldn't have green-lit two consecutive singles with annoying repetitive vocal samples.

As for whether nothing good exists, of course there's a fairly large amount of good stuff that does (exist), but I would say that this amount is (a) decidedly, and quantifiably, smaller than in years past, and (b) mostly not very commercial or even on some obscure album that you can buy in stores. Now you can say, why does (b) matter, Tray, when there are people with excellent taste sharing that new new Pill mixtape with you, but I happen to be of the opinion that an era is ultimately defined by its hit albums, hit songs, even hit videos, and that something huge is lost when you have to go on some rap blog search to hear good music, namely, the feeling of being part of a culture that's all listening to the same instant classic at the same time, dancing to it at clubs, blasting it out its windows, etc. Of course, that is not the case today because 98% of pop-rap (and popular movies as well) seems to have been made for 12-year-olds. Which is maybe because children are the only ones who have the money to buy music, or are stupid enough to buy music, but it's terrible all the same. I just don't see how it's even debatable whether the world in which I grew up in, where arguably the greatest rapper of all time's hit songs were being played and danced to at Bar Mitzvahs by little nerdy Jewish children like myself, wasn't vastly preferable to the world in which we live today, where kids are literally growing up to Lollipop and Flo-Rida and the little great rap that exists is something of which only Noz's several thousand readers are aware.

bding7 said...

you're right about the A&R making a weird decision, but those are two of the most energetic tracks on the album.

to get to your main point, i would agree with you that eras are defined by their hits. i think what matters is who is determining these what should be hits. if you're mostly concerned with the broad listening public, then yes, Flo-Rida/ Yung Berg/ Tyga et al. will be the most likely to be remembered. but, i happen to be of the opinion that the rap community is still quite good at determining who should be remembered. you might be reminded of this:

i do agree that something is lost when that feeling of a larger, tangible culture doesn't really exist. but there is something nice about a small, separated group of people come together to talk about rap. i think the biggest problem with rap right now isn't so much the dearth of talent (though yes, that is a big part of it), it's more that the most talented people lack business/marketing skills. if you read Brian Coleman's Rakim Told Me, you get the impression that rappers used to chill with Red Alert, pass him a 12", and get on the radio that way. nowadays, someone like Wale or Asher Roth focuses on his twitter/myspace/personal website and putting out decent songs that it's more about getting his name in people's mouths. meanwhile, a more talented rapper like z-ro or jay electronica make better music, but their media game isn't as tight, so lay people don't really check for them as much.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder on this one. I remember being slightly freaked out when I heard "I don't like the look of it", which resulted in a buddy of mine dropping an intense "you are seriously sleeping, dumbass" speech abt them. Have had them on a mental 'to check out' checklist ever since, but I still haven't done so yet.. Will do so now.

The last I heard, these guys supposedly added a couple more members and changed their name to 'labratz' - haven't checked them either

bding7 said...

jay, i was in the same camp. glad i could help convince you.

yea, i remember back when Maurice Garland blogged for XXL, he did a post about how they changed their name.

also from MGG's blog, a track/video from big marc called"concrete complications," as well as a mixtape to check out (i have yet to do so). it's very derivative of 3 Stacks, but i guess there are worse people to imitate, right?

Jordan said...

This is probably my favorite post you've ever done, I'm gonna have to check this album out. Have you heard the newest Nappy Roots album? I feel it's kinda similar to a bunch of the things you're talking about here.

There are tons of examples of the most era defining stuff not being the most popular; beyond Perry Como being more popular than Elvis or Paul Whiteman being more popular than Louis Armstrong or everything being more popular than 70s punk you can just look at how we don't define mid 90s rap through "Regulate." Not to mention how reading complaints about a dearth of good stuff is just really tiresome.

bding7 said...

thanks for the praise, jordan. i haven't heard the new nappy roots album, but i'll have to check it out.

you're right with the second part of your post. however, in terms of the idea that "Regulate" more or less defines mid-90s rap, you're going to need to elaborate on that to convince me.

Jordan said...

Sorry if my wording there was confusing, I just meant that "Regulate" was this absurdly popular album, more popular than Ready To Die, 36 Chambers or Illmatic but it's been basically forgotten* because everyone agrees it's not a classic like any of those albums or The Chronic or Doggystyle.

*Ok not quite forgotten, but has become culturally irrelevant.

Joey said...

I like Backwudz. My main criticism with them, though, is that after I get past my initial appreciation of their sound, I don't find that it continues to capture my interest. But to highlight a criticism does not mean I dismiss them overall. I still bump Wood Work, I just get a little tired of it.

bding7 said...


I suppose that's fair enough. To be honest, I'm just happy there's another person who feels like we need to keep remembering groups like them.