Sunday, November 30, 2008

Adventures In Rap #9: Eric B. & Rakim

Alright, who wants to join me in a game? Here's the game: name your top five favorite Eric B. & Rakim songs. "Eric B. and who" you say? You're not alone. And yet, apparently Eric B. and Rakim's standing in the rap world is high. Just listen to Steve Huey's introduction from the All Music Guide:
During rap's so-called golden age in the late '80s, Eric B. & Rakim were almost universally recognized as the premier DJ/MC team in all of hip-hop...Eric B. was a hugely influential DJ and beatmaker whose taste for hard-hitting James Brown samples touched off a stampede through the Godfather of Soul's back catalog that continues up to the present day. Rakim, meanwhile, still tops fan polls as the greatest MC of all time.
Well, how great could they be if nobody's ever heard of them? The answer: good enough to justify their reputation as hip-hop innovators, but not good enough to actually satisfy a listener in 2008. In other words, I'm glad they played their part, but personally I find Eric B. & Rakim more valuable as history than as music.

But let us give credit where credit is due. Now, if it were 1987 and I had just placed the needle onto the wax of Eric B. & Rakim's debut album Paid In Full, I would have probably said "damn that is good." Eric B. & Rakim's music would have struck me as more mellow and danceable than the dominant Run-D.M.C./LL Cool J rap/rock hybrid sound of the time. But given that it is actually 2008 and not 1987, and I have grown up in the post gansta funk era, I have to say that Paid In Full sounds like a great remix album - except it actually is the album. Hooks? Choruses? You won't find any of them here. Innovation alone does not make an album stand the test of time. There also has to be songcraft.

Take Rakim's much-vaunted rhyming skills, for example. Yes, his rhymes are smoother and more intricate than the rhymes of his predecessors. It's too bad Rakim only tackles one topic: his rhyming skills. A lot of casual observers like to criticize rap by saying that "All (insert random rapper here) ever does is talk about how cool he is." Often this is just an easy way for a lazy listener to disengage with the music. But in the case of Rakim, it is essentially true. Take this rapid-fire verse from 1988's "Follow The Leader" for instance:

A furified freestyle, lyrics of fury
My third eye makes me shine like jewelry
You're just a rent-a-rapper, your rhymes are minute-maid
I'll be here when it fade to watch you flip like a renegade
I can't wait to break and eliminate
On every traitor or snake - so stay awake
And follow and follow, because the tempo's a trail
The stage is a cage, the mic is a third rail
I'm Rakim, the fiend of a microphone
I'm not him, so leave my mic alone
Soon as the beat is felt, I'm ready to go
So fasten your seatbelt, cause I'm about to flow
No need to speed slow down to let the leader lead
Word to daddy, indeed!
The R's a rollin' stone, so I'm rollin'
Directions is told, then the rhymes are stolen
Stop buggin', a brother said, dig em, I never dug 'em
He couldn't follow the leader long enough so I drug 'em
Into danger zone, he should arrange his own
Face it, it's basic, erase it, change ya tone
There's one R in the alphabet
It's a one-letter word and it's about to get
More complex from one rhyme to the next
Eric B be easy on the flex
I've been from state to state, followers tailgate
Keep comin' but you came too late, but I'll wait
So back up, regroup, get a grip, come equipped
You're the next contestant - clap ya hands, you won a trip!
The price is right - don't make a deal too soon
How many notes could you name this tune?
Follow the leader is the title, theme, task
Now ya know, you don't have to ask
Rap is rhythm and poetry, cuts create sound effects
You might catch up if you follow the records E. wrecks
Until then keep eatin' and swallowin'
You better take a deep breath and keep followin'
The leader

This is the kind of verse that would have had aspiring rappers shaking their heads in unison in 1988, confessing to each other, "Now how the hell are we supposed to top that?" And yet...the song is about nothing! Just imagine if Rakim had actually applied his nimble linguistic talent to genuine subject matter. Sure, maybe if I were a DJ or a rapper, Eric. B. and Rakim would be my idols. But seeing as that I am neither of those things, I can't really enjoy Eric B. & Rakim as anything more than a (very impressive) historical curiosity.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Walmart Stampede

From the New York Times: Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death

What in Wal-Mart could be worth standing in line for, let alone trampling someone to death over?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Good Kind Of Trivial

Was the world waiting with bated breath for Slate articles on the twin topics of car horns and tied college football games? No. Did I enjoy such articles? Yes. Here, I think, are two perfect examples of the fluffy but satisfying Slate article. The keys are: 1) the authors don't treat the subject matter as something more important than it really is; 2) they supplement their fluff with some impressively thorough research, so the pieces are not actually completely devoid of informative value.

In all honesty, I've been enjoying Slate a little more than usual lately. Perhaps this is not completely unrelated to the fact that we have a new and intriguingly energetic president preparing to take office. It's like someone finally pouring super-strength Drano down a toilet that has been clogged for eight years. Here, then, are some other recent Slate favorites:

1) Why Is Obama Our First Black President?: Kids' questions about his victory, and their parents' attempts to answer - Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson

2) Don't get Depressed, It's Not 1929: Why All Those Great Depression Analogies Are Wrong - Daniel Gross

Well that's a relief!

3) Obama's Reagan Democrats: They weren't crazy about Obama, but they voted for him anyway. Now what do they want? - John Dickerson

Favorite part: "Mark Parowski, who described himself as a 'hard-core Republican,' didn't pick Obama until the moment he was in the election booth. His wife had been to Obama's last rally in Manassas, Va., the night before, along with 90,000 others, and said it sounded as if Obama was talking right to her in her living room. His disgust with Republicans was a big factor in his vote, Parowski said, but he also saw backing Obama as a chance to make a generational change."

I can just imagine this Mr. Parowski, muttering to himself only moments after leaving the election booth: "I reached over and began pulling the level for McCain...and I...I...just...couldn' it!"

4) Do You Want Gravy On Your Palin?: Ammunition for Your Holiday Political Spats - John Dickerson

I could see the validity in each side of these arguments. Some of the more tantalizing:

Hillary at State

Great idea: She knows the issues, won't be afraid to tell Obama what she thinks, and is the perfect embodiment of American ideals of opportunity and service.

Horrible idea: Drama! She'll put her interests above the president's. Bill's conflicts of interest will be impossible to overcome. Powerful women don't do well in the Middle East.

Will a Woman Ever Become President?

Sure: Hillary's campaign was a thorough mess, her husband was off message constantly, and yet she still almost beat Obama.

Not for a while: Geraldine Ferraro was right—in politics, it's harder to be a woman than a black man. It's still a sexist world. Just look how terribly everyone treated Sarah Palin.

Bush Is the Worst President of My Lifetime

Born before 1932: Son, let me tell you about a man named Herbert Hoover.

Born between 1932 and 1974: You think he was worse than that paranoid liar Nixon? There have been no attacks since 9/11. Iraq is turning around and may become a beacon for democracy in the Middle East. Bush is like Truman: unpopular now, but history will vindicate him.

Born after 1974: No need to elaborate. Use the time to get a second helping of pie.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Mega Man: The Movie!

Ok, so the above trailer isn't for a real film. It's just a fan made trailer for a fictional Mega Man movie. There's a lot of fan service going on, so if haven't played a Mega Man game in a while you might not get it all, but for a couple of fans working with zero budget it's pretty damn fun to watch and imagine "what if...". Now, it's nowhere near as good as the fake Legend of Zelda trailer put out earlier this year, which looks so real that upon viewing it my girlfriend said "why don't they just make the real thing, millions of people would go see it anyways." Besides the ridiculous looking Ganon, it looks like a real trailer for a real film. Watch it below:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

What, No Dave Matthews?

I'm glad to see that Rolling Stone got such a kick out of my old post on my favorite singers that they decided to compile another one of their infamous "100 Greatest" lists in response. This one is not too bad, or at least not as open to obvious criticism as their 100 Greatest Artists list (you know, the one that excluded Pink Floyd?!*@). Nevertheless, the list's (in my opinion) overall high quality has not prevented various outraged music lovers from dubbing it the "worst list ever" for leaving off the legendary vocal stylings of artists such as Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder. Let them rant.

I'm not sure I would have gone with Aretha Franklin at the top. Perhaps her influence has been so pervasive that I really haven't given her proper credit for inventing the whole R&B diva thing. Perhaps I just don't respect the whole R&B diva genre a great deal. Also, I would say that Aretha's artistic legacy mostly rests on the material she recorded at Atlantic from approximately 1967-1969. Great stuff, sure, but enough to earn her the title of greatest singer of all time? I wouldn't quite go there. I'd say the #2 and #3 choices, Ray Charles and Elvis Presley, respectively, might have been more deserving of the number one spot - but not by any outrageous margin.

Most of my favorites are here: Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, etc. Even some of my more esoteric and less obvious picks made the cut, like Neil Young, George Jones, Brian Wilson, and Karen Carpenter (I love the quote they dug up from John Fogerty here: "Karen Carpenter had a great sound, but if you've got three guys out on the ballfield and one of them started humming [a Carpenters song], the other two guys would pants him.")

Which reminds me: One of the features I really liked about the 100 Greatest Artists list is that Rolling Stone had managed to recruit, for every entry, some other famous musician to contribute a little blurb on the assigned artist. But it seems like the deadline must have snuck up on the magazine a bit sooner than expected this time because eighteen entries come accompanied with a musician's essay and all the rest are simply essays written by the Rolling Stone staff. Which is it, guys? Either you go with all musician essays or all staff essays, but you don't just go with both! Maybe it's a work in progress. Let us hope so.

On the other hand, they may have redeemed themselves to a certain extent by featuring scans of some of the handwritten ballots, so you can actually see how the world-famous voters voted! Keith Richards cheekily voted for himself in the final spot. Courtney Love, James Blunt, and Sebastian Bach didn't get the memo and shamelessly voted for themselves in the top spot (Ozzy Osbourne at least put himself at #6). And Maynard James Keenan of Tool wrote in only his own name and left the rest of the ballot blank. B.B. King picked mostly jazz and blues singers, but then threw Whitney Houston in there. Merle Haggard listed "The Beatles" as one singer. James Hetfield named metal acts exclusively, with the exception of Johnny Cash. Iggy Pop reserved a spot for Neil Diamond. Alice Cooper's was probably the most surprisingly tasteful of the lot. Can you really picture the King of Shock Rock sitting alone in his apartment listening to Dionne Warwick, Frankie Valli and Laura Nyro? "Welcome to My Nightmare" indeed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thanks, Vatican

Vatican forgives John Lennon for Jesus quip - MSNBC
"The remark by John Lennon, which triggered deep indignation mainly in the United States, after many years sounds only like a 'boast' by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success, after growing up in the legend of Elvis and rock and roll," Vatican daily Osservatore Romano said.

The article, marking the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' "The White Album," went on to praise the pop band.

"The fact remains that 38 years after breaking up, the songs of the Lennon-McCartney brand have shown an extraordinary resistance to the passage of time, becoming a source of inspiration for more than one generation of pop musicians," it said.
Way to go, Vatican. Too bad he's already dead. But nevermind, Yoko will gladly accept on John's behalf. What's next, I wonder? Maybe they'll finally forgive Madonna for that whole "having sex with a cross" thing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Herr Zrbo's Newest Favoritest Blog*

Herr Zrbo's got a new favorite blog in town. Not content to sit here all day dreaming of Ladies of 280 or of TV anchor babes, yours truly has discovered Failblog. It's really nothing new, it's just America's Funniest Home Videos (or Jay Leno's 'Headlines') updated for the youtube generation, but boy oh boy, is it hilarious! I've spent many hours of my time at work chuckling away at whatever Failblog has to offer. Take the example up above, HILARITY! You can find all sorts of ridiculous stuff on this site. Like this one, for example, taken from a Dear Abby column:

"Dear Abby,
I have a man I can't trust. He cheats so much, I'm not even sure the baby I'm carrying is his."

Good times, good times.

*This title is meant to reflect a fail

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dennis Hopper: Still The World's Most Entertaining Asshole

While many kind and selfless artists have died prematurely and left us much too soon, Dennis Hopper, one of the most reckless, abusive, and obnoxious talents in the film industry, has somehow managed to live to the ripe old age of 72. Perhaps there really is no justice in the world. Or perhaps God simply likes the entertainment. I know I do. Here, then, in his fully self-conscious glory, is Dennis Hopper, from an interview with The Hollywood Interview, a fellow blog on Blogspot (note: why can't we land these kinds of interviews on our blog?). The casual observer might only think of Hopper as that guy from Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, and...Waterworld, but in truth, he's made films with everyone from James Dean to John Wayne to Andy Warhol. While growing up in Kansas during the Dustbowl, he actually bought a dog from the Clutter family of In Cold Blood fame. He apparently produced an album for Miles Davis. The man has seen and done it all, and what's really impressive is that he's seen and done it an asshole! Excerpts:

Watching your character in the first episode of Crash, I thought to myself ‘So Frank Booth survived the gunshot to the head in Blue Velvet and became a record producer.’

(laughs) Yeah, right!

Who else would call someone an “eyeless fuck” but Frank Booth?
(laughs) Yeah, yeah. My first conversation with my penis in the limo with the young woman driver, it’s pretty hairy. When I hire the new driver, who’s black, and say “Gorillas in the mist, that’s what the LAPD call you,” he has no stop switch, my character. He says everything and insults everybody. He just goes for it.

Which at one time could have described you.
Yeah, probably. I guess so. It was so long ago now, I can’t remember. (laughs) Phil Spector and I had an office together for ten years, and people have asked me if I’m doing Phil Spector in this and I said ‘No. I’m doing me!’ (laughs)


I remember hearing you tell a story about snorting gasoline from your grandfather’s truck…
Yeah, and I looked up at the clouds and saw clowns, until I ODed on the fumes and smashed up his truck with a baseball bat, thinking it was a monster, smashing out the lights. (laughs) I was about seven. (laughs) Not good, but that was the end of my gas-sniffing.


I heard that during the filming of True Grit that John Wayne chased you around Paramount with a loaded gun?
(laughs) No, that’s not quite how it happened. He used to arrive on the lot via helicopter from his mine sweeper that he had moored in Newport Beach. He’d have a .45 strapped on his side, wearing army fatigues, and that’s the way he’d arrive to work every day. This one day he arrived, and he wanted to know where “that Pinko Hopper was hiding.” I was actually in Glen Campbell’s trailer, hiding from him. He was screaming “My daughter was out at UCLA last night and heard (Black Panther) Eldridge Cleaver cussing, and I know he must be a friend of that Pinko Hopper! Where is he? I want to talk to him!” So he wasn’t literally running around with a gun looking for me. He was walking around with a gun at his hip, but I think he wanted to have a political discussion, as opposed to committing actual manslaughter! (laughs) Anyway, nothing ever came of it. That was just Duke.


We have to talk about the character of Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. I read an interview with David Lynch where he said you called him after reading the script and said “David, you have to let me play this part because I am Frank Booth.”
Well actually, he’d already cast me, but I did call him after he’d cast me, and we’d never met at that point, and said ‘You haven’t made a mistake, because I am Frank Booth.” So supposedly he went back to the table with Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini and Laura Dern, they were all having lunch together, and said “I just got off the phone with Dennis Hopper, and he said that he was Frank Booth, which I guess is really good for the picture, but I don’t know how we’ll ever have lunch with him.” (laughs)

How were you Frank Booth?
I’d come out of a heavy drug life, and had known a lot of people like Frank. I didn’t mean that I was literally Frank Booth, but I’d certainly run into characters like Frank, and understood him. A big discrepancy came the first day we were shooting the big scene where Kyle is hiding in the closet and I come in demanding my bourbon and tell Isabella to spread her legs, and then this sort of horrendous rape scene occurs against her. None of us had met at this point and that was our first scene. (laughs) David had helium on the set, because in the script, the tank that Frank was constantly taking hits from was written as helium, which makes your voice really high, like Donald Duck. But it doesn’t disorient you in any way, it just makes you talk funny. So I said to David, ‘You know I always thought of this as being nitrous oxide or amyl nitrate or something.’ He said “What is that?” I said “Something that disorients your mind for a few minutes. I’m also having trouble acting with my voice sounding like this. So could I just show you what it would look like with the other stuff?” And I did, and David said “Oh, that’s great!” So we went with that, and I said ‘If you want to put the (helium) voice in later, in post, we can,’ and of course, we didn’t. So that was the only real contribution I made to that film, I guess. (laughs)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

At Least The Nazis Got Something Right

Thank you, Wikipedia, for Today's Featured Article, which is titled "Anti-tobacco movement in Nazi Germany." Because courtesy of this article, I have just learned that, aside from the oft-mentioned "making the trains run on time," Hitler was apparently a pioneer in smoking research. See, the Nazis weren't all bad.

Research on smoking and its effects on health thrived under Nazi rule[6] and was the most important of its type at that time.[7] Hitler's personal distaste for tobacco[8] and the Nazi reproductive policies were among the motivating factors behind their campaign against smoking, and this campaign was associated with both antisemitism and racism.[9]

Adolf Hitler was a heavy smoker in his early life—he used to smoke 25 to 40 cigarettes daily—but gave up the habit, concluding it was a waste of money.[8] In later years, Hitler viewed smoking as "decadent"[12] and "the wrath of the Red Man against the White Man, vengeance for having been given hard liquor",[8] lamenting that "so many excellent men have been lost to tobacco poisoning".[16]

Smoking was also outlawed in bomb shelters; however, some shelters had separate rooms for smoking.[4]

After the collapse of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II, American cigarette manufactures quickly entered the German market. Illegal smuggling of tobacco became prevalent,[44] and leaders of the Nazi anti-smoking campaign were silenced.[6] In 1949, approximately 400 million cigarettes manufactured in the United States entered Germany illegally every month. In 1954, nearly two billion Swiss cigarettes were smuggled into Germany and Italy. As part of the Marshall Plan, the United States sent free tobacco to Germany; the amount of tobacco shipped into Germany in 1948 was 24,000 tons and was as high as 69,000 tons in 1949. The Federal government of the United States spent $70 million on this scheme, to the delight of cigarette manufacturing companies in the United States, who profited hugely.[44]
U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Skimbleshanks the... Dance Dance Revolution Cat??

Broadway will turn anything into a musical nowadays. ANYTHING. Legally Blonde? Check. ABBA tribute? Check. Dance Dance Revolution the musical? Check! Word on the street this morning is that everyone's favorite "let's watch the fat kid excel at the one thing he's good at" party game will be making its debut on Broadway. It's about damn time I'm sure some of you are saying.

This adaptation of the popular dancing video game franchise will star Van Hansis of As The World Turns. And if that doesn't clinch it for you, perhaps the description of the musical will:

"Set in an Orwellian society where a dance prophet named Moonbeam Funk helps dancing youth gangs rebel against a fascist government. The company working on the show describes it as "like Footloose set in the future — but kind of scarier, and with 40 really attractive, barely-clothed young actors and buckets of free beer."

Footloose, in the future! Sign me up!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Future is Now (on CNN)!

So I was watching CNN's election coverage last night. Not sure if you've seen it but they've got the best technology over there in Atlanta. CNN has this 'magic board' they call it, which they unveiled earlier this year, where John King uses his fingers like a mouse to zoom in and out of a map of the U.S., showing us which states are voting for whom. It's like Google Maps to the 10th degree. Then last night they had this gigantic wall where it broke down the vote by demographic, and the host could just tap the needed demographic (say, 'hispanics making more than $100k') and voila! A pie chart would open up with all the needed info.

I'm watching this when my girlfriend comes in and I'm telling her 'Wow, CNN's got all this crazy technology, like holograms and shit. Well, not really holograms'. Oh, but I would be proven wrong within minutes.

We sit down on the couch together to watch the results roll in and then suddenly - POOF! We are transported to a magical future, of maybe it was a long long time ago in a far off galaxy. Why? Because there's Anderson Cooper, I kid you not, conducting an interview via hologram! Mother fuckin' hologram!!! Seriously, I couldn't believe it. He was actually interviewing from Black Eyed Peas (please don't ask) and there's Will standing next to Cooper with a strange purple glow around him, like total Star Wars style. I turned to my girlfriend and said something along the lines of "Uh, I was actually kidding about the hologram", or maybe it was something more like "Holy shit we've been transported to the future!"

Well, after some brief searching on the subject it turns out that it wasn't a true hologram. It was just being projected for the viewer, it didn't exist in real space on the set. Still, if you want your mind blown, or maybe it's just a good laugh, check out the interview here .

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama Wins!

I'm extremely happy about this news. Although I'd predicted this result, my gut didn't agree until today. As an early Obama supporter, and a meager donor to his campaign, I feel like something good has happened to a friend. That sounds silly, but in these days when we spend hours reading about, and surreptitiously traveling with the objects of Internet attention the people that we've never met can seem more familiar than those we pass on the street. But in another way, something good did happen to all of my friends--hope won, and the outlook for us all improved just a bit.

What Will We Know and When Will We Know It?

After 7pm est, when results start to come in, we may know a lot.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama Ahead in Early Voting

Barack Obama leads in early voting 15 to 6. No, there aren't supposed to be any zeros after those numbers.

That's My Alma Mater

UC Davis Provides Birth Control For Frisky Squirrels - MSNBC

Our evil plan worked! Muuuaa-ha-ha.