— I’ve listened to Acid Rap no fewer than 4X by now, after downloading it last night. I wasn’t all the way sober those first couple times, so I’ve run it through two more times this morning.
— This mixtape has me real close to dropping some Jon Landau “I’ve seen the future of hip hop and his name is Chance the Rapper” shit.
— Chance is on some other shit. Some other shit.
— This mixtape is a goddamn triumph.
— That “everybody dies in the summer” coda thing at the end of “Pusha Man” is incredible. The melting synths, the Bjork feel, the lonely, stark scene where festivity and tragedy exist in simultaneity.
— There’s a 30 second pause in the middle of the second song. A huge chasm that just opens up and has me looking dumbfounded at my ipod. Then I’m like, “oh, shit, he meant to do that?!” There’s maybe nothing more psychedelic than allowing silence to invade.
— Chance is already a rapper who makes his feature rappers better: Bronsolino, Twista, Childish Gambino all show the hell up for their verses. Bronson with the fate patois tho.
— If I scored rap albums like pitchfork or rolling stone it’d be how many times I make a screwed up face like something smells bad while listening the album first time through. Last night I stayed making that face. That’s my score: stayed making that face.
— Dude used “rhombus” in a rhyme.
— Also, “Pro like Cointel.”
— I wonder what he listens to. I hear Yasiin Bey, 3K, Em, Kendrick, Kanye. I could be wrong. Except about Eminem.
— Chance uses the whole song; he’s not confined to a formulaic 16 bars, 8 bar hook, 16 bars, etc. The songs are more linear than cyclical. He’s like Kendrick or Kanye in this regard, but I think he takes it even further, which is especially impressive since he’s working with different producers to whose beats he’s constrained (unlike Kanye who produces and Kendrick who I’m sure had producers bending over backwards to accommodate him and his winding vagaries.)
— There’s no shortage of consternation among many in hip hop right now, as the art form is maturing and bifurcating. There are many strains of rap, from Freddie Gibbs and Chief Keef to the Khaled/MMG crowd, to Black Hippy and weird Bay shit, to classicists like Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$ and K.R.I.T., to Danny Brown and RiFF RAFF, to trap traditionalists, to 2 Chainz and Future, to scorched earth genre destroyers like Death Grips. Where does Acid Rap fit? There will be purists who don’t like this record. But, then again, I would’ve thought that about Kendrick and his jock is uniformly ridden.
— But trust that Chance will still blow the fuck up. The purists will grumble. Their concerns won’t be entirely unfounded. They’ll admit that he can spit, they’ll have to, but I anticipate less than total support. I could be wrong on that tho.
I will probably write more about Chance after a second cup of coffee.
While everybody else was politely assessing the George W. Bush tenure to accompany the opening of the former president’s library, I was thinking about his post-presidential work, namely, the enigmatic shower painting so kindly liberated by hackers. Bush may be one of my favorite painters. I’m not fucking kidding.
— The figure appears to be standing only mere inches from the tiled wall, standing erect and staring at the wall as though entirely uninterested in taking a shower. OK, so one might opt for generosity of a sort and offer that this strange appearance is a function of the former president’s inexperience with painting. But every painter is inexperienced; art is always attempt. I can only respond to what I’m looking at.
— More about the painting attests to conscious decision, rather than inexperience, affecting the image: the figure is completely outside of the shower’s spray, as the vertical path of the water is uninterrupted by our supposed showerer. That’s a conscious (or un-?) decision to place the “showerer” in a decidedly non-shower-taking position. In any case, it’s not a matter lack of technique. It’s a compositional consideration, made in the quiet of the blank canvas, that can’t be said to reflect technical deficiencies.
— The mirror. The figure is, in fact, so far aside and so close to the wall (is he even touching/leaning against it?) that the mirror’s reflective angles are clearly impossible, strangely disembodying the face framed in the tiny mirror. The face in the mirror is even half of a head higher than the body from which it’s supposedly reflected. The laws of optical physics do not apply in this bathroom. This is due as much to the placement of the figure to the far right of the shower as it is to the figure’s bizarre proximity to the tile wall.
— In fact, the self-portraiture might be confined to only the face in the mirror, as it stares directly at the viewer/painter. That is, only the tightly circumscribed face is the self portrait: the body, with its rigid lifelessness, is someone, or something, else
“Life protracts, extends and transforms some the qualities of inorganic matter into its own organic conditions; and in turn, life adds to materiality the conditions of virtuality or becoming-otherwise that the material universe already contains but cannot directly express. It will be my claim here that materiality, bare matter, matter not in its simplified form but before being animated by life, is nevertheless always involved in and invested by incorporeal forces, forces of potential sense, forces of virtual significance that living bodies, in elaborating their own ends or finality, affirm and develop.
Matter, through their work, can be understood as more than material for it always already contains within its chemical and physical bonds, within its very atomic and sub-atomic structure, the conditions for the eruption of life. Life is a form of finality, a form of goal-directedness and form-taking that is open-ended, in which the future cannot be contained in or inferred from the past. There is a continuity between the inorganic and the organic that enables the organic to emerge—evolutionarily—from the inorganic, a becoming-immaterial or -incorporeal, a becoming-idea of matter itself that foreshadows and anticipates the life that erupts from it. But we can understand this continuity only to the extent that materiality is not reduced to objects alone but also includes events, processes and relations, a materiality conceived beyond any positivism.”
- Elizabeth Grosz, “Deleuze, Ruyer and Becoming-Brain: The Music of Life’s Temporality”
It was only a matter of time before our societal ills penetrated the innocence of the AT&T children’s roundtable.
Notice anything odd about the racial dynamics of the conversation? After a series of facile ideas about the material composition of candy island—sugar for sand, soda for water, these sorts of (at best) shallow considerations—the young Black child interjects with a query worthy of some strenuous thought: What would the animals be made of? His question, which stands to chart new discursive territory, is roundly dismissed, even by the patriarchal adult “moderator,” who derisively stifles the question.
Prior to the young man’s question, the offerings around the table were founded on material symmetry: sand and sugar, soda and water. Oh, and hot fudge for a shower, which is a ridiculous idea. The fudge proposal, though, is accepted without reservation, despite its absurdity.
Obviously unsatisfied with these tidy ideas (and, one assumes, the anti-hygienic nightmare of the fudge shower), the boy steps into the discourse to begin the heavy lifting: Animals, unlike the elemental materials named hitherto, are multiply composed, of bone and sinew, organ and hide, hoof, nail and tooth. How do we begin the work, he inquires, of considering how this complexity is rendered in candy?
Silly question, says the “moderator,” in so many words.
Being a poet laureate is neither as easy nor as glamorous as I’d imagined it to be. It was at an early meeting that I’d proposed it, being buoyed by the other guys’ appreciation for my verbal skills. I was increasingly called upon to write letters and poems for girls back home, families, lawyers. I was proofreading graffiti, stressing the subtle strength of semicolons for textually dense back tattoos. I didn’t have anything else to offer, being weak and unassertive and profoundly uneasy with the traditional pain-oriented rites of admission into the fold. Only one incomplete tattoo marred the expanses of my flabby white skin, a tattoo which, having been halted after my yowling roused the guards, expressed an untenably ambiguous message directing hate, but at no particular group.
I could sense that conversations were being had about my commitment and worth. Aryan Barry glowered in my direction at chapter meetings. I overheard Switchblade Buckner openly doubt my commitment to a white planet. Meanwhile, my failing ties to the gang was leaving me exposed to threats from the other racial alliances. Being the Brotherhood’s official man of letters seemed the perfect way to ply my talents toward protection and camaraderie. After some initial misgivings about the Brotherhood sharing a “fag-y” literary post with the federal government, I was able to convince them with a few completely off-the-cuff couplets extolling the power and perfection of the white race. A slight, almost imperceptible upward curl in the corner of Switchblade’s chapped lips assured me of my security.
But as more and more men joined the Brotherhood and as my position became recognized from one cell block to the next, one prison to the next, state to state, from county lockup to the dungeons of solitary, my simple proposal, offered in a moment of panic, became a burden equal to that levied by the State. The laureate’s mission is to represent in verse, and I was reasonably comfortable with my ability to fulfill that aim for the seven-member chapter to whom I’d pledged duty. The Aryan Brotherhood now stands twenty thousand strong, and though I might find cheap flattery in my reputation’s spread, I feel only my responsibility closing in ever tighter.
As laureate you must accurately express the feelings of each member you represent. That is the task. Staring into the faces of AK Forty Sven and Mad Dog Rohm during a convocation, you understand that your margin for error is narrow. White supremacists are self supremacists as well, and White Tiger’s and Bubba Junior Jr.’s distinct notions of white power do, in fact, differ. One’s reconciliation of those differences must satisfy both. Being something of an innate perfectionist compounds this pressure to successfully execute the weighty duty of the office. This was the most important my words had ever become, and I was determined to fulfill my function to the best of my ability.
But at night in my bunk, while Jebediah snored below, I’d begun to wrestle with new anxieties. Is he who speaks the general will to surrender his own? Are you to negate yourself? Vanish into the selfless transmission of myriad wills, be only a conduit? But in that case you wouldn’t be a poet. You would be an editor. A skilled collator, an assembler. No, a poet is both yoked to form, which obstructs and constrains the simple transmission, and he is valued to the degree to which he makes language musical according to a mysterious aesthetic impulse. Form and style, these are obligations to history and to the self which antagonize the task of serving others in the here and now. If I could faithfully and truthfully organize and transmit the feelings of the group, of each and every member, the ideal toward which the laureate strives, I would begin to lie at the point of adherence to form and the whims of stylization. To assemble and dissemble, this was the irreconcilably dual task whose mastery or failure was a matter of life or death.
The words “progressive luxury tax” and “revenue sharing” haunt the dreams of the Koch brothers and the Lower Manhattan fucks who have all the money. Newsflash in case you missed it, a tiny elite has all the money. Wealth and income disparity continues to grow to levels not seen since the days before the Great Depression. No one in positions of power and influence seems to know what to do. Our esteemed representatives in government have sort of agreed to disagree on the origins of this curious development and the means of its repair. Three separate cable news networks spend from dinner onward every night working to decode and make sense of the byzantine futility of our elected hand-wringers.
So I watch NBA basketball. Because it’s better.
And it’s becoming a socialist paradise, turns out. Not only is the progressive luxury tax going into effect next season, but so is the new revenue sharing provision, whereby wealth redistribution occurs right out in the open. The new egalitarian moves amount to both an income tax and a wealth tax, which revenue is distributed throughout the league.
But these taxes and penalties, like their “real life,” governmentally sanctioned counterparts, are not levied for moral or punitive reasons; no, the redistribution is necessary to maintain a functioning system, an actual league. Teams like the Lakers, who have been able to bankroll teams full of superstars, will always outdo the Milwaukee Bucks. You can’t buy all the players, yo. It makes it hella boring for people in Milwaukee. And pretty much everybody else. Who wants to watch Milwaukee host the Minnesota Timberwolves? Not this guy*. Do the Bucks even have an arena, or do they clear a space in a brewery off-hours and set up folding chairs? I don’t know. Because who plays on the Bucks. I’m not watching. Or the Kings play the Bobcats: Nope. Suns/Rockets. I could go on. Too many teams in generational poverty and too few with dynastic wealth will turn the league into something nobody wants to watch.
Because even though I presented sports as an escapist diversion from the cares of real life, we actually watch sports to watch real life play out in microcosm. Will, conflict, fate, the elusive sublimity of perfection sought against immeasurable odds; these are the Real Life Things we look for in sports. We generally don’t want to see on the court—or on the field, pitch, what have you—what we don’t want to see in real life. Three expert referees monitor against players’ wishes, conscious and un-, to gain unfair advantage. A justice system, in other words. We watch to see life bounded, to learn about what it means to achieve and fail. All that shit.
What we were learning was how much we dislike maldistributed power. Or, rather, we already know what it looks like—we live it, increasingly—but we watch basketball from the outside, from something of a god’s eye view, and all interested parties can assess pretty easily the mechanics of its disparity-driven malfunction.
And so it is being corrected. The progressive luxury tax is a soft salary cap that punishes teams whose payrolls extend further and further past a threshold. Starting in 2012 that limit is determined by averaging the league’s teams’ BRI (basketball related income), so that the salary cap is even faintly communistic in its calculus: it is arrived at by averaging wealth and enforcing a ratio of poor to rich. Then comes revenue sharing, which confiscates excessive BRI from wealthy, big market teams and redistributes that wealth to the Milwaukees and Sacramentos of the league.
The plan sounds like something the Swedes would’ve concocted during the height of their Democratic Socialist trailblazing, like theMeidner Plan of 1976. But here it is agreed upon by players, owners, front offices and fans as a workable and necessary solution to the untenable trend of disparity. Contrary to how politicians talk about social democratic measures as fatal and heretical blows to the sanctity of blah blah blah freedom blah blah, the NBA has implemented socialism as a means to save the association.
Politicians and the administrators of capital might take note. When a sports league teeters in imbalance it simply means a worsening product and loss of interest; the stakes for a society are, of course, much more dire. Bucks fans are unlikely to burn down their arena take to the streets, bumrush David Stern’s office and demand control of the Association. Hungry people will. Justifiably angry people will. And yet those in power act like it’s a game.
* Ok, I might watch that, but mostly because I have some suspicions about the Timberwolves being a daring spy games maneuver by Vladimir Putin, who’s assembled a crack team of Russian spies/legitimate-ass ballers to surveil and report on activity in the Twin Cities area. Seriously, peep their roster. Hella Russians. Hell of Russians. Putin is ex-KGB. Add that shit up.
Kool A.D., while still with Das Racist, was the first to lick shots at Rap Genius, the extremely popular rap lyric annotation site. Vasquez’s criticism, that “Rap Genius dot com is white devil sophistry,” resonated with a small but vocal band of detractors, most of whose critiques echoed the rapper’s racially concerned charge and the defense of the authentic from cultural tourists.
Most of the critiques are legitimate and worth considering, though some lack a sufficient degree of nuance. Real talk, you are a shitty hip hop listener if the music hasn’t informed for you a sharp critique of race.
But I wonder if Kool A.D.’s unease with Rap Genius has as much to do with the site’s raison d’etre as with its contributors’ racial composition and attitudes.
Rap Genius supposes lyrics to mean something. I’m not entirely sure how much Kool A.D. expects the listener to regard his lyrics as being composed of orderly signifying language. In fact, Vic spends the span of his two recently released long tapes (and all his shit so far) abusing language, both intellectually and in practice. His project almost seems to be the evacuation of his words of their meaning. The rap convention script-flipping marking his work has found its way to the citadel of the lyrics themselves, so by the intro track to 63 he and Amaze 88 offer this sample as a prefatory address:
Words. They get carried away with words. They get drunk off words. Truth has been abolished. Now, words are vibrations, so as you speak words…you will become like that.
Words are only vibratory intensities deplete of any shared, verifiable meaning, says this guy. That truth, the ability to mean what one says, has been abolished. And that words are physical things that somehow contribute to our physical composition. That is what Kool Attention Deficit offers us as prologue to his sprawling work filled with words.
So how much are we to even trifle with the meaning of his lyrics? There’s enough evidence to suggest not much (or not at all?), that words can be abstracted into meaninglessness and that this awareness informs the two tapes’ matter.
On the second listen to “Exotische Kunst,” one of the several “singles” from the tapes:
You now listen knowing that the song is besieged, doomed. You understand that the “abstract” is looming, ready to impinge upon the verses, which, on this second listen, you’re understanding as going pretty HAM. The song is one of Kool AD’s more ambitious—a novel distilled, it is suggested—, but now you know that the chaos of endless abstraction (“abstract…abstractabstract…abstractabstract…”) is coming to enforce its will upon the project. The concreteness of rhythm, rhyme and meaning are doomed to fatal abstraction.
* * *
A quick detour:
But then I’m reminded of Kafka. Probably because Vic refers to himself twice as the “mulatto Franz Kafka” in the song, echoing previous self-appellations. The meaning of life is that it it ends, offers Kafka. Maybe the meaning of this song that it succumbs to chaos, that it dies, or is killed? This isn’t a whole lot to go on, but it at least begins to work away from the linguistic nihilism of the intro. But isn’t this principal feature of the song what defines it, the meaning determined by its relation to the impending chaos of abstraction? So are we to hear the song, which during its last third, fights, fends off, then falls to cascading abstraction, as only a provisional ordering against ceaseless chaos?
I like the way Elizabeth Grosz talks about chaos. I fucks with Grosz on this.
The chaotic indeterminacy of the real, its impulses to ceaseless variation, gives rise to the creation of networks, planes, zones of cohesion, which do not map this chaos so much as draw strength, force, material from it for a provisional and open-ended cohesion, temporary modes of ordering, slowing, filtering.
But awno, I’m probably getting too far afield: in what sense does its temporary contravention of chaos give the song meaning? I’m not even sure what Kafka meant, tbh/btw. Did he mean an indivisible Meaning of Life? Or is it that each composite part of life, ever divisible in time and space, has meaning conferred upon it by death? Is that even a distinction worth making?
So I’m not even sure why I pursued that Kafka angle, except that a) Kool A.D. stays referring to himself as Kafka [if that means anything at all] and b) I do think that Kool A.D.’s letting chaos loom in so many songs demonstrates non-sensibility against which seemingly sense-bearing words stand in relief. But the boundary of chaos and order is porous, membranous, especially as Vasquez’s work has progressed. There is a communicability traversing inside and outside. Shouts to Grosz, the song is an open-ended cohesion, a temporary ordering of chaos, from which it draws strength, force, material.
Art is the regulation and organization of its materials [in Kool A.D.’s case, sonic/phonic/semiotic material in time] according to self-imposed constraints, the creation of forms through which these materials come to generate and intensify and thus directly impact living bodies, organs, nervous systems.
Which seems to hook up with how intro dude was talking about words as vibrations which help make the body.
* * *
And then there are the two allusions in “Exotische Kunst” to “I Zimbra,” the Talking Heads song whose lyrics are borrowed from Hugo Ball’s Dadaist sound poem “Gadji beri bimba,” Ball’s meaningless “verses without words” meant to “renounce language.” And elsewhere on the tapes Vasquez’s lyrical delivery will erode into stuttering and stumbling babble, as if to say that enunciation—i.e., the shaping of words into recognizably meaningful utterances—matters very little, if at all.
So do we throw out this talk of meaning, signification? Are we to consider only the vibratory intensities? Do the songs mean anything, either in total or in their constituent parts?
But Kool AD has given us two tapes full of words, and he says on another single “All Skreets” (which he chooses as a bookend for 19) that “the issue is language…We move from object to image and to symbol et cetera…[heh]…and abstract that, the image beyond that et cetera.” A semiotic order. Words mean something, have their referents. Words are not merely the truthless “vibrations” described in the 63 intro.
So what is he doing with words? Nearly every word in the first proper song on 19 is devoted to a series of Lil B-esque identifications. Moving beyond the traditional rap simile formulation (I do X like Y), these are direct identifications: Vic says he is Laura Palmer, he is al Qaeda (and Pitbull, Sammy Sosa, Kevin Sorbo, Madonna, Keith Haring, the Beach Boys, Garfield). He repeats “Beiber” like a caffeinated mantra. The song sets the stage for two tapes’ worth of overactive cultural references.
But these are unstable meanings. “Justin Bieber” refers not to the man Justin Bieber but to the idea of Justin Bieber, the cultural phenomenon created by the performer, corporations (record labels, magazines, tv and internet entities, tabloids), fans, detractors, etc. A 13-year-old girl likely understands Bieber differently than I do, than you do. “Bieber” is unstable in how and what it signifies. So what is it to say, “I am Justin Bieber”?
The names are deterritorialized, to be reterritorialized by the listener. Abstracted and reconcretized, then abstracted again through repetition and enunciative abuse, in a cycle. The words exist in a state of becoming-chaotic.
Speaking of which, I barely know what I’m saying at this point.
So what sense does it make to annotate Kool A.D. lyrics? Or what would be the proper response to Kool A.D. in the Rap Genius format? To belabor the text (which isn’t a text) with definitional and definitive equations, or to participate in his chaosmos and trace lines of flight from the order imposed? To become what Vasquez denounces?—not a white devil, but a sophist, a peddler of specious, ornate and danceable non-truths.
I was shooting for a list of ten. Nobody has time for fifteen anything, tl;dr. But a Top Ten list would’ve pretty much ended up being Kool A.D., Riff Raff and that Taylor Swift joint. It didn’t seem fair or normal (who composes year-end Top Tens of three artists?), so I went HAM and broke from the tyranny of round numbers. I did consider expanding to twenty, but as I reached fifteen I realized that 16-20 was going to be populated mostly, again, by Kool A.D. and Riff Raff.
So given the nature of the list, I feel that I should offer something of a preemptive defense to obviate (but probably engender more) criticism: No Beach House?!?!? What happens to dream pop deferred? Absolutely nothing. No Kendrick Lamar?! Dude makes albums whose songs’ value rely on their being considered in relation to the album, which is maybe a nice way of saying, there aren’t any singles on GKMC. No Grizzly Bear? No. There’s no Coldplay, either. No Grimes?! OK, here’s the thing: you can’t just turn the reverb to 11, tell me it’s “dream pop” and fool this guy. I know mediocre pop music when I hear it, even when my ears have to hunt through the recorded-in-a-futuristic-cave wash to find the melody. Give me some Robyn.
Honorable Menschen: Dan Deacon, Godspeed, You Black Emperor, Nas, Death Grips, Kanye and them.
The list is in no particular order except that it begins with “Dum Diary,” because it is the best.
So Heems of Das Racist started taking fire in what I had assumed were the generally friendly confines of the Rap Genius forum. “Heems is a Terrible Rapper” reads the thread’s heading.
After making broader claims about how “dude shows no talent,” the post goes on to narrow the terribleness in relation to bandmate Kool A.D., which, while understandable (we tend to rank rappers in their group or general milieu), doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given their divergent stilos. Heems is a Queens rapper, Kool AD is West Coast/from space. Favoring one doesn’t make the other shit. Big Boi and 3 Stacks, Lennon and McCartney, Deleuze and Guattari: the best duos are composed of necessarily disparate individuals.
I was especially disheartened to see folks concur with the judgment. So here’s my defense of Heems, taking more into account, if you can possibly believe it, than the “drunkish” or “raspy” character of his voice. Hit the jump for my case.