Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fuck Mos Def

I was planning on covering this since I started the blog, but I put it on the shelf for the last few weeks, until yesterday when I, after strangely seeing it added on his wikipedia discography, Soulseek'd Mos Definite, this odd mixtape-esque Mos Def collection. I listened to it waiting at the White Plains Metro-North on my commute back to Brooklyn (and then listened to Kool G Rap's awesome "4,5,6" as a pallet cleanser and for fun) and decided to address Mos breaking my musical heart these last few years and my wholesale decision to tell this dude to fuck off. Lo and behold, my man Brandon's post is covering similar themes. Happenstance is odd.

I hold a position of hating fandom/standom and any sort of shallow attachment to celebrity and image as a reason to like music or the complete and utter devotion to some asshole that made a good record. I don't come all over the walls about shit, I just don't. So I think this makes me a lot more objective, but it also puts me in a weird category of people, since I'm almost neurotically mathematical about what I feel good records and good artists are. I developed a "three album" rule when I was 16 or so, basically saying that I would never declare myself the fan of any band that didn't have at least three good records. I still stand by that, and have a bunch of other anal retentive beliefs about music that inform my criticism and, honestly, constant shit-talking about the last 4 years of music (once again, LCD Soundsystem and Spoon suck. Fans of either band are bland indie rock idiots and shouldn't be trusted. This may extend to Tom Breihan, who I occasionally think has a tin ear). With that, I do have my favorites, or rather, people who I thought would go far and fell off or made me hate them either musically or otherwise.

This is an odd thing about growing with musical artists during your time as opposed to checking out past artists and records. I can give a great concrete analysis of no longer extant or relevant musicians because I have hindsight. I can say shit like "Bob Dylan has only one truly great album" or "The Rolling Stones were only good for 5 years" because I have access to all their records and there's no anticipation or real paternal love to feel. It's almost a mechanical process of weeding out, forging your own view and greatest hits collections for past acts and avoiding the heartbreak of personal investment and resulting artistic mediocrity. So when bands like Arsis or the Black Dahlia Murder fall the fuck off like they did recently, it sort of stings because you hope they'll make it and become great, rather than merely good, plus you realize how fickle everything is and how much you can lose with a bad album on a two-year release cycle.

To memory, one of my biggest disappointments with this sort of thing was Mr. Ultramagnetic, Pretty Flaco himself, Mos Def.

This motherfucker owes me a hug and a lunch date.

Now, my personal journey with Mos started in 9th grade. "Ms. Fat Booty" and "Umi Says" got airplay on MTV's Direct Effect a bunch, and Rawkus was still doing big things and the mismanagement and shadiness of the cracker-ass owners of the company had yet to come out, so things were all good. My U.S. history teacher, whose name I'll never remember due to time passed and marijuana consumption, used to play records at the beginning of class, since at our high scool there was a 5 minute buffer period before we did anything. He would rock Curtis Mayfield and etc, and I remember lending him N.E.R.D's In Search Of... later that year. But after some kid in art class, where our cunt of a teacher let us bring records while we painted, played Black On Both Sides, I asked to borrow it and took it home. I listened to the record maybe twice, and didn't really dig most of it, but immediately dug a few of the tracks from the first half of the album (I was 14, so I wasn't anywhere near to the ear training and etc I put myself through between 10th grade and now that enabled me to get into more dense albums that weren't, I dunno, Nirvana). I think I bought myself a copy of the record later that year anyway, but I didn't listen to it all the way through and like it for another year, again, me developing better taste helped. Finally, after a marathon repeat listen during a four-hour session of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4, I declared it one of my favorite albums and began my adoration of all things Mos.

Two years go by, and surprisingly, dude's profile is blowing up and he's in "The Italian Job" and some other movies and announced a new album, The New Danger. Now, I was hyped up, because it had been a long wait, and everything about the album seemed like it'd be great, from the political aesthetic of the bandana and gun-to-head gesture on the front to the minstrel costume inside. It even took two or three listens to like, like most really good albums, so I was happy. I did notice some staggering changes between 1999 Rawkus Mos and 2004 Geffen Mos, that sort of bothered me.

The album had been divisive because of its eclecticism. Now, many had tried this before, most embarrassingly, Wyclef Jean, but Mos was special. Not to sound like a stan, but besides Ghostface and Jay-Z, the last true all-around MC in the late 80's sense left to me was Mos. Like Ghost, he sang like, made allusions to, and exuded pure 80's rap and represented a complete manifestation of that era without sounding dated. My friend and an English teacher at my high school peeped me to a bunch of cool stuff in 10th grade, my favorites were Pharoahe Monch, The Violent Femmes, and "Jam On It", possibly the best Mos Def song. It's a great example of who he was as an MC, able to reinterpret and have fun with Nucleus' classic "Jam On It" beat and put flair on it, rapping primarily in that huge magnanimous 80's boom voice that used to be the thing, then rapping in his own 1999/2000 Rawkus flow. He was unique in that, he wasn't boring (sorry Kweli and Common), had great memorable lyrics, had an encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop that he would allude to by interpolating and singing hooks and rhymes from the 80's naturally, had definite charisma, wasn't pretentious, could flow very well, and his politics were actually pretty rational and avoided racism (unlike Dead Prez). And as opposed to people like 2Pac who are posited as poetic but weren't and were actually pretty terrible, he was poetic. It was a perfect complete package, spiced with NY style, a decent singing voice, and occasional West Indian flair.

Plus, Black on Both Sides is fucking flawless. So imagine mine and everyone's surprise when the Black Jack Johnson band (the same one featured when Mos did a set of the now defunct HBO show "Reverb" that was one of the few shows on during the first month of the 9/11 fiasco-gate) had a few tracks and Mos was singing a lot more, and now, for some reason, rapping heavier with a strong slur and greasier drawl. Plus the record was devoid of bass, a lot like Fishcale was, though I doubt it was to capture an '88 vibe like Ghost was doing. Plus, as I noted to a lot of detractors and fellow fans, lyrically he was about at 30% as opposed to all the great things he laid down on the first album. it was an excercise in experimentation that undoubtedly had great songs and was undoubtedly one or two tracks too long, but was still pretty fascinating and different than anything. But judging by the fact that the two singles/videos from the record didn't get much airplay, I guess most people agreed with the Pitchfork review. Considering these are the same people who give 9.7565's to shit like Spoon, Les Savy Fav and LCD Soundsystem, I'm pretty confident in my opinion of the record. Who cares that he, though still memorable, had gotten slurry, strangley confrontational and sparse with the lyrics? The framing of the reviews were just from the wrong viewpoint. It's a decent rap album, but its a great black music album, which seemed to be what he was going for anyway. It was edgy and weird and warm and reminded me of wine.

I thought, "Fuck those people. They're the same lazy fucks who think Black Star are better together and that you don't have to give a record more than once".

So with two great albums, I was anticipating anything. For a long time, Mos had no website, and when he did get one, it was never updated more than once a year, which was frustrating. If you googled Immortal Technique, you'd get an overwhelming number of responses, but finding a Mos Def interview was nigh impossible, so besides repeated viewings of Def Poetry, there was finally a crack last fall when it was announced on Wikipedia (sad that that's the hub of Mos Def news on the web) that his new album would be called Tru3 Magic and that it'd be coming out in December.

...Tru3 Magic? With a hax0r language 3 for an E? What the fuck?

It was disconcerting. Plus, there was no fanfare and it was dumped in December, which I learned from the Kingdom Come fiasco-gate was a death knell for an album. But I still held out hope for the record. After all, it had production by Minnesota and the Neptunes, who I still sort of liked after downloading Hell Hath No Fury and having a bit of my faith in Pharrell and Chad renewed. But upon the leak, I quickly realized it was a shit sandwich of a record. I ended up keeping three tracks from the album that I thought were good, but I, out of disgust and disappointment in my favorite rapper (other two are Ghost and B.I.G.) at the time falling off harder than Wyclef Jean. Months later, midway through my year and a half long period of listening to just about every metal and hip-hop record I had missed because I didn't have a lot of money or a good internet connection (everything from Pestilence to Pete Rock), I gave it a full listen and still found it to be horrible, even moreso in the wake of absorbing so much good music in a two year period. Plus, the fact that there were rumblings of a purposefully shit album to escape his record contract and a unofficial release and then an official release with a different case and a website that never updates and no interviews to explain himself grated me and that feeling of wanting to jump a sinking ship overcame me. Unlike a child or girlfriend, a musician is easy to disown.

Then, the final fucking straw (ignoring his attempt to play "Katrina Klap" at the 2006 VMA's and getting arrested or his 7 kids and owed child support). Despite being great in Dave Chapelle's Block Party, last month he acted like an asshole on Real Time with Bill Maher (that I frequently incorrectly call "Real Talk with Bill Maher"). He was even more annoying that Cornel West, who himself is this over-pontificating,out-of-touch guy that, though likable, reaches more than Dhalsim. But Mos, though he did make two or three basic true points, acted a fool the entire telecast, overtalking, getting irate, and making himself seem unintelligent and blindly spiritual (which usually correlates).

An example of said failure:

MAHER: And there also can be Muslim terrorism in the world. [voices overlap]

MOS DEF: [overlapping] Okay, that’s true—[voices overlap]—I’m a Muslim—

WEST: [overlapping]—you’re not denying – you’re not denying that there’s this terrorist—

MOS DEF: [overlapping]—yes, I’m Muslim, and there’s Christian terrorism—

WEST: [overlapping] Absolutely.

MOS DEF: [overlapping]—this historical terrorism from all different types of sects.


MOS DEF: The Catholic Church’s stance about child molestation in and of itself. [applause]

WEST: That’s right.

MAHER: Right.

MOS DEF: And you talk about – you know, classify what is and what is not terrorism—

WEST: That’s right.

MOS DEF: [overlapping]—I think—

WEST: [overlapping] And there’s secular terrorists. I know you’re a secular brother. There are secular terrorists that are vicious. [laughter] [applause]

MOS DEF: He’s right! He’s right! He’s Cornel West! He’s right.

WEST: Who do you think Stalin was?

MAHER: Well, that was a religion.

WEST: But it was secular, Brother. He was an atheist.

MAHER: It doesn’t matter. When somebody is at the position that Stalin or Hitler was in a society, they are a god and it is a religion. [applause] It’s just a secular religion. [voices overlap]

MOS DEF: [overlapping] I mean, without—

MAHER: [overlapping] It’s when people worship without thinking, that’s a religion. [applause]

MOS DEF: Well—

MAHER: [overlapping] Now, you guys are different religions. You’re a Christian—

WEST: [overlapping] He’s a prophetic Muslim—

MAHER: And you’re – and you’re a Muslim.

WEST: [overlapping] I’m a prophetic Christian.

MAHER: Now, let’s get real.

WEST: [overlapping] You’re a prophetic atheist. That’s where we come together, on that “prophetic.” That adjective.

MAHER: But the reason why nothing can ever move forward in Iraq – let’s be real – is because of religion. Because there are two sects, and something that happened 1,400 years ago, they’re still beefing about.

MOS DEF: That’s they business, though. Even if that—[voices overlap]

MAHER: [overlapping] I agree, but I’m just saying that religion is the root of the problem.

Now, if I was still the Chinatown Fair-chilling, "Kill Whitey"-yelling, Chris Rock/Dave Chappelle-quoting scene kid I was in 2004 and most of 2005, I'd find this great and love every minute. But as someone aware enough to know Mos sounded retarded, this was it for me, and was the inspiration for this post. So until he makes it up by actually doing something great in the next two years, fuck this dude. (I'd still see him in concert though...)

Fuck Mos Def.

Here's a quick run-down of artists that disappointed me in this so far terrible year for music!
-The Black Dahlia Murder
-High on Fire
-Common (I dislike Common anyway, but still)
-Jay Z (It's disappointment displacement from '04-06 spilling over and seems like it'll never end)
-Pig Destroyer
-As I Lay Dying
-Pharoahe Monch
-Nas (I never expect anything from this dick, but I at least anticipated something at least decent)
-The Red Chord
-Electric Six
-The White Stripes
-Bloc Party
-The Stooges
-Bad Brains
-Kings of Leon
-Jill Scott
-The Used (I at least had a bit of hope they'd stop sucking. Nope.)
-Calle 13

Oh, and Lupe Fiasco deserves all the failure in the world. Fuck that douche.


Chris said...

Although everything on that list sucks shit, I thought you'd enjoy the latest Calle 13 had to offer the world? What sucked about it?

Christopher said...

Production wasn't as catchy or good as the first album. It wasn't bad per se.

floodwatch said...

Umm... wow. Your "2007 disappointments" list is frighteningly similar to mine.

I was CRUSHED by the most recent Arsis record and haven't seen anything in print about it yet, so it was a pleasant shock to see it mentioned here. What the fuck happened to those guys?!?

And yeah, Lupe gets the gas face. Never really cared for the dude in the first place, but still.

Christopher said...

Haha, yeah. Color me surprised that the new QOTSA record was actually really good.

Apparently there's another Arsis record due next year, so maybe they'll get it together and the last record was a fluke. Or maybe being on a major label will make them complacent.

I wanted to like Lupe so badly. And then the last shred of my musical idealism/politics died this year and I got into Three 6 Mafia and realized he's annoying. I'll still peep "The Cool", though. The record will brick harder than "Food and Liquor", so it'll be funny when he blame that on this whole fiascogate thing.