Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tom Breihan is Fucking Retarded (Or Better Living Through Ad Hominems)

I have to preface this post with the fact that I enjoy Breihan's writing. Before Status Ain't Hood got dropped like Ron Browz, I used to read the archives and check for updates like I do on the regular for Brandon or Joseph, Doc, Byron Crawford, Dallas Penn, Metal Inquisition, and etc. Although I never followed him to his personal blog afterward.

There's a reason for that. Like Robert Christgau, who I'm sure he gets compared to derisively quite often, he's a great writer with a knack for details and makes interesting reading, which is something missing from most music journalism as things get progressively more craven and desperate and bloggers scrounge around for any inkling of a trend or interesting slant to exploit. But also like Robert Christgau, he has shit taste and opinions. A sort of shit taste acceptable for a music writer, not the drab and easily confused popist, Phil Collins dickriding local music hack of Patton Oswalt-ian lore. What's insulting about the rating that ran in Pitchfork this morning for Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry is not that it didn't crack the 8.0 club, which would've been nice but unrealistic. I don't have anything emotionally of financially vested in this record, or really, anyone's album. My main contention is that, to judge by Breihan's score, the new Ghost album is not only the worst Ghostface album, but its pretty much, if going by the trend of only 8.0's and higher getting notice or love, a shit record. Which is far from the case. I've listened to it plenty in the last few weeks and its a legitimately good album.

"A 5.1 ain't gonna feed my kids, B. Fuck outta here with that bullshit"

The majority of the complaints about the record seem to be, as Brandon noted in the comments section of his post last week, about the production and the singers, which seems like a bullshit cop-out way of saying "I don't like radio R&B". Its softball critiquing, like when people chose to attack Dane Cook for stealing jokes because they couldn't express his unfunniness eloquently or convincingly or were intimidated by the sheer wall of resistance from his fanbase. Its disingenuous and kind of ball-less. Rest assured, the production is not cheap sounding post-Roc Dipset tinniness. The R&B features, two or three of them not very well known names at all, all work well on the songs they're on (though Adrienne Bailon was an odd choice and just sort of operate on during her feature). I'm not sure when someone not being a household name was ever a legitimate cause for complaint but its emblematic of detractors pulling things out of their ass while simultaneously trying to convince everyone that Cuban Linx II is much greater than what it is, a very consistent and at times great NY oldhead rap record that gathered momentum solely on the strength of it knowingly being marketed as the sequel to the 2nd or 2rd greatest rap record of all time (depending on whose temple you frequent).

A 7.5 or something similar would even make sense, as this record has decidedly mixed reviews and not everyone digs on the concept of an 11-song (ignoring tacked on label tracks) Power 105-type hip-hop album. It'd be especially fair considering thatSo Far Gone received a 7.4, and even the uninitiated are aware that Drake is a personality-less mixtape rapper whose singing voice and penchant for lukewarm bubble bath x Real World Vegas x Pitchfork class of 2008 beats (as close to new age as you can get in rap and still push units) routinely redeem his almost total lack of lyrical grace or narrative or metaphor or anything that would impress anyone whose ever recited a BIG song verse for verse. Speaking of that review, there was a portion of it that struck me odd when I read it earlier this year, shortly after Drake played his first show at my college (Youtube SUNY Purchase and Drake. Kind of sad. Long story about that.),


See, Drake's not a great rapper. His delivery manages to convey confidence at pretty much all times, but it's still halting and awkward. Half the time, his lines barely even make sense: "I never get attracted to fans/Cuz an eager beaver could be the collapse of a dam"-- huh? And even if the tape is mostly crammed with emo soul-baring, he still comes up with lines like this: "My delivery just got me buzzing like the pizza man." Ugh. In his four appearances on the tape, Lil Wayne just annihilates Drake. This wouldn't be news, except we're talking about circa-2009 syrup-fried Wayne here, and it's rarer and rarer that he gets the better of anyone on a song

Breihan's opinions have traditionally been derided by actual hip-hop journalists/bloggers/hangers-on with way too many Saigon mixtapes in their Acura for things like this. Tom Breihan, along with whoever wrote the Pitchfork review for Da Drought 3 became embarrassingly fanboy-ish shills for all things Lil' Wayne between 2005 and 2008, to the point that Breihan's mid-2008 decision to turnaround and decide to no longer worship every half-baked badly (not or ghost)written simile Dwayne Carter would "not spit" but "vomit" was probably made with trace amounts of Wayne's pre-come stubbornly encased in his beard. For two years Breihan not only embodied the "trying-too-hard-white-hipster-hip-hop-critic" in his purposefully contrary pieces on Pitbull being better than Nas and the like, but also the strangely over-enthused blogger tastemaker set that decided they were over Ghostface, DOOM, Cam'Ron and the Clipse and that Lil'Wayne was going to be their next object of unquestionable and incredible uncritical fawning. Blowjob metaphors would seem gratuitous if it wasn't for the tone of the pieces themselves. One could chalk this up to the subjectivity of art and other assorted excuses but you'd think someone who writes for a living would recognize bad writing, which Lil' Wayne's career about half contains at this point, sometimes in the context of a solitary verse. A later review of Da Drought 4, which was genuinely a shit mixtape, came off like the measured lament of someone who had a personal investment in Lil' Wayne (this coming from someone currently riding for Nicki Minaj, by the way):


When I heard that, I wrote that Wayne might need to slow down, that his appetites and his volume of output were finally starting to bring down the quality of his work. Wayne pulled it together for Tha Carter III, and a handful of post-album guest-appearances (Drake's "Ransom", Keri Hilson's "Turnin' Me On") show that he's still a monster when he wants to be. But when he stops wanting it, we get bullshit like Dedication 3

Tom Breihan famously couldn't muster the objectivity to type "nigga" when quoting rap lyrics, which would seem to belie the seriousness of his writing (bowdlerizing one's attempts at art criticism tend to do that) and betray a feeling of awkwardness or perceiving himself as being out of place when writing mostly about rap. And he probably was. Part of the fun of Status Ain't Hood posts of Breihan at Summerjam and etc. was that it read as half-informed, half utterly-clueless-spectator. Its like watching the development of whichever Trey/Tray it is that everyone finds annoying (I forget) as he comments on what seems to be every rap blog in existence. Or to be more straight to the point, Breihan has always been the Rudy to Noz's Steve Buscemi in Ghost World in terms of white rap writers having subtle issues handling their whiteness in a public forum. The ethering from Combat Jack years ago, though hilarious, if somewhat too easy, didn't help any at all.

People with good taste are often shit writers, quick examples being many of my early (and arguably later) posts on here. This is why Breihan and Christgau and half the 2000-2007 era Pitchfork staff get a pass, because the quality of writing is paramount so egregious ballyhooing of questionable bullshit gets a slide. But the Ghost review is just fucking lazy. Anyone familiar with Pitchfork is aware that for the most part getting below a 7 means that to most people, your album sucks . Technically its getting below a 7.8-8, but there's wiggle room. First, The Wizard of Poetry is by no means bad. Its arguable one of the better thing's he's done since Fishscale. Second, if you would take a numerical shit on the record, it'd be nice to actually offer some insight into the derision.

He invokes "All That I Got Is You" and "Holla" as preferred means of achieving a Ghostface R&B record, completely forgetting that a record of "Holla"'s was already made. Its called The Pretty Toney Album. Also, "All That I Got Is You" is a mid-90's R&B radio cash-in, despite its high-quality. Breihan seems to forget that in his claim that the approach is different, which it isn't at all. Yes, most of the songs on the record aren't nearly as stirring, but I don't get the feeling that being on the Def Jam graveyard allows him to cop a Keyshia Cole feature as readily as The Game can (Considering Chrisette Michelle closed the last Ghostface album, Cole is probably one of the few current R&B singers he hasn't worked with). The rest of the scant 6-paragraph review lacks any specific examples of or expounding upon what makes the record so "half-assed". He essentially bullshits to the reviews conclusion on the idea that most of the record's moments are "dispensable".

Problem is, his oversight is canonical. When the average person goes to Pitchfork and sees this review, especially in an era where Pitchfork has markedly less histrionic/college writing 101 bullshit reviews going up and more diverse tastes and opinions (allowing an argument to buttress detractions from the "Fuck the hipster hegemony" crowd which I was admittedly a part of two years ago), it's taken as "the new Ghostface, you know that guy you casually cared about three years ago in between spins of the Knife and the Fiery Furnaces, is a piece of shit. Apparently its even worse than those last few Electric Six albums, and those records were fucking awful". Even the last Clipse mixtape/album x clothingline promotional device got a 7.6, in spite of it being as unremarkable and in some stretches, boring and annoying, as the hastily released Re-Up Gang record (which was almost 1997-today Wu-Tang in its level of half-assed shady bullshit) It's one thing to underrate a record. That's eligible for contention. But to fall asleep at the wheel while being pretty fucking wrong from a position of media privilege is just retarded.

And apparently, Tom Breihan is fucking retarded.

6 comments:

JK said...

I agree with your opinion that the Ghost album should have gotten at least a 7 something. Breihan kinda pulled an Ian Cohen - have some entertaining writing that is kinda, sorta...maybe! legitimate and then lose complete credibility when you give an album that is OK an under 6 or 5 rating.

I'm not a huge fan of the Ghost album. I found some of the production to be simply boring and I actually like some of the radio R&B out there (Ne-Yo, Ryan Leslie, The-Dream). But it didn't deserve the rating it got.

Trey Stone said...

i mean i feel like it's just a difference in approach to reviewing stuff. i do think Breihan doesn't think some of his opinions through too seriously, hyping bullshit like that BEP single and using "guilty pleasure" as a copout for example, but i appreciate his writing because it's detailed without being over-analytical, something i associate with people who still haven't completely accepted the paradigm shift Wayne and to a lesser extent Kanye's styles have made in the genre. i don't feel like it's a less serious approach, it's just the opinion that not everything has to have equally dope punchlines and a calculated flow/narrative to be great. personally i prefer more spontaneity but that's just me.

it's like the whole Wayne vs. MF Doom comparisons. i feel like Wayne is what MF Doom would be if he were actually relatable or interesting at all. i don't particularly care about delving into and picking apart lyrics if the rest of the music/style doesn't grab me, cuz then it stops being entertainment. that's basically how i feel about Ghost, even though if given the choice i'd listen to him over a Doom, who i just find boring as fuck

Trey Stone said...

by the way, not to sound like a punk with the "with people" bit, wasn't trying to diss your music taste or anything, just poor phrasing

David said...

man that CJ post looks even dumber now than it did back when. was tom really totally out of line for saying lil wayne was on par with jay-z? no one would even question that now. this was some bullshit old head east coast bias -- no one now would question the idea that lil wayne is on jay's level, and even back then it wasnt considered 'crazy.' & how stupid does CJ look defending that piece of trash late era jigga album now? i found a lot of tom's writing on status to be corny on occasion but that attack piece was poor.

Christopher said...

David-
True. I didn't want to link it at first because it was a bit much and imply that I agreed with the race-baiting stuff, but I thought it was slightly relevant. Still, it might not have been the best look when I wrote this.

Anonymous said...

As for the Drake verse "I never get attracted to fans/Cuz an eager beaver could be the collapse of a dam" He is simply saying that he doesn't get caught up with the groupie girls (the eager beavers who are supposed to be building him by buying records etc) who could possibly lead to the fall of his career(the dam)with possible pregnancies or scandals etc

Wow can't believe I just wrote that all out. That blazed