The Roundup

Christmastime is Here: Redux

I must be the only person who looks forward to a vacation so he can…work. Just, you know, work on the things he wants to do and enjoys instead of the things he’s mandated to do by financial and fiduciary responsibilities.

I’m writing this from my parents’ kitchen table near Windsor, Ontario. The last time I was here, in June, I was working through the first draft of the book. That was rarely a cheery process, so I cherish the opportunity to visit and just…be. I’ve made no plans with friends, nor do I intend to. I kind of just want to hang out with the fam jam, pet some dogs, eat snickerdoodles, pilfer their record collection (see results on Instagram) and recharge the batteries before heading back to Toronto and researching more ways to make rice and black-eyed peas (meal of champions).

This time last year I took a moment to walk y’all through the holiday music I actually enjoyed, those songs that add comfort and meaning to my holiday season. Since I’m in such a good mood today, it’s a perfect time to look at the songs I cannot stand, the ones that make me burp peppermint-tinged vomit into the back of my throat. I’m only working with those songs admitted to the canon; there are countless atrocities buried in the holiday albums of pop acts from today and yesteryear (looking at you, “Funky, Funky Christmas“) but I want to discuss the mediocrity that’s somehow slipped through the cracks of common sense and become standards.

Jingle Bells

In last year’s post I mentioned that “Jingle Bells” is no one’s favourite holiday song, and the practice of adding a few tinkles of the melody on the outro of your version of “The Christmas Song” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” is pandering and repellent.

Look, “Jingle Bells” is fine when you’re a kid and you’re commenting on the odour of certain superheroes and their egg-laying abilities, but there’s no way to save this song for anyone past the age of 11, not that it’s stopped crooners of the past sixty years from trying, and no one fails more spectacularly than Barbra. My mother plays this record every year and I will cast no shade to “I Wonder as I Wander,” but this scat-tacular rendition of “Jingle Bells” is a sewing needle in my ear.

Baby It’s Cold Outside

“Say, what’s in this drink?”
“The answer is no.”
“What’s the sense in hurting my pride?”

Nuff said.

All I Want for Christmas is You

Okay, just—*ducks tomato* will you just *dodges cup full of piss* just wait a minute, damn it!

It’s not a bad song. I might even go as far to say that I actively like it, I’m bouncing in my seat as I listen to it. The issue is, I don’t know that I consider it a Christmas song, or just a pop song wearing a Santa hat, and maybe that’s what makes it exceptional in the first place, but I don’t think it deserves its honour as the last song to enter the all-time canon of holiday classics. But I swear, the fervor that this song inspires in you people, the nuclear rage that can erupt at the slightest criticism of it, is unreal.  It’s good, I will give you that. It’s just not as good as y’all think it is, and not as good as any of the songs I mentioned last year.

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas

I mean, do I really have to? Sure, it’s for the kids, fine, whatever, if the day ever comes when I’m blessed to loose some spawn on the world I’ll grit my teeth and put this song on repeat, too. But I know grown adults who still hold it down for Gayla Peevey, think it’s adorable. Get your lives together, people. And this is me saying that.

This Christmas (by Chris Brown)

This is not an indictment of the Donny Hathaway song, this is an indictment on the need for anyone [especially the above…individual] to cover it. Stop. Erase the tapes. You have nothing, absolutely nothing to add to the original. As a friend once said, “I know God is good because He brought us Donny.” Anyone thinking they need to trot their flat-ass voice all over the perfection of the original needs to sit down, pour a glass of egg nog and think about their choices.

So those are the songs I’ll be avoiding this year like a kiss from your auntie with the beef smell. Let me know how wrong I am or what I missed in the comments when you’re hiding from family in the bathroom this week.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all y’all who take ten minutes out of your day to read the junk I throw up here. I appreciate it more than I’ll ever let on.

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On Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Last weekend, the nerdmageddon known as FanExpo Canada hit Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre, and despite my well-documented thoughts on convention season, I was seriously considering going, but ultimately tapped out due to the financial commitment required and my unwillingness to spend my rent money getting photos with Nathan Fillion and The Walking Dead’Dixon Brothers.  But it was dicey there for a minute.

I’d forgive you if you’d forgotten or were unaware of how deep my geekery runs. Most of the topics around here lately seem to centre around hip-hop or weak-kneed attempts at personal insight. But it’s always gurgling inside me, ready to spurt out at any moment, from my continued love of professional wrestling, my slavish dedication to the comic series Saga, or the fact that after September 17, I will be on permanent vacation causing mayhem throughout Los Santos.

I did not expect it to be triggered by a Japanese anime about magical girls.

On the off chance you are ever planning on watching Puella Magi Madoka Magica, there will be mad spoilers coming.

GO NOW.

Okay then.

I’d heard of Madoka Magica long before I thought to watch it: one night I stumbled across the ‘Headless Mami‘ meme and found it odd that a character in a cutesy-wutesy magical girl show would get decapitated, but stranger things have happened.  But the image stuck with me, solely because it wasn’t something I’d seen before.  I’ve been long burned out on anime, the tropes of the medium had become too trite and predictable to me [I solely blame Love Hina for this]. But something about Mami’s demise stuck with me, so when I saw that Crackle [the dollar bin of online video] had the whole series available, I gave it a shot. And was pretty much stunned into submission. Because it’s Sailor Moon-meets-Evangelion.

In the late 90’s, the North American broadcasts of Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z combined with a fluke viewing of the cult classic Akira to transform me into the most rabid of anime fans.  The crap we would have to go through back then to see anything that wasn’t already bought for syndication on children’s television would floor the fans of today. There was one store [ONE] that had a small selection of VHS tapes from the now-defunct Streamline Pictures and early releases from Manga Entertainment. If you’re of my generation of fandom, you remember these shows: Wicked CityGhost in the ShellMacross PlusThe Wings of Honneamise, Dirty Pair. Smaller distributors like ADVision or Central Park Media had started releasing shows by the mid-90’s, but digging them up in Windsor, Ontario was next to impossible, and when you did they were usually horrific English dubs by barely conscious voice actors [the ‘sub v. dub wars’ were real, friends; even worse, dubbed anime retailed for less than its subtitled counterparts, since manufacturers considered anime in its original Japanese a more ‘niche product’ and because, as rumour had it one executive explained, ‘fans will pay it.’ DVDs, with their multiple audio options, changed the game]. One afternoon in my university computer lab I did a Lycos search [really] of ‘anime’ and discovered something called The Right Stuf International. Today, TRSI is an online behemoth, the oldest North American anime retailer in the business. Back in the day, its sales were done via mail order, and all we had to go on were recommendations and descriptions from the catalogue. There were no trailers to watch, you could maybe glean some info from the fledgling message boards that started cropping up, but a lot of times you went on instinct, what you though sounded good. Then you sent them an order form and a cheque, and six weeks later you got some tapes.

We will not talk about how much of my money this company received from 1996-1998.

Many of the shows I love to this day I learned about from the TRSI catalogue, or from people I met on their message boards and would send/trade tapes with.  One of those shows was Neon Genesis Evangelion. I would never call it my ‘favourite’ anime in the same way I wouldn’t call The Sandman my ‘favourite’ comic, but images and story points of Eva have stayed with me for almost 15 years. We don’t need to get into a major plot synopsis of the show, all we need to say is that Eva took the genre of giant robots, which had been around in Japanese SF for decades and added an element of psychology and deconstruction that no one had ever tried before. When fans didn’t approve of the show’s conclusion, director Hideaki Anno rereleased the ending in the theatrical release End of Evangelion which has to be the most flagrant pair of middle fingers to a property’s fanbase in the history of filmmaking. It was glorious to witness. As the series gets tweaked and retold in a new theatrical tetralogy, its impact is still being felt [the tandem piloting of the Jaegers in Pacific Rim is one of a few ideas in that movie that seems to be inspired by Eva]. What makes that show so fascinating is that ultimately, it was never about smashy-smashy robotic fisticuffs, it was about the trauma inflicted on the 14-year-olds forced to pilot the things, all of them dealing with abandonment issues, all of them searching for a meaning in a meaningless world. Existentialism at its finest [or worst, depending].

PMMM looks to do the same thing with the magical girl genre. In shows of that type, typically some unremarkable girl has a trinket of some sort bestowed on her by a sparkly cat/puppy/squirrel/wolverine which then allows her to transform into a powerful crusader of justice who battles the monster of the week before squaring off the overarching menace.

PMMM takes the formula but turns the magical girl proposal into an overtly Faustian bargain: Kyubey, the show’s wonder-rodent of choice and indeterminate origin grants wishes, anything a young lady may desire, and in return, said lady must work as a magical girl fighting ‘witches’, physical manifestations of hopelessness and despair. For most of the show’s 12 episodes, Madoka, the titular character and protagonist, wrestles with the decision whether or not to take Kyubey up on his offer, despite his forceful encouragement and claims that she would be the most powerful magical girl ever.  For those characters that do decide to accept Kyubey’s offer, the gift turns to a monkey’s paw: Mami’s elation at the possibility of no longer being the lone  magical girl leads to overconfidence and death; Madoka’s friend Sayaka makes a wish to help the boy she loves, which brings her nothing but pain and hurt, and also death, turning her into a witch [the ultimate fate of all magical girls]; the antagonistic Homura reveals herself to be a time traveler who had her life saved when Madoka sacrificed her own, and has gone through hundreds of timelines to try and prevent the same outcome. And when Madoka finally makes her choice… well, I suppose I should leave you some mysteries.

The characters in the show are all wrestling with powerlessness and failure, despite the mighty abilities at their command. When Kyubey’s intentions are finally revealed, he turns out to be a member of an alien race looking to harvest emotional energy to restore balance to the universe and prevent entropy [shaky science here, but it’s still a rare hard-SF angle to the typically new agey approach these shows usually take] and what conduit can provide more emotional energy than adolescent girls?  They’re nothing but unchecked emotional energy. While not nearly as nihilistic in its storytelling as Eva gets, I was taken completely off guard by the weight of the story, by the loss the characters feel, the elements of horror that emerge during the witch battles [the animation style changes to a flat, stop-motiony style whenever a witch is around, and the ending credits are…off putting].

At 12 episodes, it’s a tightly wound narrative, nothing is wasted, it has none of the filler that tends to plague most anime shows. You could do worse than checking it out on Crackle.

And I’ve always been a sucker for a good J-Pop opening theme.

As for me and anime, I’m already three episodes into Attack on Titan. This could be a problem.

 

The 2012 PFG Playlist

This gets harder and harder to do every year, friends. My relationship with new music in 2012 was a lot like my relationship with people who still watch Glee: I have a vague idea of what they’re talking about, I used to be more heavily invested, now I really don’t care enough to pay much attention to it. The few times I did pop my head out from the wormhole to 1994 I typically live in, there was nothing but poverty-fetishizing dustbowl folk music at one end of the musical spectrum and monosyllabic raps over trap beats on the other. Growing disconnect with the musical landscape is not an atypical condition to find oneself in, and God knows I’ve been on the wrong side of the cultural fence over the years as both a player and a listener. I’ve grown to accept and embrace it.

That said, despite the increased difficulty factor, there were still ten songs that managed to cross the divide to my lonely island. Some clarifications:

These songs are the ten songs I liked the most. Not the most perfectly constructed, not the most beautifully melodic, not the ones that had something to say about the human condition. I might be able to appreciate that the military precision with which Taylor Swift’s team of drones can craft a chorus, but it’s not anything I’m ever going to want to listen to. Perhaps that’s a deficiency in my musical genome, but something in a song has to speak to me on a level I can’t articulate. There has to be something in there that summons a mood, or a feeling, something I’ll want to go back to again and again. These are the songs that I’ll still be listening to when I draft next year’s list. So, in no particular order.

Large Professor f/ Cormega, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, & Saigon: M.A.R.S.

The clear standout from the fourth album by 90’s-era beat king Large Professor, Professor @ Large. This song is everything you want from a grimy, East Coast street cut: Snares crack like a 2×4 over your head and kicks slug you in the chest over a suspenseful pulse of sampled strings, while four of NY’s finest underground MC’s spit some ‘grown man rap.’ Special shouts to Saigon’s surprising show stealer of a verse, and for those 16th notes on the hi-hats. That’s the sort of thing that makes an okay beat a great beat. Class is in session.

BJ the Chicago Kid f/ Kendrick Lamar: His Pain II

Kendrick is the MVP of the year, no one can really argue with that. good kid, m.A.A.d. city is probably the best complete work of art any musician made this year [I don’t know how well it works as songs, I find I have to listen to the whole thing instead of dipping in and out via the shuffle on my iPhone. This is a good problem to have, the last album I felt that way about was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy]. But even as incredible as his flow his on the album is, there’s something about this guest spot on ‘His Pain II’ that connects with me more, abandoning the galloping, triple time flow he pulls out a little too often and delivers a verse like a conversation, confronting the timeless question of why bad things happen to good people. Which would be impressive enough by itself, but the rest of the song, delivered via BJ’s scratchy, Sam Cooke-lite voice over a head-knocker of a breakbeat, is nothing to sleep on either.

Nas: Daughters

Look. He’s never going to make another Illmatic. The sooner everyone accepts that, the better off we’ll all be. Instead, he dropped the first album of rap’s middle age, an album that isn’t perfect, but when everything clicks into place, Life is Good just soars, never higher than it does on this song addressing a topic rarely if ever discussed in hip-hop: the relationship between a father and his daughter. Nasir comes real on the struggle he faces trying to set good examples and solid boundaries despite being…well, a rap star. Great rappers should always come with the real, even [especially?] if the real isn’t life in the streets, or poverty, or flossing. Nas may never be the King of New York again, but he’s claimed the spot as Rap’s Elder Statesman: the man who’s seen it all and come out the other side ready to drop jewels for anyone with ears to listen. While Jay-Z watches his throne, Nas is teaching in the trenches.

ScHoolboy Q f/ A$AP Rocky: Hands on the Wheel

Kendrick Lamar’s able lieutenant in the TDE crew, ScHoolboy stands poised to be a guy who has an incredible 2013, and the highlight of Habits and Contradictions partners him with a guy in the same position. Yes, it’s just a song about the pleasures of non-sobriety, but the sample selection, a reclamation of folk singer Lissie’s cover of Kid Cudi’s ‘The Pursuit of Happiness‘ [seriously, stop it white girls], gives it a sort of sinister undertone that suggests as much fun as they’re having, everyone involved is well aware of the prices that may end up being paid.

Also? Don’t roll weed on your MacBook. Come on, now. This is why we can’t have nice things.

J. Dilla & Katy Perry: The One That Got Away

My favourite album, the thing I listened to more than anything else, was an amateur mashup album of Katy Perry vocals over known and rare J. Dilla beats mixed by someone calling himself De’von. As with all mash-up projects, there are some uneven patches, not all of the pairings work as well as they could, many are good, and a few, like this one, do that thing all good mashups should: surpass both original components and make you wonder why it didn’t sound like this in the first place. De’Von tweaks Perry’s vocals so they slide perfectly into the pocket of Slum Village’s ‘Tell Me’, adding a dose of funky melancholy to the tale of lost love. Another fine testament to the usefulness of remix culture: no one’s making money here, it’s just a way of making something new and interesting by blending two individual pieces.

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib f/ BJ the Chicago Kid: Terrorist/Shame

My problem with Madlib is simply that he’s too good. There’s way too much quality for me to keep up with at any given time, but when he teams up with one of my favourite rappers I pay closer attention. Freddie Gibbs is not someone I would have ever pegged to work with Madlib, but his tales of stickups and dope deals sound tailor made to the 70’s stained funk of ‘Terrorist’ and soulful strings of ‘Shame’, complete with a video that makes selling cocaine to hipster girls look like a sensible career alternative.

Usher: Climax

At this point, anytime Usher releases a song that clocks in under 130 BPM and isn’t produced by David Guetta it’s cause for celebration. It helps if it’s an earworm of a melody sung in breathy falsetto over a Diplo-crafted quiet storm beat. What takes it from a radio-only confection to an iTunes addition is the trick played by the title and chorus. In the oversexed pop landscape of 2012, it would be easy to assume ‘Cimax’ referred to…well, what we all would think it does. But the song is actually talking about that moment in a relationship when it’s as good as it gets, when you’re lying with her and you know nothing will ever surpass that moment, and what a humbling and painful realization that can be. Grown folks’ music.

Y.N.RichKids: Hot Cheetos and Takis

Just so we’re all clear: this song is the product of an after-school program at a YMCA in Minnesota. All the kids in it had to maintain good grades to participate in the song. And when they got in a studio, they rapped about what they liked: snack foods. The catch is that it’s really fucking good.

Nevermind that the beats sounds like it was left off a Rick Ross album, the simple fact is the kids can rhyme, and I’ve yet to see two write-ups that agree on which kid had the strongest verse [Personally, I rep #11]. This song was just such a fun reminder, after how depressed I was after the Lil Reese shitshow that contemporary sounding hip-hop can still have that foundation of fun, innocence and party-rocking that the music was built on in the first place.

Kanye West, Big Sean, Pusha T & 2 Chainz: Mercy

Cruel Summer worked like pretty much every other hip-hop compilation album since the dawn of time: one or two awesome songs, two or three more okay songs, filler filler filler and the continued inexplicable presence of DJ Khaled. ‘Clique’ was the best beat, ‘I Don’t Like’ was the hypest song, ‘New God Flow’ had the best all around rapping. But ‘Mercy’, while not being the best of any of those subjects, kept a high enough average among them to claim the overall victory. From Big Sean’s ‘ass’-play to Pusha’s lyrical dominance and Ric Flair fixation to Kanye’s hook to an anchor verse by 2 Chainz that solidified his career, you couldn’t deny this one.

Knxwledge – wntwrk

My beatmaking discovery of the year was Philadelphia’s Knxwledge, who put out the four-volume Karma.Loops series in 2012 [the above track comes from Vol. 3]. I’m predisposed to love his work, considering it blends the jazziness of Nujabes with the vocal-chopping of J. Dilla. Quick little 90-second bursts of genius. One day the right people are going to start jumping on his beats, and we’re all done for.

BONUS! Three Songs Not Released This Year That I Discovered in 2012 and Probably Like Better Than Any of The Above

Pete Rock & CL Smooth: It’s On You

I have a dream, friends. It’s a dream to DJ [ie, just play songs, I respect the title too much to claim it] a night I’d call ‘Mellow My Man‘ at some lounge in Toronto where they care more about a dope atmosphere and bobbing heads no faster than 96 BPM than cold rocking a dance floor. This song is the reason I want to. Popping up on a Songza playlist this fall, I fell in love immediately. Pete Rock & CL Smooth were already responsible for some of my favourite rap songs, I have no idea why I never delved deeper into their album cuts, but there’s much to love there, especially on The Main Ingredient, which definitely owned the later months this year for me. Dusty drums bouncing over a plaintive piano loop, CL’s flow perfectly in-pocket. Can’t beat that.

Washed Out: Feel It All Around

This is so unlike me, but listen: when I was in journalism school, back in 2003-2004, listening to Royksopp and The Postal Service, this song would have owned my life. So, credit where due. Breathy vocals and airy synths over a chopped and screwed Gary Low sample. People seem to have claimed this as a summer song, but I know it’s the sort of thing that’ll be soothing me through the long Toronto nights.

Phat Kat f/ Elzhi: Cold Steel

The most intimidating part of the book project [so far] has been trying to get a full sense of J. Dilla’s discography. I started to resolve myself to the fact that as far as his musical progression was concerned, I might have to paint in broad strokes. Then a kid at work who’s a total head said he was so excited because he just got the ’64 Beats’ tape, and was horrified to learn I had no idea what that was. To my surprise, he sent me a copy, and buried near the end of that batch [which I’m pretty certain was put together by fans after the fact] is the original sketch to this song. And my jaw just. fricking. dropped. This is maybe the ‘street-est’ Dilla beat I’ve ever heard, more than ‘Fuck the Police’ even. It’s got the bounce of his Soulquarian stuff, a pinch of some Donuts-era vocal chopping but the drums slap your mama, and Phat Kat and Elzhi, two of Detroit’s best MC’s, just eat the track alive. I’ve no idea if this is Dilla’s attempt at a ‘keyboard beat,’ but if it is, he would have been just fine in an era of trap music and ratchet beats.

Image: “Sound Wave” by Jin Shin. [h/t]

One Step Inside

A couple of weeks ago I got the following text from the lovely and talented Joyce Vogler, who I used to work with at the store and is now studying art and being generally wonderful at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.

If that ain’t a dream assignment, I don’t know what is.  Here’s a young woman, seeking to actively engage in the art of rap and culture of hip-hop [“good stuff from the 90’s,” specifically] .  I grabbed my weathered copy of Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists off of the shelf, just to make sure I wouldn’t gloss over anything in my enthusiasm.  It was an intro-level playlist, I admit, but illustrated some of the best the music’s had to offer over the last thirty-plus years.  The whole exercise was a pleasurable one, reminding me what I loved about the music I’ve dedicated so much thought and energy to.

And then, this.

Sometime this morning a video of Lil Reese, an 18-year-old rapper from Chicago signed to Def Jam and a crewmate of Chief Keef [he who does not like] started exploding the rap webs.  In the video, Reese appears to be arguing with a young woman [the mother of his child, according to some reports] who asks him to leave her home [though it’s unclear whose home it is]. He pokes her, she smacks his hand away. He shoves her, she rushes up in his face, where he proceeds to unload on her with punches.  Once she’s knocked down, he continues to kick and stomp at her head while her friends scream in the background.  As onlookers do nothing and the cell phone cameraman keeps it all in the shot.

I’m not running a news site here, so I’m not going to post the video because frankly I don’t want it here in my ‘house,’ but it’s on Miss Info’s site [with the appropriate tone] for anyone who wants to see it.

Forgetting for a moment that the kid beat the shit out of a woman, adding a layer of awesome sauce to this whole disgusting mess is Reese’s complete and utter lack of remorse, or even awareness about his actions, tweeting: The haters tryna see a mf Dwn lol Dey gotta b broke and bored wanna upload sum shit from years ago damnn we winnin it’s 2 late… #3hunna  [Notethe tweet seems to have been deleted in the hour I’ve been working on this post].

What are we to make of this, then?  If Joyce chooses to continue her studies in the culture, how do I explain/defend this?  Does it have to be?

Look, I’m a rap fan since nine-years-old, I’ve had plenty of practice navigating the thorny dialogue about violence and misogyny in the music, but I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t for a moment believe the reprehensible actions of a foolish kid speak for or should reflect on the culture as a whole. As some have pointed out, back in August Pitchfork reported cops charged John Paul Pitts, the frontman of something called Surfer Blood with domestic battery and no one started pointing the finger at indie rock as the culprit.

But. But. I also don’t think there were a crew of plaid-shirted, knitcaps on Twitter  defending Pitts’s actions. But check out the search results on Twitter for him, or even in Info’s comment thread on the original story.  You’ll see a surprising amount of people looking to defend or justify kicking a woman in the faceRepeatedly. One person doesn’t reflect the culture as a whole, no, but when a surprisingly large segment of the culture seems to empathize…the tried and true argument starts to show its cracks.

How odd that this hits the same week Kendrick Lamar’s much hyped major-label debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city hits the shelves, to near universal acclaim, due in no small part to his portrayal of a kid trying to avoid the street life who can’t avoid the drugs, guns and botched home invasions that run throughout it, whether he’s personally involved with it or not.  It should be a good week for hip-hop, but I can’t help but wonder if for every Kendrick, Childish Gambino, or Big Sean, there are a dozen regional acts owning the streets [and thus, the culture’s conversation] that saw that video on World Star and went, ‘yeah, I get that.’

Almost twenty years ago Tupac Shakur, no stranger to explosive outbursts of violence himself, released a song with the following lyrics:

And since we all came from a woman
got our name from a woman and our game from a woman,
I wonder why we take from our women,
why we rape our women, do we hate our women?
I think it’s time to kill for our women
time to heal our women, be real to our women.
And if we don’t we’ll have a race of babies
That will hate the ladies, that make the babies.

That complexity, that contradictory nature, that the same dude who was spitting on reporters and flipping the bird from an ambulance gurney following a shooting could still write lyrics pleading for better treatment of women is what made him such a compelling artist.  And without that flipside to the rapper posturing, what are we left with?  And how much longer will it stay something I want to be a part of?

Catching Up With Childish Gambino

Some of you might recall my glowing endorsement of actor/comedian/writer/ Donald Glover’s commercial debut as the rapper Childish Gambino, 2011’s Camp. I loved that album so much I started watching Community and fell in love with Glover’s character as much as everyone else does. So I can admit, I’ve become a bit of a stan for dude in the last six months. When he announced he was dropping a new mixtape last week, I downloaded it immediately.

Aaaaaaand……hrm.

Here’s the thing about rappers: success is usually the worst thing that happens to them, because then that becomes all they talk about. While Royalty doesn’t totally abandon the raw confessional tone that permeates much of Camp, this is clearly Glover-as-Gambino’s coming out party, complete with the requisite thousand guest spots [16 of the album’s 18 songs have guest verses by everyone from PFG favourites like Bun B, Danny Brown and Schoolboy Q to Beck and Danielle Haim of the tweerock sister trio HAIM] and lots of bragging and boasting about skills and money and woman-acquiring potency.

Glover’s clearly been putting in work on his flow [“more swag, pull back on the punchlines”] but for as much as he’s improved as a rapper, he’s grown less interesting as an artist. While some tracks have the same sort of straight talk that so impressed me about Camp, many of the songs have the sort of ‘hip-hop as usual,’ feel found on most rap albums. Which is fine, and maybe I hold Glover to too high a standard on the strength of Camp, but ‘hip-hop as usual,’ is never what I went to him for.

On the production side, Glover still handles most of the beatmaking with varying levels of success, while snagging beats from Beck, up and comer skywlkr and Toronto beatking Boi-1da.

Ultimately though, one line soured the whole project for me. On ‘We Ain’t Them,’ the first track on Royalty, Glover raps about making a guest appearance onstage with The Roots and talking to Questlove after the show. The talk prompts him to put his career into perspective [taking shots at his infamous 1.6 Pitchfork review in the process] and think about what he wants to do: “Back of my mind, though, I hope the show gets cancelled. / Maybe then I could focus.”

I know what Glover’s trying to say, but as a fan of said show and his work on it, it just comes off as ungrateful and unappreciative of the fans that have gone to bat for Community over the years. Last I checked, Glover wasn’t scheduled to join the rest of the cast at Comic-Con this year, further suggesting that he’s got one foot out the door in favour of music. And yes, I know to criticize anyone for following their passion smacks of the worst sorts of fanboyism and jealousy, but that’s just how it feels to me.

Now granted, free mixtapes are never the best way to judge an artist, and Royalty is by no means a bad project. “We Ain’t Them,” “One Up,” and “Black Faces,” start the album strong; Bun B drops the best Dragonball Z reference in hip-hop on “R.I.P.”, and “Wonderful” was the perfect song to start my weekend as I waited for a westbound streetcar at Queen and Bathurst. But everything that made Camp so fascinating is notably absent, and choosing to end the album with Tina Fey doing the usual, ‘white nerdy person comes hard on a hip-hop track’ not nearly as well as Natalie Portman did it concludes the whole affair on weird, sour note. It sounds like an artist with no lack of talent trying to figure out where he wants to go. Time will tell if I’m still interested in going with him.

Royalty is free for download on Glover’s website, and he hits Toronto for a sold out show at Echo Beach on July 31.

A Bit o’the This and That

Friends, back in the days when life was simple and financial necessity had me hogtied into blogging twice daily, I would frequently engage in something called, “The Flotsam,” which was my faux-cute, non-SEO’d way of offering quick links to the cool stuff I’d run across that day. In some circles, they called that “link farming,” which is apparently a no-no these days, if you care about marketing or advertising or page ranks or any of the shit I think poisons the Internet from the inside out.

Anyway.

I’ve been sitting here in my local for the last couple of hours itching to blog, but damn if I can’t summon the inspiration.  I’ve been distracting myself assembling the playlist and transitions for the next episode of RadioPFG [hopefully forthcoming before next week] but the open WordPress window keeps gnashing its hungry maw at me begging for content.  And if you can’t give it sirloin, may as well give it ground chuck.  But hey, even chuck’s delicious if you put some ketchup on it.

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