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These past couple of months–in the midst of debates about women’s issues, women’s representations in congress and women’s bodies–I (and I’m sure many others) have been thinking a lot about… well, women. More specifically, I’ve been focused on how we look at women due to popular culture and our own ideas based on years of subconscious reinforcement. To go off on a tangent about every facet of popular culture, laws and attitudes that are clearly dismissive or think lowly of the female gender would be too extensive and complex to get into all at once, so for now I will focus on a specific subject–one that is, unfortunately, the most obvious and egregious offender: Rap. Discussions of the misogyny inherent in hip-hop is as old as time–pretty much anything that is, or started out as, male-centric will always come with inherent misogyny–the reason it continues to be a major talking point seems due to the fact that, in the roughly close to 40 years of its existence, it’s made very little progress. You’d think, with the advent of the internet and the constant flood of music daily, there would be more obvious examples of rap music showcasing voices that were unique and separated from the enslavement roles that have been placed on women (particularly black women), but even today you have to go to the low low depths to find that.

In reacquainting myself to indie rapper Open Mike Eagle’s 2010 album Unapologetic Art Rap, I was reminded with how unique I originally thought it was: from it’s stylistic wordplay laden with pop culture references to its all-out blitz on mainstream hip-hop and the corporate infrastructure that profits over the musical glorification of a black person’s worst attributes and thoughts. This is particularly pertinent with the song “unapologetic”, a 3-1/2 minute ode to the backpackers who “In ’96 they would have been De La Soul fans…” but in 2010, “…It’s My Chemical Romance.” Detailing the ideals of young black men who just want to have fun and create, and the corporate stooges more than willing too profit over it. Standard hip-hop (and black music) complaint; what I do find the most unique  about this song comes near the end:

“‘Cause my little brother never heard of Little Brother
‘Cause all the girls in their video kept their nipples covered
The only ones he can discover
Are the ones that please Viacom’s executive nigger lovers
So it’s another monkey-po gimmick
Sambo videos with country crows in ’em
Middle school virgins playing run-and-go-get-it
‘Cause they memorized songs about nuttin’ on women.”

This then leads to a bit of a rant about how “cool” it is that the most popular song out at the time contributes the line “superman dat hoe” which, for those not in the know, is essentially a euphemism for ejaculating on a young lady. “Real good message for the young ladies” he says. The first time I heard this I felt a sense of both pride and shame: pride because someone finally said it and shame because I knew that I was just as much part of the problem as those rappers being referenced. Most of us are part of the problem, and the ones who aren’t, God bless you, I’m truly jealous. For most of my life, my generation (as well as the ones after) has been inundated with images of pure sex. This is no different than most generations before us, but what made us unique was we were at the beginnings of the internet age. Sex came from every avenue now. No longer did young males find themselves enamored by dirty magazines like playboy or hustler, now the raunchiest of things was but a mouse-click away. We became numb to it and as a result, we upped the ante–to the point where rappers could make songs about ejaculating on women.

The problem with society and pop culture’s view on sex is it’s mostly (in most cases completely) unfair to women. It, more or less, perpetuates a hatred of women. Rap songs champion girls who act loose,  or are open about their sexuality or are just plain down to fuck whenever and wherever; at the same time, these same songs attack women who aren’t these things by labeling them as “stuck up”, “bougie” or “bitch”. Men write songs about having sex with any woman they want due to their fame, while lambasting those same women for only wanting to fuck them because they’re famous. Society has taught us to hang onto an archetype that says men are this way, women are that way and we should accept it. A whole social enterprise has been made of exposing the percentage gap between the number of men and women in the world, by insinuating that men should do whatever they want because “why not? There’s less of us than you, so you can either except it or be alone–which we know you don’t want to do because of your natural “emotional” state.” This is further capitalized by then exposing this idea by advertising dismissive “relationship manuals” that more or less apologize for this behavior but offer no real advice on handling or fixing it.

In a struggle to keep up with this heightening of sexual obsession, television (music video channels especially) have gotten dirtier. The most obvious example was the BET staple Uncut, a showcase for rap videos to hot for TV–featuring both underground rap artists, as well as some of the biggest names in the game at the time. Chances are when you think about Uncut, you remember the infamous “Tipdrill” video by Nelly. A video so hypersexual and demeaning that it proved to be the tipping point that led to the show’s cancellation, and the ensuing protest by students of Spelman University led to a stall in Nelly’s then skyrocketing career. This is nothing new, MTV used to get in the same kind of trouble during the heyday of 80’s glam rock where women were nothing more than lust objects either writhing around on sports cars or being fetishized like baked goods.On Ab-Soul’s fantastic mixtape Control Systems, He uses the track Double Standards to take aim at a mindset that puts a man and a woman in the same scenario yet congratulates the man and ostracizes the woman. “See the moral of the story is… she a ho, he a pimp” he raps, “My auntie told me always treat my lady right, my uncle told me only love ’em for a night, you can see the immediate disconnection, between a man and a woman, the reason for aggression. A staple as old as time, boys being raised to continue this trend of using women anyway we feel like while teaching women to behave “proper” and “lady-like” lest she shames the family name. What makes rap so interesting is that it’s a hyper version of what’s happening in our world. It’s hyper-aggressive, hyper-masculine and it showcases the anger and hatred of women inherent in us as men. When I say anger or hatred, I don’t mean it in an active sense. I don’t hate women, nor do I think these young men do; what I do know is that a hatred of women is in us subconsciously because we’ve been raised not to think of them as people–and their pursuit of rights and respect are bringing that hate out. If you’re familiar with the bottle episode trope used in television, you know it puts the main characters in a room together for a whole episode to bring out the tension that’s been boiling over. The hip-hop/top 40 pop club is a classic example of societies bottle episode: put people in a room together, mix in liquor for good measure and watch the tension between men and women boil over. There’s aggressiveness and well, let’s face it, a lot of sexual assault taking place–that’s its own article for another day.

This piece isn’t about bashing men or how terrible we are, nor is this an opportunity for meto act high and might about my progressive thinking. As I’ve said before, I’m a shameful pawn in this as well; I’ve absorbed hours of this stuff, I’ve lusted, I’ve been aggressive… and angry with women. My itunes is filled with misogyny. I’ve bought into generalized gender roles and fed off of the ideas promoted by music, TV and movies on how to regard women. Yes, I’m more than aware there are exceptions to the rule–there are awful women out there, because there are awful people out there period–and not everything is a man’s fault. This isn’t about blame or individuals, this is about an infrastructure. That’s the biggest problem with trying to talk to people about this–about anything really: racism, sexism, ageism, social class, etc.–is that people can’t understand that ideals are built into our society. It’s not enough to say we’re equal because it wasn’t ingrained in us to be so. Mindsets don’t just disappear because you wake up and say “ok everyone equal now.” There are no easy solutions–there never are–but it’s important that we talk about it. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman and it’s silly for me to try to pretend that I do or that someday I will… my goal is to understand where they’re coming from and just treat them like the human beings they are. This is how I want to be treated as a black male and I’m sure this is how others want to be treated. I’m trying to do better with my issues personally; I hope others are too, especially in rap… because nobody–regardless of race, gender or anything else–deserves second-class treatment.


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Time keeps moving. It just keeps going–like a freight train headed for a deadly, explosive collision. 2012 was not my best year–most of it sucked actually–but that’s alright, most years aren’t my best years. In fact, out of all the years that ever were, most haven’t been favorable to me. At any rate, I have the time to delve into some shit to distract me from the ever approaching, crippling onset of severe depression that is real life. Let me not be the cynical asshole of the party for once, let’s delve into something much less gloomy.

I think the most revelatory moments for me this year involved realizing how much I miss my family and also how much I no longer feel too strongly about hip-hop music. It was a pretty seamless shift to be honest, listening to so much of any kind of music over and over would make anyone go crazy. Yeah, there’s a lot of variety and all types of unique artists out there but after awhile it all becomes of blur of noise over the same exact 808. So while I’m quick to state that Kendrick Lamar’s chilling portrait of Compton life Good Kid, m.A.A.d City is one of the best records made this year and one of the best rap records I’ve head in a long time, that’s not really saying much. I’ve listened to lots of rap records in the past few years and I don’t remember much about most of them–even the ones I liked. It’s not their fault, it’s the generation we live in. Music has become disposable… in all genres yes, but rap has been affected the most. So while Big Boi, Killer Mike, Joey Bada$$ and Action Bronson had solid releases, it’s hard to fathom me remembering much about them a year-plus from now (Joey maybe).

On the whole, some of the best music I heard this year wasn’t from this year… and the stuff that was from this year are too sparse or obscure. As far as full albums go, it was a pretty average year. Jessie Ware, Fiona Apple, Kendrick Lamar (as mentioned above) and How To Dress Well made highly enjoyable music this year. On the R&B front, only 4 acts stick out in my mind as worth discussing–Frank Ocean, Miguel, Solange and D’angelo. Miguel had a strong return with his second album Kaleidoscope Dream; an album that continues to grow on me with each passing day. D’angelo gets a shout-out for the simple fact that his return to performing for fans and audiences was perfect–because it was on his own terms. He didn’t have to parade himself half-naked to a gaggle of people who only give a shit about one song of his; he went out there, brought the funk and catered to his own style. I’ll be forever jealous for never getting the chance to see it this year. Then we get to Frank Ocean and Solange, a pair I lump together because they both made two of the most buzzworthy releases in R&B. Truth be told, I will give Frankie his credit. Channel Orange was one of the best albums of the year. That being said, personally, it didn’t do much for me. I recognize it’s good, soulful, passionate and experimental enough to separate it from anything else released this year–it just didn’t affect me like it probably should’ve. Now if I were to pick my favorite R&B record this year, it would have to be the baby Knowles True EP. Before you start, I’m not trying to be a contrarian. I genuinely like Solange a lot and to compare her to her sister musically would be silly–inevitable–but silly. Beyonce’ will always be the Cheerleader Summa Cum Laude Prom Queen of music but Solange is like the black sheep sister who goes to that art school across the street, the one who got you into all your favorite obscure bands and movies that you’ll never convince to marry you because “that’s just not her style”. This just so happens to be my type of girl.

Movies were better this year than last, even the most mundane-seeming had its enjoyable moments (s/o to Premium Rush). Movies like The Avengers proved you can still have a fun, light-hearted superhero movie and it will be just as great as the super-serious new dark tone everyone wants to turn their comic book movies into. Speaking of which, despite the fact Christopher Nolan seemed to be exhausted after Inception and just went into auto-pilot and completely phoned it in with The Dark Knight Rises, once you chose to ignore its plot holes and decided against taking it as seriously as it begs you too, you find that it still makes for a grandiose yet fun movie. Tom Hardy as Bane will forever be the second best idea followed closely after Bane having that voice of his. Despite not getting to see The Masterduring its theatrical run, its divisiveness doesn’t surprise me. Paul Thomas Anderson has slowly but surely found himself turning into a new sort-of Stanley Kubrick, in the sense that they both made films in order to derive some sort of specific reaction–be it positive or negative. To me, I always figured The Master would be the Synecdoche, New York of this year. A movie too chaotic to just be discarded. It had to be dissected and deciphered by anyone who watched it, whether they hated it or not. Speaking of divisiveness, the two biggest harborer of critical commentary came at the end of the year. Zero Dark Thirty, while being a critic favorite, incited controversy about its subject matter (the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden) from both the conservative and liberal sides of the aisle–much the same way the director, Kathryn Bigelow, received the same type of controversy for The Hurt Locker. Then there’s Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s spaghetti western set during slavery. As you can imagine, the film has garnered its own share of animosity for its historical inaccuracy and it’s overall depiction of slavery. Basically, Quentin Tarantino is facing controversy for being Quentin Tarantino… you know, the same guy who did the exact same thing with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in Inglorious Basterds. This then leaves me thinking, since not much was really said about that movie but a lot is being said about this one, I can only assume one of three things is happening: 1) nobody’s ever heard of Quentin Tarantino 2) a bunch of people are too in their feelings about the idea of using slavery as a backdrop for a story about a black bounty hunter killing slave masters rather than it being some overblown history lesson or 3) the subject hits a little too close to home here in America. At any rate, the movie I enjoyed the most this year had to be Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson’s finest movie since The Royal Tenenbaums. From the intense attention to detail to the color scheme and the character studies of young love and adult insecurities, it was classic Anderson. Anderson’s schtick may have lost some of its luster, but he still knows how to put together a wonderfully ecstatic indie faux-fairy tale.

Television continue to ride its golden-era out, with some of the best seasons of some of the most unique shows. 30 rock, after having slump season after slump season, went all out for the first half of its shortened final season; proving to be just as irreverent, tightly constructed and hilarious as it’s always been. Community experienced controversy after controversy, with the departure of showrunner Dan Harmon and the eventual departure of Chevy Chase, but still managed to have another wonderful and imaginative season–a season that served as a fitting end to Harmon’s tenure. Meanwhile, Parks & Recreation continued to be the best show on NBC’s (mostly) stellar Thursday night block.  Louie C.K.’s boundary-pushing character expose continues to be art disguised as comedy. Louie has almost perfected the act of making its audience just as unsure about things as Louis C.K. himself seems in each episode, while also challenging the notion of success and, as always, the bitter fight between happiness and depression. Speaking of which, Mad Men produced one of its most divisive seasons after being gone for 2 years. I fell on the camp that loved this season, a season which took the characters to dark places–in both reality and within themselves. If one word could be applied to this season, it would be worth. The worth of your soul, the worth of a spouse and the worth of self were all regular questions implied in episode after episode. Maybe that’s why I like it so much, the question of worth makes a regular appearance in my life as well. Speaking of the worth of souls, Breaking Bad continued to be the best thing on television. With an 8 episode half-season, Breaking Bad packed in as much as it could before its eventual finale in 2013; at times it proved hit or miss but when it hit it hit hard, providing some of the best television seen this year–including the gut-wrenching end to “Dead Freight”. The resolution to Breaking Bad in 2013 already makes that year awesome in my book, but the prospect of no more new episodes is a bad omen for 2014.

2012, much like real life, was uneven and maybe in the long run won’t be much to remember. Eventually nostalgia will be kind to it–like it is to every year, no matter how shitty. For me, it will be the year I got pushed to my absolute limit and came out stronger… but still not strong enough. It was the year I needed the best in entertainment to take me away from the life I was living and make me happy to be alive. It didn’t always succeed but it had a pretty good batting average. Here’s to 2013, let’s hope it’s a good one.

It’s december, which means list after insufferable list claiming to be the authority on what was great about this shitty year. Not one to be holier than thou, I will also be cramming insufferable and opinionated bullshit down your throat–but you know, I won’t pretend like it’s some sort of definitive statement on what this year meant in the pop culture sphere. So here are ten songs that pretty much let you know what 2012 was, enjoy them as you patiently wait for the apocalyptic hellfire soon to swallow this earth… or something:


1. Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”

While many a journalist and music aficionado has waxed poetic about Channel Orange, I found it pretty inconsistent and an album that lost its luster pretty quick; but it was still a great record nonetheless, and “Pyramids” is pretty much the best song released this year.  A truly great pop song–it was brooding R&B with an electronic sheen, and it was 10 minutes of glorious funk and style.

2. Juicy J – “Bandz A Make Her Dance”

Sure, go ahead and pretend you weren’t fixated on this song. Yeah yeah, I know… you only listen to that real hip-hop and can’t be bothered with the garishness and cartoonish ignorance on display. Yawn, it gets old–you say no to ratchet club musc, Iz Daramola can’t!

3. Japandroids – “Fire’s Highway”

There are probably a lot of people turned off by the Japandroid’s “bro-ness”. Those guys suck. There’s something awesome about a couple dudes who play like they got bored one day and started a band, even if it is just to write songs about partying and drinking. After seeing these guys at Pitchfork over the summer, I became an even bigger fan.

4. Kendrick Lamar- “Bitch Don’t Kill my vibe”

It was a pretty tough call trying to pick which song from K.Dot’s fantastic debut best deserved a spot on this list. I had to go with the second track ultimately because, as 15 year old narcissistic girls would put it, this song is totally my life.

5. Dirty Projectors- “Dance For You”

I don’t know why I love this so much–I just, man I don’t know.

6. Trinidad Jame$- “All Gold Everything”

POP A MOLLY I’M SWEATIN, WHOOO! POP A MOLLY I’M SWEATIN, WHOOO!  

7. Future- Turn On The Lights

To all the hip-hop nerds out there, for what it’s worth, I tried really hard not to like this one.

8. 2 Chainz ft. Kanye West- “Birthday Song”

Come on bruh, how could I not include this one.

9. G.O.O.D. Music- “Mercy”

Despite luxury rap overkill at this point, you can’t deny that this was the jam of the summer (well at least until Bandz started to catch on). The illuminati and Givenchy have been good to the G.O.O.D. crew.

10. Carly Rae Jepson- “Call Me Maybe”

Real headz know the deal. The rest of you can fall back son.

 

Bonus:

11. Childish Gambino- “Shoulda Known”

I’m glad bino is doing some more actual rapping this time around, but I still couldn’t resist the catchiness of this little pop-baiting jam.

12. Nicki Minaj/ 2 Chainz – “Beez In The Trap”

Gotta hand it to Nicki, her 15 minutes is lasting a lot longer than I thought it would.

13. Allo’ Darlin – “Tallulah”

See number 5

14. Domo Genesis- “The Daily News”/ A$AP Mob – “Thuggin’ Noise/Curren$y- “Jet Life”

The “cool kid” rap crowd had as big a year as any other bullshit niche genre. Domo’s EP with The Alchemist was one of the best releases of the year by an OF member not named Frank. The A$AP mob album may have been a little “meh” overall, but it was still lots of fun. Curren$y, well Curren$y does what he always does, put out constant dope shit.

15. Fiona Apple- “Valentine”

This is purely just to impress the art crowd–or whatever. I don’t care what you think, you know.

In which I base all of my opinions of the new Wiz Khalifa album, O.N.I.F.C., on the album cover.

 

Man, what happened to this guy. He used to be like the guy in class who’ll crack jokes and then maybe sell you some weed afterwards. Now he’s just become… well, this. I mean I get it, he wants to be hip-hop’s Jimi Hendrix, but I think he might be trying to hard. The album–I assume–isn’t terrible or anything, I’m sure it’s not great either. It’s been a long time since those Kush And Orange Juice days and now that Wiz is the biggest thing since sliced bread, we’ll all have to get used to the man he is now. Change may be scary but it’s inevitable; it’s pretty selfish of us to expect the artists we love to always do the same thing (especially since we’ll always say it wasn’t as good as the first one). So while I may not be on the plane with Khalifa–and his Cruella De Ville coat–any longer, I still say do your thing brah. Oh and that “Remember You” song with the Weeknd is pretty good.

The plight of the young black person, especially the male, is one that’s been documented heavily and, as time has gone on, the line between informative and sensationalist has been blurred almost beyond recognition. With the release of Kendrick Lamar’s proper debut album, Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, Kendrick has reminded us all that there is still a way to tell the story of the lost and hopeless youth properly.

Since Kendrick Lamar came on the scene, he’s been a force in hip-hop; telling gritty street tales about people who don’t get to see the storm clouds dissipate. Through Overly Dedicated, Section80 and now Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, Kendrick has painted vivid portraits of the ugliness, beauty and everything in between when it comes to being young, black and broke.

First of all, understand the subtitle “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar” isn’t some cheeky title. It’s not him being like other rappers who swear up and down that whatever they do “IS A MOVIE MAN!!” No. Throughout the album little documentary-like snippets of “a day in the life” of young K. Dot in the hood tell a tragic yet hopeful story of young kids living in a warzone and learning to adapt. The music itself provide the soundtrack of that story. Songs like “Sherane AKA Master Splinter’s Daughter”, “The Art of Peer Pressure”, “Good Kid”, “m.A.A.d City”, and “Sing about me/I’m Dying of Thirst” are showcases of perfected storytelling–“Sing about me” especially, with it’s dual perspectives including one from the sister of Keisha from “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)”.

With songs like, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “Money Trees”, and “Backseat Freestyle”, Kendrick shows he can make songs that are all swagger and still have your brain working; and with “Poetic Justice”, Kendrick makes his standard vie for the mainstream without straining too hard to sound radio friendly or deviating from the vibe of the album (plus it’s just a good ass song, Janet Jackson’s “Anytime, Anyplace” sample? Yes please).

You don’t often get to hear albums that cause you to really go into deep contemplation about life and you’re place in it or the meaning behind it–hell, you don’t really get to hear “albums” anymore. In a A.D.D.-fueled time when music is released on a minute to minute basis and you’re only as relevant as when you released your last single, K. Dot made a true album to tell the story of his city. Time will tell, Where Good Kid, m.A.A.d City will be seen amongst the great Rap Albums of all time lists, but for now I’m just incredibly happy to feel this good about Hip-Hop again.

Beautiful is rarely something that’s said about records these days. Flying Lotus’s Until The Quiet Comes is beautiful. From beginning to end, Quiet is a force that provides the swiftest kick in the most delicate manner. The fourth album from Mr. Steven Ellison a.k.a Flying Lotus, Quiet is bass-heavy, melodic, whimsical and intimate; it’s an album packed with ideas and, with guest vocals from Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu, full of soul. If you haven’t already, make sure to grab a copy of Until The Quiet Comes. Easily a contender for album of the year and proof that only good things can come when you attend the school of J Dilla.

Why? has always been an interesting band. Johnathan “Yoni” Wolf’s blend of melodic harmonies and endearingly rough rap styles have made them intriguing and addictive but overtime, as the amateur scruffiness of their younger days have be scuffed and shined over time, it’s become much harder to embrace them. That’s not to say their latest album Mumps, etc. isn’t good, just moreso stating that it’s not what it could be. 2008’s Alopecia was an instant obsession; blasted on repeat for that entire summer. The next release, 2009’s Eskimo Snow, wasn’t the best follow-up but it grew on me and I respected its focus on songmanship. Now after a small hiatus, Why? returned with a solid EP and album, that continues on that path of crafting great pop songs. Commendable and definitely worthwhile, Yoni’s just as great with words as ever, but his raps are what’s truly missed. He, and maybe everyone else, may not think so but his rap skill was just as intricate and engaging as anyone else’s; without them being a strong factor it feels incomplete.

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