Archive for August, 2010

Tupac’s Conflicted

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

As a mid-90s kid consumed by entertainment and media, Tupac Shakur was inescapable. I saw his movies, ceased my channel surfing when crossing his music videos, and owned a few of his albums. All Eyez On Me went 9x Platinum and most of my 7th grade peers knew a line or two from it. Plus, I’d bet “California Love” is still played at high-school dances or any gathering that includes a lame DJ.

tupac

You know the headlines– the ridiculous east/west conflict, the charade with Notorious BIG, Suge Knight, etc. My favorite part of his legacy is the attacks levied by politicians who wanted to appear as though they were doing something while actually doing nothing. Tupac, Ice-T and a few others were key figures in the crusade against violence infused lyrics, especially imagery that included violence against cops within pop-music (mainly metal and rap). But, as Spike Lee points out, James Cameron can make a film where Mr. Universe rolls through a police station killing over a dozen police officers and no politician will have an issue with it. However, if a rapper happens to talk about killing a uniformed man, there’ll be hell to pay (i.e.the creation of silly parental advisory labels).

After digesting much of the respectable hip-hop and some of the commercial rap that has been in the air since Tupac’s murder, his views about women still stand out to me. I’ve never heard a more specific and telling portrait of someone’s mother than Tupac’s “Dear Mama.”

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And a terribly dated “Brenda’s Got a Baby” took melodrama and social awareness to heights that have yet to be surpassed. This track makes you believe that Tupac could have held as much compassion as a Women’s Studies professor.

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Hopefully that frustratingly long outro will never be surpassed either.

Later in his career, he tosses aside the sympathy and compassion to provide us with a justification for his industry’s objectification of an entire gender “Wonda Why They Call U Bitch.”

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The person who Tupac references at the end of the song, C. Delores Tucker, led a remarkable life. She was a committed humanitarian which made her a huge opponent of gangsta rap for obvious reasons (promotion of violence and reckless sex, etc). Unfortunately, she tried to go after rap music the same way Tipper Gore did metal and Dan Quayle did rap. They all should’ve realized, no matter how much you hate it, you can’t defeat commercial success.

So, there it is. When Public Enemy is topping the charts with Fight the Power, Tupac throws on his “social injustice” hat. Later when “Thug Life” was the yellow-brick road, he was the Wiz. Tupac’s conflicted.

Watching un-live, LIVE shows.

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

After three years of missing these guys perform, I finally saw Octopus Project play. Octo Proj is probably the closest to dance-pop that I listen to. There are dramatic, yet energetic tones that make you focus on the topic at hand, be it an important project or simply completing the dregs of a bottle opened just a few hours earlier (The Adjuster, Porno Disaster).

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Adrenaline cranking jams that make you want to run through a linebacker on your way to biking through traffic-congested streets, every pass of disgruntled motorist providing more satisfaction than the last (Music is Happiness),

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…and tracks that deliver the same emotions that overcome a server after completing a double-shift and the realization that dawns on them when they are clocked out at 9:35pm (instead of midnight) and that there is $180 dollars in their pocket (instead of only $100)- Truck.

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So, I was finally able to see these guys LIVE after slurping their tunes for years… and it wasn’t great. Some of the responsibility falls squarely on the venue’s shoulders (18+) and some of it falls on contemporary pop/indie-pop/dance-pop (whatevs) music. The biggest drawback however was the amount of loops used and how that put constraints on a live show.

I remember this happening when I saw RJD2. Basically, live shows aren’t the same when they aren’t played live (no duh).

The RJD2 and now the Octo Proj’s shows weren’t worth the effort. Both artists make good tracks that should be played at any dance party, but ultimately, that’s where their tracks should remain. To be enjoyed with friends and acquaintances while mixed in between some hip-hop and the like. If you go to their show expecting to catch lightning in a bottle, or some variation of your favorite song that you will always identify as “the best time I heard this song,” you will be disappointed.

Kaki King, Andrew Bird, and a few other acts also use loops, but in a different way. Though it’s just as repetitive, they record a progression live, loop it, build on top of it, and when the song reaches “maximum density,” they conclude or resolve whatever sonic canvas they’ve just built. It’s different in that they are playing their licks live and the build-up is always unique and usually better than what is produced on the album:

Andrew Bird-- Why?

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The evolution of Bird and King’s songs makes their shows that much more worthwhile.

Kaki King-- Gay Sons of Lesbian Mothers

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Contrast that with what occurs when Octo Proj/RJD2 perform, and little, if anything, is enhanced from the album. Pair that with the fact that these bands do not have a wide range and after thirty-five minutes or so, you’ll find their music is pretty redundant. They don’t cross genres or really mix anything up. Imagine listening to an hour-straight of Ratatat, I couldn’t. But that’s the music they choose to make, and I’m thankful for it (I’m still very much a fan), I’ll just pass when given the opportunity to see them live.