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Archive for the ‘B-Boys’ Category

Huuuuuuge bummer: I got on Spotify looking for some Sick Beatz to rock to only to find that the Sickest Beat of all, “Shake it Off” by TaySwift™ had been unceremoniously removed.  Boo to that Taylor, even if it did lead to your album becoming the first Platinum-seller of 2014.  Which is kind of a next level boss move when you think about it.  Lil’ Wayne should probably be calling Taylor Swift about signing with YMCMB.  Friends close/enemies closer, ya’ hear?  I guess I’ll save 1989 for another time, but for now, I’ll just drop some Swiftamine and run down some of the best new(ish) tracks:

Snootie Wild ft. Yo Gotti “Yayo”

I realize this one is like six months old, but I basically live for youtube comments like this:

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Rae Sremmurd “No Flex Zone”

I can appreciate a music video that takes the concept of the song very literally.  Case in point: Rae Sremmurd’s video for “No Flex Zone” features the pair of juvenile rappers roaming around Atlanta surrounded by a glowing force field, the physical embodiment of the No Flex Zone that is already implied by the duo’s non-flexing attitude.

Mike Will Made it ft. Miley, Juicy-J and Wiz Khalifa “23”

Miley definitely looks great rocking all throwback Bulls gear, as does everyone else in this video.  I once ate a 23 ingredient chopped salad, a 23oz bone-in prime strip steak, and a 23 layer chocolate cake at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse in downtown Chicago.  I truly wish this song had been released then so I could blast it like Mike Will in this video, providing the perfect soundtrack for celebrating the legacy of America’s greatest athlete with the most unnecessarily expensive baller meal possible.

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A note on shoe game: Miley’s Wolf Grey Jordan 5’s are pretty sleek, but nothing compared to the two rare pairs Juicy J references in his verse:  The black and red XII’s worn during Game 5 of the 1997 Finals (when Jordan laid 38 points on Karl Malone’s Jazz despite having either the flu or food poisoning from bad Salt Lake City pizza, depending on who you ask) and the XI’s with the black leather upper worn in the movie Space Jam.   Further proof that Juicy J is on a Whole Other Level: XII plus XI is…23.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ilovemakonnen ft. Drake “Tuesday (Remix)”

This one is for all my industry heads out there who  “Ain’t got no time/to party on the weekend.”  Anybody who’s worked in the biz knows that Tuesday night is the best possible night to go out — not totally dead like a Sunday or Monday but not full of yuppies and suburbanites like Thurs-Saturday.  Got the club goin’ up on a Tuesday, indeed.

This song contrasts nicely with Ilovemakkonen’s other popular track, “I Don’t Sell Molly No More,” because it is all about how he very much does sell Molly, and all manner of other illicit substances.  Makkonen’s own verse is interesting for the detail it provides about his drug dealing workweek, which involves Monday nights (when one can earn “at least $3,000 on the boulevard”) and “graveyard shifts every other weekend.”  Seems like a lot of free time, but don’t forget the travel: Makkonen points out that he has been “going out of state,” which is explicitly forbidden by his parole officer, who “think [he’s] in the house.”  Luckily, Makkonen does not “give a damn ’bout what she thinks.”

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The Voice is a television competition that is ostensibly about singing talent, but like virtually all non-sports* television competitions, it’s really about popularity.  That’s why the most aptly named TV singing competition of them all is The X Factor.  The winners of such competitions are rarely the most talented, and only occasionally the most likable, but always the ones with the highest “X Factor.”  X Factor (besides being the name of a detective-agency/superhero-team in the Marvel comics universe) seems to be the ability to appeal to the right demographic.  This can be fellow contestants, as on Survivor or Big Brother; the  judges, as on Dancing with the Stars; or in the case of Idol, X Factor, America’s Got Talent, and The Voice, the most powerful voting blocks among the viewing public.

Thus a savvy contestant on such a show would use their knowledge about the show’s key demographics to their advantage.  For example, singing competitions are more popular among female viewers than male, so we know that being able to appeal to women is important.  Similarly, younger viewers who are engaged on social media are more likely to vote, and vote multiple times, so one would suspect that winning the hearts and minds of 14-30 year old women would be the key to victory.   Every few seasons one does encounter a performer who seems unusually good at not just singing/dancing/juggling flaming miniature schnauzers, but at playing the game; but for the most part, contestants on reality competition shows simply don’t know what they are in for.

Happily, one of the things that differentiates The Voice from other  similar shows in that it’s not just the talent who are in competition, but the four celebrity coaches.  And while the contestants rarely seem to know how to best manipulate the game to their advantage, the more experienced coaches certainly do.  This season presents a prime example:  just two weeks into the Live Show phase of the competition, sophomore judges Shakira and Usher are already down to a single team member each (Kristen Merlin and Josh Kaufman, respectively), veterans Blake Shelton and Adam Levine both have three team members left, the maximum possible at this point.  It is theoretically possible that Shakira and Usher could be eliminated entirely next week, leaving us with three weeks of Team Adam vs Team Blake.  Between the two of them, Adam and Blake have won every season of The Voice so far (Adam won season one and five,while Blake completed the three-peat in season two through four).  Basically, they are Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the ’80s, and it already seems likely that one of them will take the crown back this year.

Here are this week’s power rankings:

Eliminations:  America clearly feels the same way that I do — there are too many cookie-cutter pop vocalists this year.  Three of the five artists I identified as “Basics” were forced to sing for their lives in this week’s Instant Save.  Kat Perkins was saved after an impassioned speech from Adam promising that she would be the one to break the Curse of the Bottom Three (contestants that barely escape elimination one week are almost always eliminated the next).  Bria Kelly and Tess Boyer both phoned in mediocre performances and got sent home.

8. Jake Worthington 

Song Choice: “Run” by George Strait, 37, 176 Youtube views

Twitter Followers: 33, 120 (up 11, 778 from last week)

Jake needed to mix it up this week in order to stay strong in the competition, but Coach Blake did the exact opposite by choosing another country ballad that’s right in his increasingly narrow wheelhouse.  I believe he avoided the bottom three this week merely by virtue of being the lone male country singer in a field overloaded with young female pop singers.  Now that the herd of Basics has been culled, expect to see him bidding for an Instant Save next week.

7. Kat Perkins

Song Choice this Week: “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac, 50,534 Youtube views

Twitter Followers: 27,728 (up 12,646 from last week)

Adam was wrong, and Kat will be in the bottom three again next week.  One would like to think that she has an outside chance at a Cinderella-story comeback.  One would like to think that.

6. Kristen Merlin

Song Choice: “Let Her Go” by Passenger, 45,691 Youtube views

Twitter Followers: 21, 448 (up 10,733 from last week)

Kristen is currently suffering from the same song choice rut as Jake, and not singing as well as the other female country vocalist left, Audra.  Kristen’s personality was enough to carry her this far into the competition, but she has to open it up in terms of raw vocal ability to advance any further.  She’ll survive next week and likely face elimination the week after.

5. Audra McLaughlin

Song Choice: “You Lie” by Reba McIntyre, 59,401 Youtube views

Twitter Followers: 29,539 (up 6,895 from last week)

Audra did something pretty brave this week and delivered a performance that relied 100% on her vocal delivery with no frills whatsoever.  It is hard to stand stock still in the middle of the stage and deliver a powerhouse performance, but country-tinged artists who have done so successfully (most memorably Cassadee Pope with “Over You”) have faired very well in the competition.  Audra is now officially “in the conversation” to take top honors this season.

4. Josh Kaufman

Song Choice: “This Is It” by Kenny Loggins, 55,003 Youtube views

Twitter Followers: 18, 134 (up 6,246 from last week)

Josh’s stock fell pretty far this week, in my opinion.  I had him at the top of my rankings last week, but his performance this week didn’t show us anything new.  Furthermore, Kenny Loggins, especially non-Top Gun Kenny Loggins, is just not a sensible song choice on this show.

3. Sisaundra Lewis

Song Choice: “Oh Sherrie” by Steve Perry, 60, 975 Youtube views

Twitter Followers: 15, 788 (up 5,268 from last week)

As we saw with Kristen, Jake, and Josh this week, many artists are finding their schtick to be played out at this point in the competition.  Sisaundra could easily have been on that list, and instead she came out of left field with a hard rocker by Steve Perry.  This is actually an even worse song choice than Kenny Loggins, but by making it work, and I do mean W-O-R-K, Sisaundra solidified her reputation as an absolute force of nature on stage.  Now that I’ve seen her rock star powers, I hope Sisaundra comes with “Crazy Train” next week.  I would give her all my votes forever.

2. Delvin Choice

Song Choice: “Bright Lights” by Gary Clark Jr., 63,629 Youtube views

Twitter Followers: 15,204 (up 4,489 from last week)

Hmmmmm….kind of a new song.

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I was pretty surprised to hear this bluegaze jam by Gary Clark Jr. on the Voice, but it just goes to show that I have no idea what qualifies as popular these days.  That probably means that I’m not that good at predicting who will win The Voice, but for my money right now, Delvin should win.  He’s probably demonstrated the greatest range of anyone this season, proving that he can take on different genres and tempos while maintaining an infectious (and crucially, telegenic) attitude.  There’s only one thing standing in his way:

1. Christina Grimmie

Song Choice: “Hold On” by Drake, 330,058 Youtube views

Twitter Followers: 466,199 (up 22,111 from last week)

Grimmie will win.  I wasn’t fully aware of the depth of her popularity when I wrote about the show last week, and I should have listed at number one then, as well.  The reason is simple: Grimmie is not an amateur performer for whom The Voice is her first shot at broad exposure.  As one of the top 200 most subscribed and top 1000 most viewed users on Youtube, Grimmie, also known as Zeldaxlove64, reaches an audience of millions and earns at least six figures from her music without the Voice’s help.  This doesn’t make her a household name, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is unfair for her to take her career to the next level by winning the show, but it puts her light years ahead of all of her competitors on The Voice.  I would be sad about this, but the truth is, she’s insanely talented and I have a hard time wishing her anything but the best.

*And a fair number of sports and “sports” television competitions!

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Very Casual by Michael DeForge. Koyama Press, 2013.

Doesn’t it seem like all Canadians know each other? Every Canadian musician of the last fifteen years has at one time been a member of one of the same three bands, and  the comics scene is just as closely connected.  Michael DeForge, for instance, works on Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time, a mega-mega hit multimedia property which has also employed fellow Canuck webcomics folk Ryan North (Dinosaur Comics, Machine of Death) and Joey Comeau (A Softer World). I’m sure they all hang out at Kate Beaton’s house and eat hummus with Brandon and Bryan*.

It’s weird to think about DeForge’s creator owned work as part of the same continuum as Adventure Time, and yet the connection is readily apparent on the page. Just as Very Casual takes the visual world of Adventure Time to logical conclusions with wildly malproportioned limbs, comical wrinkles, and psychedelic colors, DeForge takes the subject matter of love and friendship to its own conclusions — and like anything taken to its furthest extremes, the results are often grotesque. It’s like the relationship between early suspense films and true slasher flicks, or between the coy funk of the Minneapolis Sound and the outré sexuality of Prince: as soon as the implicit is made explicit, the work is fundamentally changed.

The short "Queen," which critiques the fashion and beauty industries alongside the vanity and self-obsession that drives them, is the best example of Deforge's masterful use of limited but vibrant color palettes.  Scan via Toronto's Globe and Mail.

The short “Queen,” which critiques the fashion and beauty industries alongside the vanity and self-obsession that drives them, is the best example of Deforge’s masterful use of limited but vibrant color palettes.. Scan via Toronto’s Globe and Mail.

DeForge often draws attention to this dynamic in the last panels of his comics, when he inserts a panel that seems to change the nature of all that comes before, as in one of the standout stories from this collection, ” Incinerator,” when a sudden image of an S&M sex act casts an interesting shadow over the preceding narrative. Though DeForge places a heavy emphasis on sex and sexuality, often in a darkly realistic if not outright depraved fashion, his greatest moments come not in contemplation of that favorite subject but rather in his musings on the comics form itself and the artist’s place within its canon. Consider the short untitled strip in which a primordial looking figure sacrifices an animal to a god with the head of Jason from Bill Amend’s comic strip Foxtrot; or the (relatively) long comic “Cody,” in which DeForge himself seems to appear as a character who has drifted away from cartooning in order to focus his skills on a much more important matter: the crumpling of paper and throwing it on the ground.

Page from Lose #3 by Michael DeForge via Squidface & the Meddler.  Check out their DeForge interview.

Page from Lose #3 by Michael DeForge via Squidface & the Meddler. Check out their DeForge interview.

Lose #3 by Michael DeForge. Koyama Press, 2011.

Most of this issue of DeForge’s signature ongoing is devoted to a comic about a self-obsessed middle aged divorced man who also happens to be a cartoon dog. Since DeForge is already being canonized as one of our most important cartoonists, perhaps we can start calling him the John Updike to Art Spiegelman’s Philip Roth.

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Hip-Hop Family Tree Vol.1 by Ed Piskor. Fantagraphics Books, 2013.

Serialized on Boing Boing since 2012, Hip-Hop Family Tree is Ed Piskor’s (Wizzywig) non-fiction account of the early days of hip-hop. This first volume covers the rise of Kool Herc in the Bronx through rap’s first peeks into the mainstream culture in 1980-81. Not only is it a riveting narrative, it’s an exhaustively researched and historically accurate one, charting in detail all of the crucial individuals, concerts and records of hip-hop’s first half-decade. Piskor’s artwork has made great leaps since Wizzywig, and he’s made the brilliant choice of rendering the Bronx of the late 1970s in a style that pays homage to the very comics that would have been around at the time. To that end, the deluxe Fantagraphics edition reproduces the pages on a heavy duty newsprint paper that marries the feel of an old Marvel comic with the quality of an archival edition. Because as any beat-looping perfectionist manning the wheels of steel can tell you, the little things do matter.

Ulises Farinas is known for his jampacked pages; his penchant for jamming as many characters and references as possible into a single sequence makes for some great monster battles in Gamma.  Image via Comics Alliance.

Ulises Farinas is known for his jampacked pages; his penchant for cramming as many characters and references as possible into a single sequence makes for some great monster battles in Gamma. Image via Comics Alliance.

Gamma by Ulises Farinas and Eric Freitas. Dark Horse, 2013.

I’ve written elsewhere about one of the year’s most interesting revisionist kaiju comics, Pat Aulisio’s Xenokaiju. Gamma is another fascinating example of what can happen when one subverts even the most staid and Catholic of genres. Farinas (Catalyst Comix) and Freitas envision a world in which Pokemon, Power Rangers, and giant Gojira-clones coexist (though not so peacefully) and the World’s Greatest Monster Trainer has become a boozing and whoring washout who is forced to subsist on $50 punches in the face. It’s Ash Ketchum Year 100, and it’s bloody brilliant.

And here’s some unrelated bonus art from Farinas, just to make you smile.  It’s the holidays after all:

Farinas art commissioned by Wired Magazine, via UlissesFarinas.com

Farinas art commissioned by Wired Magazine, via UlissesFarinas.com

*Graham and Lee O’Malley, of course

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I listened to a ton of albums lately but nothing that really inspired me to a full review.  Here are reviews of a bunch of recent records, each in 200 characters or less:

Avicii, True. 2013.

Best country-electronica mash-up since “Cotton Eye Joe,” but is there anything less sufferable than when arena-ready house music includes crowd sounds right in the mix? 5/10.

 

Icona Pop.  This is…Icona Pop. 2013.

This album is a must have if you are trying out for The Voice — if there are any twin sister singing duos trying out this season, you’ll want to audition with “Girlfriend” and win the battle round with “Just Another Night.”  Otherwise, this is like two Swedish club kids just yelling at you.  3/10.

 

Chvrches. The Bones of What You Believe.  2013.

Maybe the best electro-pop album since Robyn’s last one.  Really shimmery.  Steals from everyone from Stars to St. Etienne to the aforementioned Robyn.  But everybody steals, and if you don’t have influences, what do you have?  I will never be a huge fan of this band because I don’t really love Lauren Mayberry’s voice, but I can see why people like them.  7/10.

 

A$AP Ferg. Trap Lord. 2013.

If you were walking around a pretty hard neighborhood and you turned a corner to see a bunch of trash can fires surrounding some kind of  human sacrifice ritual, A$AP Ferg would be the Grand Wizard at the center of it.  Welcome to Fergistan motherfucker.  In other words, this album is DARK.  7/10.

 

Earl Sweatshirt. Doris. 2013.

Tone told me this was an Odd Future record that it’s okay to like because it’s not as rapey.  It’s still a little rapey, but he’s right, it’s probably the best recorded Golf Wang artifact yet.  I’m listening to this while I don’t give a fuck all over town.  8/10.

 

Janelle Monae.  The Electric Lady.  2013.

This album is twice as long as it needs to be and really the best songs are the guest tracks from Solange and Miguel, but I still consider Janelle Monae to be the reigining Q.U.E.E.N. Bitch of this thing we call culture.  What has Beyonce done for you lately?  Janelle’s trying to lead a cyborg uprising, and the rest of ya’ll don’t even know you’re robots.  6/10.

 

Volcano Choir. Repave. 2013.

Bon Iver versus Collections of Colonies of Bees.  Justin Vernon upgraded from nerd loner to Wisconsin’s #1 swagger factory.  Very pretty. 9/10.

 

Riitz.  The Life and Times of Jonny Valiant.  2013.

He’s named after the cracker and he rhymes fast like Twista.  This album is goofy but it has a lot of documentary insights into the Atlanta rap scene and Riitz’s own life.  Plus a Big K.R.I.T. track 7/10.

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A quick survey of my apartment shows that I have just under one hundred vinyl records and a little over three hundred CDs.  My current primary laptop has a library of about thirty mp3 albums on it, and somewhere around here there is an older laptop with something like 4,000 songs on it, as well as a defunct external drive that theoretically contains much, much more than that, if I ever went through the trouble to get it working again.

All that, and the vast, vast majority of the music listening I do these days is via Spotify, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  Even with an album that I own in other formats — like Blood on the Tracks, which I have on CD, Vinyl, AND mp3 on at least two different computers — I’m more likely to cue it up in the Spotify window I already have open than to walk across the living room to put on the record.

Why have I switched most of my music consumption to digital streaming services?  The answer is obvious: convenience. Between Spotify and Youtube, I can easily pull up  almost any song I could possibly want to hear without having to get up from my desk or even open up a new browser tab to search for a .torrent file.  It’s one of the Big Dreams of the digital revolution: all of the world’s music, instantly at your fingertips.

But there’s a big downside.  I’m sure a lot of purists will be quick to point out the sound quality issue; obviously a low-bitrate mp3 stream won’t have the same nuance as an FLACC file, a vinyl record, or even an uncompressed CD.  But  I don’t own any really nice speakers or super-high end headphones, and on the nicest audio system I do have (my car stereo), Spotify gets pretty fuckin’ loud on the bass end, which is all I really want most days.  So if audio quality isn’t a deal breaker for me, what is?

It’s the feeling that I’m losing the personal connection with the music I listen to.   Once I’ve played through an album on Spotify, that’s it, it’s out of the play queue and back into the void.  If I want to hear that record again, I have to search for it.  Spotify is great for revisiting music that I’ve loved in the past, but only if I can already remember what it is I want to listen to.  It’s not like flipping through a record collection, or even a well-tagged mp3 collection, flipping and browsing until you get that “oh yeah, that record!” feeling.  Occasionally random browsing on Spotify will yield delicious, forgotten fruit.  But more often, it leads me down all of the wrong rabbit holes.  Paging through albums in my own collection is a personalized tour of summer flings, broken hearts, flat tires and endless nights.  It might lead me from Public Image, ltd. to the Books to Rare Essence (the sequence of a burned-into-my-memory mixtape that soundtracked freshman year), and songs that will always be linked in my, and only my, mind.  But the Related Artists page on Spotify?  It’s like looking at someone else’s version of history, a version filled with lies where the Arcade Fire has taken on a vastly more important role than I remember.

It’s an ephemerality problem.  How can I fall in love with a song that comes and goes from my awareness like a cute stranger on the subway?  How I can I cherish an album when I never experienced that period of anticipation — between picking it up at the store and bringing it home, or even just waiting for the download to finish?  When I look back at my most played, favorite recent records — Good Kid, MAAD City or Time Off or Light Up Gold — even though I have listened to each one a dozen times or more, I feel less of a connection with them than with a Gorilla Biscuits CD I bought at Permanent Records and have played through from start to finish maybe twice.  Why?  Because I love the cover of that Gorilla Biscuits CD and I made a conscious choice to own it because I wanted it in my collection and it will be with me forever until I make another conscious decision to get rid of it.  I might stumble across it while moving a few years from now and decide to give it another listen and be completely blown away.  But that Kendrick Lamar album?  It’ll only be around as long as I keep playing it, and once I get tired of it, will simply disappear, back into the digital ether from which it came.

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Tekkon Kinkreet (Black & White All-in-one Edition) by Taiyo Matsumoto.  Trans. by Lillian Olsen.  Viz Media, 2006 (Japanese version originally serialized in 1994).

This is yet another in a longish string of things I’ve watched or read pretty much exclusively on the recommendation of Factual Opinion‘s Comic Books are Burning in Hell and Travis Bickle on the Riviera podcasts; in this specific case, I ordered up Viz’s all-in-one edition of Taiyo Matsumoto’s manga  Tekkon Kinkreet  because it generally seems that Joe McCulloch (who appears regularly on both podcasts and writes the weekly new comics preview column for TCJ.com) knows what he’s talking about with manga and he has pointed to Matsumoto as an exemplar of more artistically ambitious Japanese comics.

In this volume Matsumoto plays in the liminal space between genre comics (the book features elements of sci-fi, martial arts and superheroes) and more atmospheric “literary” comics.  I tend to gravitate towards artists and authors who are interested in toying with or editing out that line between trash culture and high culture (notice the tagline of this very website), so in many ways this book was quite suited to my taste.  Though I am no great scholar of manga, it seems to me that Matsumoto borrows many of the conventions of shonen (action comics for boys) in this decidedly adult (seinen) book — the best example being the designs of the two main characters, boy street urchins Black and White.  Matsumoto changes up these two characters’ outfits frequently throughout the series, but they are always presented with a fantastical range of hats, cuffs, watches, and accessories that makes them look like they walked right out of Dragonball or One Piece*, aping the kind of Shibuya youth street style chronicled in the Fruits series of photobooks.  One of the major plot threads in the book is that a group of gangsters want to change the landscape of Black and White’s home town, Treasure Town, by transforming its strip clubs and brothels into arcades and children’s entertainment centers — this is presented as a sinister threat to Treasure Town’s culture and way of life.  Between appropriating the visual language of shonen and worrying over the encroachment of children’s entertainment into adult territory, much of Tekkon Kinkreet can be read as an allegory for Matsumoto’s concern over the artform of manga being diluted in order to provide mere entertainments for children.  The big hole in my theory?  I think Japan in the mid-90s, when this comic came out, was actually in the process of lifting and loosening censorship, and if anything it seems like shonen comics became more mature, rather than seinen being watered down for kids.

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Thematic concerns aside, Tekkon‘s greatest achievement is in its characterization of the two lead characters.  Black is street-smarts personified, a creature perfectly adapted to alleyways and quick muggings — he is most often seen perched atop a telephone pole, surveying his territory.  White is the snot-nosed accomplice, his childlike innocence contrasting completely with Black’s hard edges.   Midway through the book, as Black waits by White’s side in the hospital after White is ambushed by a pair of super-powered assassins and stabbed through the heart (astonishingly, not the most gruesome scene), one character notes that “Black has already lost all faith in the living.  His only purpose in life is to protect White.”  Later, after Black has allowed White to be taken in by city services — believing that his innocent friend is no longer cut out for life on the streets — White tells a social worker that both he and Black were made by God with missing screws, but each has the extra screws that the other needs — they are two flawed beings who can only be made whole by each other.

Clocking at nearly 600 pages, Tekkon Kinkreet can certainly be called a tome.  At that length, you might expect a huge cast with detailed backstories and an intricate, interweaving plot.  There are a few interesting characters besides Black and White, like the villanous Serpent, yakuza salary man The Rat and detective Fujimura, but they, like all of the adult characters in the book, are given only surface personality and are somewhat interchangeable.  The plot does twist and build to several moments of genuine suspense, but overall this is a very simple story.  That long page count is used entirely in the service of building the setting of Treasure Town, a city whose building have few parallel lines and lots of curves, looking a bit like the chaotic sets designed for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (German Expressionism wouldn’t be such a bad touch stone for Tekkon, either), and most importantly, towards building up the reader’s sympathies for Black and White.  There are few plot developments of any consequence in the first 300 pages of the book, but those pages are necessary to give the events of the manga’s second half such gut-wrenching emotional impact.  

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Besides shonen and Expressionism, Matsumoto’s artwork is strongly informed by graffiti and hip-hop culture, as evidenced by the preponderance of graf on the walls of Treasure Town (often seeming to offer a commentary on or foreshadowing of events in the comic).  Those coming to this book looking for a typical manga style won’t find it, but they will find an appealing mix of manga’s kineticism with a global palette of influences from both within and without comics.  This comic originally ran at the height of the MTV music video era, and just as feature films were starting to at the time, it leans heavily on jump-cuts and parallel narratives, storytelling conventions popular in music videos.  It often seems as if Matsumoto is intentionally choosing to capture the ‘wrong’ moments, for example showing the reader frames before and after a street fight without capturing the fight itself, or dipping into a squad car for a snippet of conversation that is seemingly not germane to the story.  This highly edited cinematic technique once again contributes to the long page count (it is used more heavily in the book’s first half, and replaced with a more conventionally paced narrative for the conclusion), as it favors ambiance over efficiency, but as is often the case with ‘difficult’ literature or cinema, the end result can be more rewarding than anything presented with an abundance of exposition.  I for one found this collection to be both emotionally cathartic and critically stimulating, a rare combination that will keep me coming back for more of Matsumoto’s work.  But first, I think I need a crash course in seinen manga so I can better understand the cultural/historical context for the work — luckily, I was just gifted the first omnibus volume of Lone Wolf and Cub, which will give me a chance to dive into a classic seinen series that I had previously only waded in.  I’ll leave you with this striking (if poorly shot; I promise I’ll get a scanner soon!) page, which captures everything I love about the Tekkon Kinkreet:

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*Tekkon Kinkreet was serialized in Big Comics Spirit a few years before One Piece first cropped up in Shonen Jump, but as I hope this article indicates, my knowledge of manga is so poor that I couldn’t come up with a second example of a pre-1994 shonen series off the top of my head.

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There I was, thumbing through Essence‘s “Baddest Brothers in the Game” issue (controversial!), when I noticed this month’s XXL cover:

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What is the meaning of this?  Amerikkka only has one most wanted, and his name is ICE CUBE.  Turns out aka Mr. Make It Rain On Deez Hoes is headlining the second go around of the “America’s Most Wanted” Festival, featuring three of the most over-exposed, best-days-behind-them brothers in the game.  Yes, I think T.I. released five above-average albums in a row in the 00s, from Trap Muzik to Paper Trail, a streak which is probably unrivaled by any other Dirty South solo act.  Yes, I think Wayne has recorded two or three of the best rap songs ever (“Hustler Muzik” is on my list, sorry if it’s not on yours).  Yes, I fucking loved Tity Boi before he changed his name to 2 Chainz.  But I can barely listen to rap on the radio these days because I’m sick of the situation in which, once a rapper reaches a certain level of fame or buzz, they just start appearing on every track, with no quality control whatsoever in the verses.  I mean, if a guy gets two singles, or better yet two genuinely memorable songs, on a twenty song album, that right there is better than 99% of rappers that have ever lived.  But on average, that’s still just one out of ten tracks that are real bangers!

Why, with that kind of success rate, do record companies suddenly annoint  rappers with infallibility, trusting that pretty much any 12 bars that flies out of their mouth is worthy of a hit record?  It simply isn’t possible for anyone who does as many guest spots as T.I., Wayne, or 2 Chainz to deliver with any kind of consistency.  The result is a radio playlist full of songs that are promising but for an inexplicable, off topic guest spot.  The example of the summer: T.I.’s appearance on “Blurred Lines.”  It’s not a perfect song really, and it’s not that there shouldn’t be a rap verse in there; the track definitely begs for a few quick, sharp lines.  But T.I. takes a song that is kind of on the edge with the sexual innuendo, you know, with those blurred lines and all, and just takes it too far, makes it to explicit.  Once he’s done, it’s not a fun, tongue-in-cheek bit of naughtiness.  It’s a song where a guy says out loud that he’s going to “tear your ass in two.”  Not exactly charming.

Today’s best rappers seemingly lack the ability to self-edit, to hold back any bit of recorded material.  Some artists can release one hundred songs a year between official albums and mixtapes, not to mention dozens of verses appearing on other artists’ albums and mixtapes.  It may be hubris, guys believing that any few words they string together on tape are genius — kind of seems to be the case with Lil’ Wayne.  It may be just economics; release everything you can to satisfy the hardcore fans, trusting that the rising-cream mechanisms of the internet will push the best songs to top of the heap anyway.  Either way, I believe this dilution of the product is a big reason why there are so few truly great rap albums these days.

Ice Cube - Amerikkka's Most Wanted

In 1990 it was a lot easier to make a cohesive rap LP.  Most albums featured few to no guest stars, a limited roster of producers or a single DJ, and there was no pressure to produce “slow jams” or “club anthems” or any sub-sub-genre of songs to try to widen an album’s potential audience.  The result were laser-focused records like Ice Cube’s solo debut Amerikkka’s Most Wanted.  Ice Cube’s departure from N.W.A. came on suddenly, and though Cube originally wanted to continue his musical partnership with Dr. Dre on the solo album, neither Eazy E nor the label heads would allow that to happen, so the young MC headed to New York with hopes of teaming with 3rd Bass producer Sam Sever.  Sever never made the meeting, but in his place Chuck D. introduced Ice Cube to the legendary Bomb Squad, whose amped up sampledelia style defined the sound of Public Enemy and East Coast gangster rap at the time.

It’s not just the heavy, jump-cut production that recalls Public Enemy.  On Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, Ice Cube takes his socially conscious gangster rap further than he ever had with N.W.A.  On the first proper track, “The Nigga Ya Love to Hate,” Ice Cube drops one of the defining verses of the gangster rap movement, leading into the chorus with this bar that addresses media-whitewashing, state-sponsored drug cartels, and the interlinked, equally broken education and justice systems in a few sharp, profanity laden lines:

They say keep ’em on gangs and drugs
You wanna sweep a nigga like me up under the rug
Kicking shit called street knowledge
Why more niggas in the pen than in college?
Now cause of that line I might be your cellmate
That’s from the nigga ya love to hate

It’s easy to forget that the violent anti-police, anti-state message of KRS-One, Ice-T, Chuck D., and Ice Cube did not come from a place of ghetto nihilism.  It was a different side of the same political consciousness heard on records by Dilated Peoples, De La Soul or Tribe Called Quest, only with a harder edge born from a belief that the social stratification of the Reagan era had made things worse, not better, for much of black America in the wake of the civil rights era.  If the psychedelic conscious hip hop of De La and Tribe was Gandhi or MLK, then the gangster anarchism of Public Enemy and N.W.A. was Che or Malcolm X.

There’s only one real dud on A.M.W. is “You Can’t Fade Me,” a slice-of-project-life story narrated by Ice Cube in the first person, in which he finds that he has fathered a child with the “neighborhood hussy,” and contemplates kicking her pregnant stomach in order to avoid paying child support.  The song’s lyrical themes of misogyny and abdication of parental responsibility simply go too far.  This too was a common problem in early gangster rap, though not quite so prevalent as today*.  If Ice Cube had been able to address the unique plight of black women or the issue of fatherhood as elegantly and venomously as he addresses Reagonomics, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted could go down as one of the greatest albums of all time.  Still, in its admittedly flawed state it still easily earns a place among the hardest hitting gangster records ever.

*At least the filthiest and meanest rappers of the early 1990s, like Spice ONE, Brotha Lynch Hung, or the Geto Boys, brought some creativity to their descriptions of torture and violence; today’s ever-present boasts (I sold so much cocaine, I know so many strippers, I have so many goons, they tote so many guns) sound exactly the same from every artist, the only thing that changes is the color of the paint on the foreign car.   

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