Music Mondays: Jay-Z

Back in 2003, I fell in love with Jay-Z’s music. Three of my friends from high school got a house together in Toledo that I would hang out at a lot when I wasn’t at school. One of those dudes, Toth, worked at the radio station and had piles of CDs in his room. I borrowed a few discs from the piles, one of which was Jay-Z’s then recently released Black Album and my mind was blown. I listened to it a lot on my trips to and from everywhere, but eventually I gave it back. I didn’t actually buy the record for myself until a little while later, but it stuck with me. This album was supposed to be Jay’s swan song, his last record and even though I figured he’d be back, I wondered who would fill the void with him gone. There would be lots of attempts, but no one has captured my attention like Jay, though I understand that I might not be the target audience of current hip hop and rap considering I’m a 27 year old white dude.

That 2003 near-obsession with the Black Album wasn’t my first interaction with Jay-Z. Like anyone else my age, I’d known his music since he blew up, but especially in college when “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” sort of became my theme song. For some reason, my roommate Hatem started singing the lyrics to that song using my last name; “D to the izzo, ietsch [pronounced “eech”] to the izzay.” For the rest of my college career I’d hear that song and put his lyrics to it. Why fight it, right?

Since then, I’ve gone on to pick up four of his eleven records, mostly thanks to flea markets and yard sales. I’ve got The Blueprint, Volume 2…Hard Knock Life, The Black Album and The Blueprint 3 which not only held special significance for me but was also one of my favorite albums of last year. What I dig about Jay-Z’s records is a combination of things. The flow of his rhymes is amazing. The man can put some phrases together, to say the least. He also works with the best producers who invent some sick beats for him. You’ve got guys like Kanye West (back when he wasn’t just that annoying guy), Swizz Beatz, The Neptunes and tons of others. The various producers give his albums a variety and scope that some other records don’t have. Finally, dude’s got swagger. No matter what you think of his records or his music, you can’t deny that the guy knows how to carry himself. Just like he says in plenty of his songs like “Empire State of Mind” Jay-Z has a lot of the outward qualities that draw me to Frank Sinatra.

I dig that the guy has grown up and has started dressing like he has. You don’t see a lot of this in pop music, rap or otherwise, but I like how he’s grown into an elder statesmen role without completely giving up the game. I’d like to think when I get older, I’ll have enough scratch to class the ol’ wardrobe up. I guess it’s a little weird to like a musician for what he wears, but maybe it’s because I’m getting older and have found a new Sinatra to be a fan of.

New Hampshire Haul

Last weekend the missus and I traveled to New Hampshire so she could go to a family bridal shower with her mom. It was nice to go someplace different, especially a much cooler place. Anyway, we hit up a deep discount place called Building 19 and also the Londonderry Flea Market…twice and I got all kinds of rad stuff. Continue reading New Hampshire Haul

My Favorite Albums Of 2009

I usually don’t go in for these end of the year/decade top ten lists. Mostly because I rarely agree with them and also because I have such a crappy memory that I can’t remember what all I’ve read or seen or watched in a year, so it would involve a lot more research than I want to put in. However, it’s pretty easy with records because I’ve got everything in my iPod and can easily look at what came out in 2009. Or at least, that was the theory, apparently a good deal of records still don’t have the year published, which is annoying. I also found a lot of the records I thought came out in 2009 actually came out in 2008, SO this is my a list of my favorite records that I bought in 2009, with some 2008 ones thrown in. They’re in no particular order, so here we go.

I first heard Cage The Elephant on the Opie and Anthony Show before the dumb New York station dropped them and switched to a pop format. I think I went out and picked up the record that day and it’s been in heavy rotation ever since. This record is just a plain old, great rock and roll record that doesn’t let up from beginning to end. I like the two guitar attack and the gyrating jerkiness of the entire thing. It’s rare that I buy a record that can keep me pumped up for throughout it’s entirety, yet CTE sure does that. “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” may have been the big breakout song, but I like “In One Ear” even better and here it is in video form.

Jay-Z’s latest record held kind of a special place in my heart. See, it came out right before I got let go from Wizard in September. I was really looking forward to it, as I mentioned back in August, and it turned into this kind of Holy Grail for me because I didn’t want to spend any extra money until I had a new job or at least some steady freelance coming in. Well, finally, a few weeks ago, I deemed myself succesful enough to pick this bad boy up and it’s pretty great. I must admit that I haven’t taken the time to really absorb the whole thing because I just got it and don’t listen to as much music as I used to, but the singles alone make this record with the purchase. My favorite track is still “D.O.A.”

I first heard K’Naan in those mini-videos that MTV does between the end of a show before a commercial and the actual commercial. I heard enough snipets to know I’d be into this hip hop record from this Somalian artist. Aside from sporting some jams that are impossible to keep still during, I was also excited to hear some rhymes from a guy who came from a whole different way of life. I know he moved out of Somalia and to Canada when he was pretty young, but hearing him rap about fending off armed thugs and real life pirates put a lot of American posturing into context. Even when he slows things down, I still found myeslf engaged thanks to his insightful lyrics and smooth delivery. You can do a lot worse than picking this record up for your collection. I like every song on the record, but if I had one to add to a mix tape it would have to be the song he did with Maroon 5’s Adam Levine called “Bang Bang.”

The Street Sweeper Social Club’s record is another one that puts things in a whole different perspective with its mix of hip hop and rap. What else would you expect from the pairing of Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello and MC Boots Riley (who I honestly hadn’t heard of before). By combining Riley’s highly politically and incindieary lyrics with Morello’s funk-infused rock licks, you get a record that demands to be heard and really listened to. It’s like the Street Sweeper Social Club record is the soundtrack to a revolution that hasn’t really picked up too much steam yet. But don’t be too scared off if you’re not a fan of politically charged lyrics, I think there’s enough on TSSSC for any fan of really well crafted hip hop and rock to enjoy. Just check out this song called “100 Little Curses” for a taste. Just a warning, the lyrics are definitely NSFW.

I’m sure I discovered Estelle when the rest of the world did with the release of her song “American Boy” which featured the now-even-more-notorious Kanye West. It was a pretty hot song that seemed to dominate the airwaves both on the radio and video channels (back when there still were TV airwaves!). I really dug the song and figured I’d give the album a shot and really liked it. It’s more of a modern soul record really than anything else. Yes there’s plenty of hip hop influences on there, but you’ve also got plenty of Motown sneaking through too that makes this a pretty fun record to listen through. It definitely slows down in the middle, which I’m not a huge fan of, but there’s plenty of goodness on there, especially this first track “Just A Touch (Just A Touch)” which apparently features Will.I.Am.

My gigantic crush on Katy Perry’s retro style aside, I’m still a really big fan of this record. Yes, it’s pop radio stuff, but it’s really good, sexy pop radio stuff. To be honest, I’m not really sure when I bought this record. I feel like it was 2009, but it came out in 2008 as did the first big single “I Kissed A Boy.” Ah well, screw it. I think I bought the record after “Hot N Cold” came out (which also appeared as a single in 2008) and was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked listening to it. The record covers a surprising amount of ground from a tomboy turning into a woman to flirtations with lesbianism. Perry at least co-wrote every song on the record and I think she’s got a solid sense of songwriting. It’s too bad Lady Gaga swept in with her weird fashion sense, otherwise Perry’s style would have caught on better. Ah well, here’s the video of her and her band(!) playing “One Of The Boys” live.

Imelda May’s Love Tattoo is another record that came out in 2008 that I didn’t come across until 2009. Heck, I had never even heard of her before until I walked into the Best Buy on 5th Ave. in NYC, saw that it was like $7 and decided to give it a shot based on her retro hotness (are you noticing a partern?). Anyway, this may be my favorite find of the year as Love Tattoo gave me something I’ve been looking for and not finding for a while: a female vocalist with a swing/rockabilly sound who doesn’t get overly soft for most of the record. I had high hopes for Duffy after hearing her first single, but that was all super-sad mellow stuff. I also picked up and loved Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings’ 100 Days, 100 Nights, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. And I liked Estelle and Katy Perry’s records, but, again, it wasn’t what I had in my mind. Love Tattoo absolutely was. It does get a little soft at times, but May never loses her disctint attitude. She also writes the kind of songs that any man would love to have written about them like this one, called “Big Bad Handsome Man.”

This one’s definitely the saddest entry of the bunch because not only did the drumming/DJ duo of Travis Barker and DJ AM, survive a tragic plane crash in 2008, but DJ AM passed away in August. Well, after the accident Barker and AM got together to play Coachella this year and released the set as a mixtape on their website TRVSDJAM.com. And it really is a thing of genius, even more impressive when you realize it was done live. See, the deal is that AM would spin and mix at the DJ tables while Barker drummed along and added beats. I had listened to their first mix tape, called Fix Your Face and was really excited when this one went up. Unfortuantely, DJ AM passed away only a few months later. If you like what you see in the video below from Coachella then head over to the site and download both mixtapes. RIP DJ AM!