Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A brief thought on Style

“She said that the time had come to discard the system of balance of power among sovereign states established by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.”

-William Pfaff, in the article "Manifest Destiny: A New Direction for America"

The single and only true aim of Style in written English is to stimulate in the reader a narcotic euphoria which might cause them to overlook the great many prepositions one is using.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Timeless Raps

Oh lordy it is so sweet when a rapper raps sweet raps. Surely on this we can all agree. Be you a casual or serious fan of the genre, you know that there’s nothing quite like the first time you hear an MC utter a golden couplet or flawless quatrain, and the subsequent joy in knowing you’ll be able to recall and revisit those lines whenever you wish, for they are timeless. It is in honor of these feelings, and of the MC’s that engender them, that I am proud to cut the ribbon with my main man MKM on an M. K. Mulkeen / Kevin C collaborative serial: Timeless Raps. TYHIVN presents:


“Everbody talkin’ ‘bout pistols.
Gats is bo
Came with a new topic to flip you:
Vats of urine.


Born of the pleads that needs
the peeing geniuses.
Broads don’t see it since they don’t got these…


Rapper: MF Doom (a.k.a. Danger Doom), “Vats of Urine”, off the album The Mouse and the Mask

Grounds for entry: trail-blazing juke-outs


MF Doom is one of my top 5 favorite rappers. No wait, top 3. No other MC works so conversationally, like someone just asked him a question and he decided to hold a sort of informal clever lecture on the subject and run a beat under it. Indeed on most Doom tracks one can infer an unposed question that he’s engaging with. In this case, the question is “Doom, what do you think about the violence in contemporary hip-hop?” The thing is, he always ends up answering some other question that no one would ever think to ask. Here, that question is “Doom, to what end can and do men piss in beverage containers?” The result is a minute-long poetic meditation on vats of urine.

These lines are pure Doom. It is difficult, within the context and constraints of a hip-hop track, to justify rapping about pee—he pulls it off in 4 lines. The opening really is an open-palmed slap at the lazy, blubbery body of contemporary hip-hop and a deft, extraordinarily funny separation from that corpus at the same time. Also golden is the second collection of lines quoted here, where Doom uses a favorite trick of his: the skip-a-beat misdirection. He (or rather his DJ, Danger Mouse) disrupts the flow of the song and then, because of the context and rhyming clues he’s given, leaves the listener no choice but to mentally conjure the word “penises” in the painful absence of a beat. Doom, of course, opts for the euphemism “conveniences”, makin’ you feel all dirty and silly for having conjured not just the word “penis”, but its still-lewder plural. What a rapscallion he is!

Oh and also, Doom refers to women here as “broads”, which recalls a glorious lost era in American cultural history when men wore hats, and spoke out of the side of their mouths, and the rhetorical question “See?” was an acceptable way to end a declarative sentence or command.

Totally aware-like of history, yet forward-thinking.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Of Boxed-up Junk and Slow Jams

"Show me your wiener."
-N. Beck

I have neither a TV nor the internet in my apartment. My exposure to American culture is limited to the approximately 1 hour I spend browsing on the computer at work every day and to what my friends tell me. I was for sure one of the last chumps around to see this (please click on the "this").

So I have heard two criticisms of this video, namely that:

1.) It’s 10 years too late. Mr. Show did it first in the mid-90’s.
2.) It isn’t funny.

The first is valid, the second is codswallop. This video is hilarious, if not the first of its kind. I am so taken by it I’d venture to say that it’s even funnier than the Mr. Show original (though just by a hair), and you won’t find me shaking my aegis in favor of SNL over Mr. Show too often. Maybe it’s just the presence of a bona-fide R&B superstar in the SNL version that gives it the edge; I’m not above admitting that. Maybe it’s just the phrase “dick in a box”; I’ll admit that too. But what this video and its ancestor manage to be, beyond merely funny, and beyond jabs at silly white R&B artists, are brilliant critiques of a dark period in R&B music: the 1990’s. The 90’s were The Decade that the Sex Done Gone and Left R&B. Allow me to explain.

R&B has, historically, been uniquely equipped and willing to deal subtly (and not so subtly) with human eroticism. We have on the one hand the place of sex—even if simply suggested—in the bluesman’s laundry list of gripes (My car up and died, I got no money, my old woman don’t love me no more). We have sex as cleverly disguised metaphor (the singer, upon returning home from being a cad, exclaims “Wait a minute something’s wrong here / My key won’t unlock the door”). We have sex as thinly-veiled-and-sort-of-grotesque metaphor (“Squeeze my lemon till the juice runs down my leg”… who has an erect penis that in any way resembles a lemon?). We have also beats, grooves, and arrangements that lend themselves to titillating rhythmical movements of the body, to what my friend Grape terms the sexydance.

So what happened? Well, Prince happened. I’ll admit right now that Prince is my single favorite recording artist of all time. But what he did was drop the tropes and really, really, make sex a lyrically explicit element of R&B. For the love of Pete, the man wrote a song called “Head”. And “Soft and Wet”. And “Cream”. And “Pussy Control”. Jesus. In a way, this is thrilling. In a way, it is kind of shitty, because it unwittingly paved the way for R. Kelly. But Prince’s music, though straight-up regarding the scrumpin’, proudly retained the sweaty grooves and licentious funk of its R&B influences—in a word, his music was sexy, and his lyrics could kill your grandmother, to boot.

Then R. Kelly happened (R. Kelly will stand metonymically for all shitty R&B artists of the 90’s, but I think he’s the real culprit anyways). Like Prince, R. Kelly too sang openly about the old in-‘n-out—in far less entertaining ways—but unlike Prince, he sucked the sex right out the music. He was at the forefront of the New Jack movement, a regrettable but ultimately influential sub-genre of R&B characterized by steady, plodding 4/4 beats, lots of synthesizers, and aimless, noodling male harmonies. In short, he’s the godfather of all the bloodless R&B slowjams my generation danced, groped, and hoped to at school dances in the 90’s. Think R. Kelly’s “Feelin’ on Yo Booty”. Or “Sex Me” (both Part 1 and Part 2). Or “Honey Love”. It’s ostensibly about sex, indeed it screams the name of the rose right in your face, but it’s accompanied by music that sounds like it could have been randomly generated by a computer program with a few input parameters. It’s about as stale, unromantic, and not-sexy as it gets. You can’t just sing about sex and be sexy.

So when, in their respective music videos set to crappy music, David Cross from Mr. Show looks directly into the camera, puts on his best O-face, and croons “Ewww-ewww-eww” while his lover reams him, and Justin Timberlake proffers his hardened dick in a box over a romantic Christmas dinner with his date, what are we seeing? We’re seeing what are intended to be erotic performances spoiled by absurd over-sexing; we’re seeing foregrounded, cheap horniness with nothing to back it up. Little funny allegories for what happened to much of R&B in the 90’s.


Readers, if any of you has a penis that, when erect, resembles a lemon, please write in. I’m just curious if there’s anyone out there.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Slabs of Clinton Hill: A Photographic Essay

"I'm leanin' on a switch sittin' crooked in my slab, but I could still catch boppas if I drove a cab."

- Paul Wall, from Kanye West's
Drive Slow

‘Slab’ is a slang term applied to any full-sized luxury General Motors automobile predating 1980 - primarily Buicks, Oldsmobiles, and Cadillacs. It is an acronym that stands for “Slow Low And Bangin’”. Below you will find the slabs of Clinton Hill.

The Slab is a celebrated symbol of the dirty South as well as the low-ridin’ left coast (mainly Southern California), but low and behold, the Slab is also a staple of my Brooklyn neighborhood, Clinton Hill.

Slab is one of those really splendid kind of acronyms where the word formed by the collection of letters also very much achieves its own unique descriptive quality of the object in question. I am short on examples, now that I think about it. The San Francisco-based Theater Group, ACT (American Conservatory Theater) qualifies. The semi-esoteric baseball pitching statistic, WHIP (Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched) might qualify. I want to say Wu Tang’s ‘Cream’ (Cash Rules Everything Around Me), but I know that isn’t right. Laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) is probably something different entirely because the ‘Zherr’ sound of its second syllable is onomatopoeiatic. But so is the word ‘whip’ in its derivation, probably. But Slab is better than all of these. Maybe tied with Laser.

But I digress. Slabs can be candy-painted or outfitted with hydraulics to sink and rise in the back (the ‘switch’ to which Paul Wall refers toggles this low-riding action). Like any other car, they can also have rims. The Slabs pictured below have none of these luxury features.

Some brief notes on each Clinton Hill Slab:

Slab #1 – This orthographic projection gives one a real sense of the comical length of all Slabs. This is a two-door vehicle and yet it is parked in front of three houses. This slab also features a handsome drop-top.

Slab #2 – Given its general disrepair, some might say this automobile might be more aptly characterized as a ‘busted hooptie,’ rather than a Slab, which denotes some degree of care and upkeep. However, this is the only Slab here which is ‘riding on spokes’ as they say. Notice the spokes.

Slab #3 – This Slab is a fetching teal color, reminiscent less of a blue sky than a bottle of Alize. I hypothesize that this slab and slab #2 may share an owner given that they are often parked on the same block and both have blue masking tape holding the tail lights to the body of the car.

Slab #4 – This is the Golden Supreme Slab. The shapeliness of the front bumper is suggestive of a curly bracket, or a ‘brace’ as they are also sometimes called. You know the one – ‘}’ – it goes inside regular brackets, which goes inside parentheses. Granted, this car’s visual impact is greatly bolstered and offset by the back drop of gritty urban street art, not to mention a flattering angle, but that’s just the luck of the draw. The paint job is crazy gleamin’ and the body of the car obscures the top half of the back wheel leaving its long slabby contours intact. Golden Supreme Slab is the winner of the Clinton Hill Number One Slab Award. (This was a contest?)