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Has Jay-Z become Apple?

jay-z-and-Beyonce-using-their-Apple-Mac-LaptopsHas Jay-Z become Apple?

If he isn’t creating another Reasonable Doubt (iPod) or Blueprint (iPhone), he is failing. If he isn’t constantly innovating and setting the trend for the entire industry, he has lost it. Creating the best phones and tablets aren’t enough. Apple needs to create entirely new categories to be deemed successful.

Is that what we now expect of Jay-Z?

Apple hasn’t actually lost anything. They’ve done the seemingly impossible by creating new verticals numerous times within a decade – Mp3 players, smartphones and tablets. Even their side projects (Apple TVs) have become billion dollar businesses (both Best of Both Worlds albums went platinum). But because of their success, the expectations have been set to unreachable heights. An amazing accomplishment is no longer just an amazing accomplishment, but now it’s the benchmark. Fail to repeat and your brand is on the downturn.

You no longer wonder if a Jay-Z album is going to be good. You expect it to be good. The question instantly becomes “how great is this new album and where does it rank amongst his other releases”. He’s no longer competing against the competition. It’s against himself. Just like each new iPhone isn’t going up against other Samsungs, but rather the growth and adaptation of past iterations of the iPhone.

“How I’m supposed to win when they got me fighting ghosts?”

Apple posted a $9.5 billion dollar profit in Q213. That’s in one quarter. That’s on pace for a $40 billion dollar profit. And this is a quarter where no new hardware releases were introduced. That’s profit, not revenue. Revenue was over $43 billion. Their revenue is equal to any five Fortune 500 companies combined! They’re selling approximately 50 million iPhones per quarter – each valued at $550-850 each. Yet, the stock continues to drop almost as drastically as it ascended.

Why? Because people decide the price of the stock based on personal expectations., not the expectations that Apple sets. It isn’t about whether or not the company’s prodution is strong. It’s about if the company meets the expectations that the investors set, mostly based on past performance.

Welcome to Jay-Z’s inescapable hell.

This is an extremely difficult review to write. A decision has to be made on what I’m comparing this album against. Is this Jay-Z vs. the field or Jay-Z vs. Blueprint Jay-Z? Am I comparing this to what’s currently out now or against the rest of Jay’s discography? Is it possible to judge this album as a singular piece of work, ignoring the remarkable 17-year run that Jay has had? And is that even what I should be doing?

Mariano Rivera has converted 29 out of his 31 save opportunities, compiling a 1.89 ERA this season, good for 2nd in the American League and 3rd in all of baseball. Singularly, he’s having a great season. But in the context of his career – 19th season in the league, undisputed greatest closer of all-time, coming back after missing nearly a year due to injury and performing as good at 43 years old as he did ten years prior – it’s iconic. But when discussing his accomplishments this season, do we look at the singular season comparative to his peers or do we take into account the aforementioned?

That’s the quandary I’m having with Jay-Z’s Magna Carta… Holy Grail.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. This isn’t Reasonable Doubt, nor is it Blueprint. Just as the iPhone 5S probably won’t be the original iPhone or iPod. So if you want to rank this album against the rest of his discography, you can start there.

I personally find it impossible and also irresponsible to ignore his previous accomplishments when judging this album, so I won’t. However, I will say that most people who dislike this album probably do so because, subconsciously, they’re comparing it to what they’ve come to expect from Jay. Magna Carta compares favorably to pretty much every modern day release. It’s rare that you’ll find a more complete album in terms of lyrics, flow, song structure and production. If someone wants to say that Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is a better overall album? That’s fine. But realize that you’re comparing Magna Carta to some of the best releases in recent memory. And realize that Kendrick hasn’t released albums close to that caliber for 17 years, only one.

And that’s the point. Even if you “don’t like” MCHG, it’s most likely because of the standard you hold Jay-Z to. If you were to compare this to a recent Rick Ross or 2 Chainz album – or any other rapper who’s supposedly at the top right now – it would most likely come out on top. Or at least close.

I’ll get into rankings later, but I’ll state that this album is definitely in the top half of Hov’s discog. an astonishing feat for an artist in his 17th year. The shelf life of a hip-hop artist is exceptionally short, more-so than any other genre of music. There have been some incredible runs that have all been short-lived. There’s nobody on the planet that started out hotter than DMX or 50 Cent – both of which had a strong two or three album run before tailing off. Eminem and Nas are the only two who can claim any type of comparison (with Kanye creeping up), but neither run has been as successful or as sustained. On Blueprint 3, Jay had his two most successful singles in Empire State of Mind and Run This Town. To be able to generate this much excitement at this stage of his career is unheard of.

Jay is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Every time 50 Cent raps about the streets and being a gangster, it sounds so contrived and forced and the multi-millionaire (dozens of times over) is instantly lambasted for being phony. If Jay raps about what he’s doing now, he’s called out of touch. I’m not sure what a rapper should rap about, if not their current real life.

Plus, he’s already gone back and released an album after his reign of success – American Gangster – which conquered the topics of an up-and-coming, hungry, struggling hustler. I have no doubt he could write that type of album again, if he so chose. But it wouldn’t sound authentic. AG worked because he was speaking from the perspective of a fictional character, which just so happened to mimic his rise. He’ll never be able to be everything to everybody, and that’s obvious on this album.

“I was wearing platinum when all y’all thought it was silver ‘n’ shit…”

Having said that – I’ll address what I didn’t like on the album first. Jay is usually the one to start trends. He tells us what’s hot. He drops references in songs, then rappers and fans google them. Rappers like Rick Ross had never even heard of a Maybach until Jay started rapping about it. Suddenly, every rapper talks about driving one and Ross names his label after it. From throwback jerseys to button ups, Jay is always one step ahead of fans and other rappers.

Only on #MCHG, he’s not. He’s recycling the same things we’ve heard him rap about on Blueprint 3 and Watch the Throne. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard Jay mention “Basquiat”. Matter of fact, many of his references felt recycled.

On the title track, he talks about MC Hammer and Mike Tyson – again. The lines were cool, but he’s already said this to us. We’ve heard about him

And that’s where we get back into my original question. If Rick Ross or ASAP Rocky refers to these, we don’t think twice. Jay-Z is the one who originated these, so shouldn’t he be allowed to say them? Or are we holding him to a higher standard because we’ve come to expect him to constantly innovate.

But that’s the point. Ross, ASAP, Kanye, J. Cole, Macklemore, etc. have all mentioned Basquiat over the past couple of years. I expect Hova to bring us something new. But that might just be my expectation of Hov vs. Hov.

A comparison that I often here made is “Jay-Z now is like Jordan on the Wizards”. The thing that bothers me is, it’s meant to be an insult. Jordan came back after a three year hiatus and averaged nearly 23 points per game, while being on par with his career assists and rebounds, despite being nearly 40 years old following a long retirement. Yet, instead of looking at that as an accomplishment, it’s look at as a failure.

That’s because we weren’t comparing Jordan with other superstar basketball players. We were comparing Jordan vs. Jordan.

Magna Carta…Holy Grail is a very good album. It’s one of the better releases of the year. Want to give Born Sinner or Yeezus the nod? Go ahead. But, unless you’re a niche fan, there aren’t many other albums you’ll place ahead of it. Jay is Apple. He isn’t a niche anymore. He’s not the cool kid that nobody knows about. He’s trying to appeal to as many people as possible. And that isn’t easy. It’s actually impossible. The more people you try to reach, the further away from your niche you are forced to stray.

Jay-Z is 43 years old. He’s rich beyond belief. He’s a happily married father. He’s not going to create a Reasonable Doubt. Appeal to your niche and you’re labeled a failure. Appeal to the mainstream and you’re labeled a sellout. There are no wins at Jay-Z’s level. Not in urban music, anyway.

There are some great records on this album and the production is top notch throughout. I personally love the title track with Justin Timberlake. I think it will be a huge record. If you don’t like rap records with R&B hooks? Press skip. If you like music? You should enjoy this.

Picasso Baby is Jay-Z at his vintage best. It includes one of the simplest and complex rhymes on the album. I’ve seen numerous reviewers quote “fuck it, I want a trillion” as a way of saying Jay is out of touch. The depth in that line has gone mostly ignored. Yes, taken out of context, it sounds like an ignorant, braggadocios line that could be uttered by any number of simple rappers. But if you listen to the song, he talks about what he wanted when he was starting out, saying he wants to have sex on a bed with a million dollars. He then achieves that and expands on his goals, saying he wants a billion (which he’s halfway to). He then fast-forwards and says he wants a trillion. Basically, he’s saying that his aspirations will always push him to want more. And so far, he’s accomplished it. It’s a deep, complex line, set in a basic tone. Classic Jay-Z.

And yes, I’ve heard the beat that Adrian Young (Sirens) created that sound eerily similar. But if you know anything about music production, you’ll know that it isn’t about just creating a beat. It’s about creating a moment. Timbaland took a beat that nobody had ever heard and made it into something bigger. Adrian has gotten his credit, will get his money, and can hopefully turn this into a career.

I’m not going to analyze every song. There are plenty of reviews giving their opinions. But Tom Ford was a dope song. I loved the beat and the message. Great sound. The collaboration with Ross was really fun. Jay switched flows three times in that verse, which really highlighted the disparity between him and Ricky.

Oceans is apparently a two year old song (even though he referenced Magna Carta in the second verse), but it fits in perfectly. Unlike some reviewers, I had no problem with Frank’s hook. I thought it fit nicely. And the depth of the lyrics was classic Jay.

F.U.T.W. is inspirational and somewhere in America is going to sound amazing live. Crown is one of my least favorite songs, though it’s solid and I’m happy that the young 16 year old female producer Ebony “Wonda Gurl” Oshunrinde received her potentially life-changing placement.

The album is filled with solid, though not groundbreaking, Jay-Z songs. SomeWhereInAmerica, Heaven, the short, but concise Versus and Beach is Better – these are all really good Hov records. Part II is the first time we hear Jay and Bey collaborate on a true R&B record.

All good through the first 13 tracks. No skips. Solid to strong records. But then we get to BBC. The lyrics, the concept, the idea – all dope. But the beat kills it for me. I feel like I only like it because it’s Hova. Like, if this was anybody else’s song (see: Nas “Summer on Smash”), I’d hate it.

I wish I could like Jay-Z Blue, because I love the concept. And I love hearing him and Biggie trade bars. But I find myself constantly skipping this song. The idea was great, but the execution was poor. The “Mommie Dearest” intro was just weird. I liked that angle that he took, talking about the paranoia of not being a good father. But basing the chorus on if him and Beyonce was ever to split up just seemed forced and unnecessary. It was as if he was trying to force the concept.

La Familia is horrible. I have no idea who recommended that he A) record that song, then B) add it to the tracklist, but they should be fired/banished/killed. The Lil’ Wanye shot was weak (and nearly 24 months late) and the whole song was just corny. Beat was overproduced. Jay sounded like he was trying to be tough. Just didn’t buy the whole thing.

By the time I got to Nickles & Dimes, I was ready to restart the playlist. N&D isn’t actually a bad song. Lyrically, it’s really good. Solid production, as well. But after sitting through the last two? You just kinda want the album to be over. Maybe if this was a 14 track LP and Jay-Z Blue/La Familia were gone? It’b be a nice closer.

Anyway – 17 platinum albums and 13 number one albums later, Jay-Z is still creating great, relevant music. It’s unheard of to be creating music at this level this late in your hip-hop career. This album reminds me a lot of the Black Album. Similar lyrical content and production. Not quite as good, but similar. I also couldn’t care less is Samsung is sponsoring this. I care about the music. If Jay has found a new way to capitalize on corporate sponsorships in a period of weak consumer sales? Salute to him. I only care about the music.

I’d say this is a solid 3.75-4/5.

As an aside, here’s where I rank Jay-Z’s discography. Please leave your own thoughts in the comment section below:

Reasonable Doubt 1996 (10)
Blueprint 2001 (9.5)
American Gangster 2007 (8.75)
Hard Knock Life…Vol. 2 1998 (8.75)
Black Album 2003 (8.5)
Dynasty Roc La Familia 2000 (8)
Watch the Throne 2011 (8)
In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 2007 (7.75)
Magna Carta…Holy Grail 2013 (7.5)
MTV Unplugged 2001 (7)
Blueprint 3 2009 (6.75)
Best of Both Worlds 2002/Unfinished Business 2004 (6.75)
Vol. 3…The Life and Times of S. Carter 1999 (6.75)
Blueprint 2: The Gift & The Curse 2002 (6.25)
Streets is Watching Soundtrack (5.5)
Kingdom Come 2006 (5)
Collision Course 2004 (5)

Other articles that you might like:
Reasonable Doubt vs. Ready to Die
Watch the Throne Review: Hip-Hop’s Thriller?
Life is Good, but is it great?
Does Yeezus Pleezus?
Reasonable Doubt vs. Blueprint (Complex Rebuttal)

Follow me on twitter: @culturevi

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Does Yeezus Pleezus? Comparing the new West with the rest (album review).

Does Yeezus Pleezus? Comparing the New West with the Rest.
By Wil Loesel

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If you want to read my opinion of Yeezus, skip down a couple of pages to the bookmark that I leave you. But to put this album in proper perspective, I have to briefly re-examine his entire discography.

This album is the perfect direction to take an already-brilliant catalog. The thing that separates great in-the-moment artists from all-time greats are the ability to adapt and change. Nobody started off hotter than DMX and 50 Cent. Unfortunately for them, they kept trying to recreate the same singles and the same albums over and over again. Audiences grow. If we wanted to hear It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot, we could go listen to it.

That’s what keeps Jay-Z and Kanye West ahead of everyone else. They’re constantly trying something new, never trying to recapture past glory. “Niggaz want my old shit? Buy my old albums.” Artists grow. Fan grow. Jay-Z didn’t make the Blueprint 2 sound anything like Blueprint. He could’ve had an instant hit by following the same formula. Instead, he went in an entirely new direction. That’s what great artists do.

Kanye’s discography is among the greatest in hip-hop. On College Dropout, he expanded on that whole “soul” sound that he created on Blueprint. It was evident that he was still learning how to properly rap and record. You could hear punch-ins all throughout the album. The lyrics were clever, but raw. By including songs like Family Business and Jesus Walks, he was proving early that he didn’t care what was “cool” or accepted in the genre. He was going to do whatever he pleased.

Late Registration sounded like he was trying to silence any critic that had spoken a word after CD. His verses were insanely long in an attempt to prove that he was a good rapper. The music was overproduced because he was trying to show that he could orchestrate and incorporate instrumentation into the music and he wasn’t only a soul-sample producer. It led to an incredibly grandiose sound. And don’t get me wrong – it worked. Might even be my favorite Kanye album to date. But it was blatantly overdone.

Graduation was his most polished work. He finally found the perfect balance between clever lyrics, without the need for raps on raps on raps. His production incorporated a blend of soul sampling and instrumentation without ever being too much in either direction. He showed us the beauty in simplicity. It had hits, it had depth and it had direction. It was a near flawless album. Where could he possibly go from here?

Then his mother passed away and he created 808s & Heartbreak (read my review here). And yes, the majority of the songs were directed at his ex-fiancé who had recently left him. But if you listen to Pinocchio Story – or just listen to Kanye speak during any of his interviews – you’ll quickly realize that those songs were just displaced anger and sorry. His real sadness wasn’t his breakup, but the loss of his mother. Especially knowing that she was having cosmetic surgery in part because she lived in L.A., which was a direct result of his success. He had nothing else to prove after Graduation anyway (how can you improve on perfection?), so the timing was perfect. He learned how to use auto-tune and then sang his heart out. The production was groundbreaking and the melodies and lyrics were as introspective and sincere as any urban artist had ever recorded. Though it received a lot of initial hate from short-sighted fans, it ushered in an entirely new sound that is still prevalent in hip-hop five years later. Kanye’s lack of singing talent is what made the album so believable. It was ahead of his time and helped mark the first pivot point in Kanye’s career.

In the aftermath of Donda West’s passing, Kanye encountered a lot of personal strife – much of it brought upon himself. Perhaps his mother was the one who had balanced him out all those years. Either way, he went back into the studio feeling that the only way to win the public over again was to give them a brilliant album. He created G.O.O.D. Fridays, releasing new music – much of it unfinished – to the public for free. He went in an entirely new direction with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, flooding the album with guest appearances and instilling a much darker tone than Graduation. There were a lot of elements from Late Registration in MBDTF and the collaborations were wide reaching. He began pulling a vast array of writers and producers in to work on these records, which would become the trend. No longer would Kanye sit in a studio and come up with beats for his album. He would now pull in writers from all different genres and brainstorm. He became a conductor. It was no longer about his raps. It wasn’t even about rap. It was about creating a new sound, almost a new genre. It was all about art now. His short film helped distinguish this album from any other typical release. Runaway had a hundred and thirty minute outro (seemingly) of just the same music in repetition. Lost in the World had only twelve lines recited by Kanye. What he learned on Graduation (that lyrically, less can mean more), he perfected on 808s (despite the short verses, he still expressed some incredible ideas lyrically), which he then applied to back to his raps.

He then collaborated with his mentor Jay-Z to record Watch the Throne (read my review here). According to the story, his idea was to overproduce this and make the album sound “huge”. He was then talked into a more minimalist soundscape, which is important because it lays the foundation for his latest offering.

Skipping past the collective effort Cruel Summer (which had a few really good songs but was otherwise underwhelming and not worthy of a Kanye West release), we get to the sixth studio album and fifth solo offering of Mr. West’s career: Yeezus.

SKIP HERE TO READ YEEZUS REVIEW

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I wasn’t sure where Kanye would take things post-Graduation without repeating the same formula. Then 808s came. I wondered what would he could follow MBDTF up with for the same reasons. It was a near-perfect album that had such a distinct sound. Well, as great artists often do, Kanye decided to let great be great and try something different.

Yeezus could’ve been revolutionary. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great album. And it’s worthy of a prominent place in his discog. It’s the ideal progression. But it’s akin to a gorgeous girl who didn’t take the time to wash and trim her privates in a few days. This album contains songs that are amongst the most innovative of Ye’s career, as well as some that feel unfinished. I truly believe if he had taken a couple of extra months to really polish a few songs and spend more time on it lyrically, that this could’ve been an all-time great album. Yeezus is a steak that is too undercooked to be considered rare, but not prepared correctly to be steak tartare.

I know that Kanye wasn’t focusing on music, but instead, allowing the music to take center stage. And I’m on board with that. But the foundation that he laid out – the whole “anti-establishment” vibe – would’ve been better served with lyrics that actually provided credence to those claims. I love the sound of Yeezus. And the music makes me want to stand up and revolt – but the lyrics don’t. And that’s what holds the album back.

By the way, I think Kanye’s “no marketing strategy” marketing strategy is brilliant. He has people believing that it’s all about the music and he doesn’t care about sales, all while guaranteeing he’ll sell half a million first week in the process. He performed on SNL and has projected his music on buildings across the world for the past month. Not releasing a single was a calculated part of the plan. He is now the “anti-corporate” artist. His music rages against everything wrong with hip-hop. Brilliant marketing strategy.

The problem with the message and the music is the lack of substance. Black Skinhead and New Slaves touch on our pain points (as a great salesman would) and act revolutionary, but he’s not really addressing any issues. Most of it are self-absorbed problems that simply annoy him, with a few lines mixed in about broader topics. He’s not offering a way to change anything. These songs and this album are about him. He’s trying to continue the pro-black stance that he took on All Falls Down or Diamonds, but with a newer sounding backdrop and without being as wordy. Problem is, I don’t think he can ever go back to that. His issues aren’t with the poor black populace anymore – they’ve become rich people problems. He’s upset with the responsibilities that come with his celebrity status. That’s why I don’t believe he’s capable of keeping up the “New Slaves” topic for the full 4 minutes – because it’s not what he actually cares about anymore.

Moving past what could’ve been, let’s discuss what is. The production here is nothing short of amazing, for the most part. I Am A God and Black Skinhead get me all kinds of hype. I can play those songs back to back all day. Combined with On Sight, the album really starts off incredible. I was a bit disappointed once I moved past that to see that this sound is carried over throughout. The lyrics are much more polished on these songs too – as if he’s had months to get them right. They still hold the songs back from being Public Enemy-esque, but they’re great songs. Their energy  can’t be matched by anything Kanye’s ever done and can rarely be matched at all in hip-hop. They’re Stronger and Power on steroids.

The next section of the album is a pretty drastic change. We spoke about New Slaves, which has a great overall sound and solid (if not spectacular) lyrics. The beat reminds me a lot of Clique. I didn’t like Hold My Liquor on first listen, but my opinion has definitely changed. I like the idea of adding Chicago artists to the project. There was nothing overly deep or any incredible message conveyed, but it was a good song.

By the way – PLEASE listen to this album on a great sound system. It makes ALL the difference. Also, Kanye made some last minute improvements to the mix to the U.S. iTunes version of the album (and I believe he remastered it, as well), which didn’t have to be turned in until after the physical CD, since it wasn’t available for pre-order.

I’m glad that Hold My Liquor was kept on the album. It’s a good fee.l. It’s very reminiscent of Cruel Summer, especially since Kanye was barely on the song. I’m In It was fairly non-descript, to me. He talks a lot about sex, but the song isn’t sexy. He brings reggae back and I’m very curious to see how many rappers start using reggae in their hooks again. It was cool, but it could either be on the album or not and it wouldn’t really  make any difference to me.

Everyone on twitter was apparently going batshit over Blood On the Leaves. I just don’t see it. The sample is incredibly dope, but I don’t think that Kanye’s subject matter really matches at all. It’s a great idea that was poorly executed. It’s an example of one of the songs I think Kanye didn’t write lyrics to until the very last minute. He felt the music was so good that he could say anything. The auto-tune is excessive and sounds freestyled and with no real direction. This sample deserved better than a chorus about popping your first Molly and a bridge that talks about being down for his niggaz. This had the potential to be a top 10 Kanye song. It’s still good enough to be a good song, but it was full of possibilities. I enjoyed hearing him rap on it, finally, but it feels more like an unfinished reference track.

Guilt Trip is a slightly better version of I’m In It. It’s another one that could’ve either existed or not existed. It’s a cool track 13 on a 16 track album. Not sure I would include it on a “the ten best songs I’ve written” tracklist. Again, I think that rushing the album kept this and I’m In It on Yeezus. Having said that, it’s cool. I listen to it. We find more reggae influence, as well as an appearance by Kid Cudi. Nothing much to say about this song.

@Wale says I’m too old to go to clubs, so I can’t really tell you if Send It Up will knock. I can say that I like listening to it through my Behringer monitors while dancing in my house while drinking a Bud Light. I’ll have to ask @lowkeyuhtn if it’s cool or not. I have no thoughts on the King Louie feature except that I obviously would’ve preferred hearing Pusha or just about anybody else rap over that part of the song. But it was fine, helped build anticipation for Ye’s part. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album. Love the “park their ass outside til the evening ends” line.

That’s kinda my beef with the album, by the way. There aren’t enough lyrical “moments”. But anyways…

Bound 2 was dope. Sounded like Kanye just reminding us that he knows how far left he’s gone since his beginning and that he could still do it if he wanted to, he just has no desire to. Personally, I would’ve loved to have had some dirty ass drums come in over this record, but I know that wasn’t what Kanye was going for. It’s obviously a nod to Late Registration.

Basically, the album is still incredible – especially musically. The mainstream critics will see it just like that, too. That’s because they don’t understand how much better it could’ve been, had Kanye put as much effort into the lyrics – which he obviously (and rightfully) deem much less important. In reality, lyrics are only the third most important piece of a song, behind the music and the melody. Unfortunately, Kanye takes that too literal. Unlike most artists, he actually has the talent to weave incredible lyrics — recited in a non-complex, easy to understand manner — into his music, but chose not to. Songs like Blood sound like he just went in and freestyled or wrote something quick to fit without ever going back and tweaking anything or making adjustments. A great beat and great melody can make a song great. But adding great lyrics to that can make a song legendary. Kanye had the opportunity to make legendary songs on Yeezus, but instead, settled for simply great.

In all, it’s similar to 808s in the manner that I feel it’s a 4/5 rated album that had the potential to be a perfect 5. 808s was supposedly written and recorded in three weeks and Yeezus had four or five songs that still needed vocals on the final day that Kanye was available to record before turning the album in – and in both cases, it shows. This would’ve been a perfect album if he would’ve spent another two months on it and released it in August.

Lebron is talented enough to get away with putting in 75% effort and still score 30 – and that’s what we have here. #Yeezus

Please leave your thoughts on Yeezus below in the comment section.

Written by Wil Loesel
@culturevi

Beyonce & Ivy Blue

In Response to “Dear America, you’re too smart to listen to Beyonce”

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I came across this article the other day and it was so off-base, that I had to dust off my keyboard, recover my WordPress password, and write up a response.

Dear The Matt Walsh Blog:

You are a hypocrite.

Okay, maybe you’re not. You’re only a hypocrite if you:

  • Watch sports
  • Watch comedy sitcoms
  • Listen to Chris Rock
  • Watch fictional movies
  • Listen to gangster rap (any rap where they’re talking about violence)
  • Listen to male artists who talk about having sex (to put it lightly) with females
  • Play sports
  • Read magazines
  • Hang out with your friends
  • Go to the movies
  • Drink
  • Smoke
  • Eat anything unhealthy
  • Play video games
  • Read and/or post on music forums
  • Read about musicians
  • Almost anything else
  • Have sex without the intention of having children (though from reading your post, I doubt you ever experienced this)

All those things I listed are things that we do for fun. Things that don’t have any inherent value, that aren’t about learning, but are just about enjoying ourselves.

Because that’s what pop music is.

In case you didn’t understand the origins of the word: pop = popular.

In case that’s still too difficult for you to understand, then, Popularintended for or suited to the taste, understanding, or means of the general public rather than specialists or intellectuals.

Let’s table that definition for a minute.

Why do certain fans hail music as some holy grail that we should only listen to if it has some deep meaning? That if we listen to anything “simple”, that we’re sheep? When did music become Biology class to some?

When you’re at home on Sundays watching the Patriots and the Broncos – what amazingly deep value is that bringing you? What are you learning? Would you like somebody in your ear saying “he’s just sheep, watching that nonsense. He should be watching a political debate or a documentary”? Or when you’re hanging out with your friends. You’re just talking about nonsense. You’re not learning, you’re not teaching. If you eat a candy bar, is someone in your ear saying “that isn’t making you healthy!”. No. Sometimes, we just do things to enjoy them.

When I’m on my way home from a long day of work and i get in my car, I turn on the radio so I can listen to music and just RELAX. I don’t always want to think. Personally? I love listening to Common, Lupe, Ab Soul, Nas, etc. I enjoy that type of music. SOMETIMES. But other times? I like listening to to something catchy. Something about partying, or the weekend, or about sex. I just want to sing along to something catchy.

Pop music has been “simple” since the dawn of time. The Beatles weren’t solving poverty or discussing the benefits of using alternative energy. Matter of fact, let’s explore the genius behind “She Loves Me”, arguably the Beatles most popular song of all time:

She says she loves you
And you know that can’t be bad
Yes, she loves you
And you know you should be glad, ooh!

She loves you, yeah yeah yeah
She loves you, yeah yeah yeah
With a love like that
You know you should be glad

It’s safe to assume that Columbia University won’t be offering a class to analyze those lyrics anytime soon.

People who want to study lyrics – that’s a very specific niche. Just like documentaries and politics are a niche. Now, let’s circle back up to the definition of pop music.

Popular: intended for or suited to the taste, understanding, or means of the general public rather than specialists or intellectuals.

So, basically your argument is that pop music shouldn’t exist. That niches should be popular. Obviously, that’s a contra-statement. The general public has always enjoyed simple, easy to understand music, because the general public doesn’t consider music a classroom. Your entire article is devoid of value, if you ask me.

By the way, I noticed everyone you mentioned was a female. Beyonce, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus…where’s your post to all the male rappers and singers who talk about all of their sexual endeavors? Why aren’t you outraged by that? Or is it because it’s cool for a guy to talk about how much sex he has. That makes him ‘da man’. But a woman talking about sex? That’s just trashy. Or, what words did you use? Degrading and offensive. Right, because we all know it’s degrading if a woman has sex. Did you originally write this post in the 1950s and forgot to post it until now?

Stop acting fake-smart by mocking people who don’t listen to music that you deem intelligent. It doesn’t make them sheep anymore than you’re sheep for all the non-learning things you do. Music is an avenue to express whatever you want. There is enough music for you to be able to find something that specifically addresses what you value most. Don’t write a post telling people what they should or shouldn’t listen to. To borrow from RYLNYC on the Boxden forums, “it’s the equivalent of coming up to someone, smacking their food off the table and telling them to get something that tastes better… just cause you think you know better.”

And by the way, “Song of Solomon” is a horrible song, regardless of whatever genre of music you listen to.

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Why I feel Jay-Z’s “Black Album” is only his 5th best.

Let me start by admitting right off the bat that my opinion may be wrong. Earlier today, I released my Magna Carta…Holy Grail review and included my ranking of Jay’s albums. I’ve gotten almost as much feedback on the ranking as I have on the review! I’m definitely biased and skewed when it comes to ranking the Black Album. I know that music is subjective, but BA is widely considered no worse than his 3rd best album. I ranked it fifth, and I’ll explain why.

12 Songs. 12 Producers.

The Black Album. Originally Biggie’s idea. Release an album with no promotion. No announced release date. No radio single. No cover – just black. A very novel concept. Jay wanted to do the same. Jay, being the businessman that he is, realized that wasn’t the most financially prudent thing to do. So he scrapped that idea.

What he decided, however, was that the album would be a prelude to Reasonable Doubt. The records would represent the time leading up to the recording his first album. His last song, My First Song, would be the events leading up to him writing his first real record. It would be the perfect way to close his career. Something that’s never been done before. A complete concept album. Reliving his days as a hustler struggling to become a rapper. Brilliant.

(Sidenote: I’m fairly confident that this idea eventually ended up being the groundwork of American Gangster.)

Unfortunately, he later decided that he couldn’t ignore everything going on in his present life and if this was going to be his last ever foray on wax, that he had to share his current life with the world. I get it. The last album I recorded as an artist, “ninety-four”, was originally supposed to be a concept record, too. It was supposed to only reference things that had taken place in or before that year. I wouldn’t use any slang from before that era. A close friend of mine DJ Cinema collects Source Magazines and gave me the entire year’s worth so I could get the facts and slang right. I ended up scrapping that idea and touching on topics that were current in my life as well, including my family and career.

Just because I understand his reasoning doesn’t mean it isn’t disappointing.

So, his final concept was “12 Songs. 12 Producers” (see the add above). Jay was planning on doing one record with each of his favorite producers. Premo, Just Blaze, Kanye, Dr. Dre, etc. One record each to truly capture his career. The list of producers was used in the ad and promoted in magazines and we were all excited.

That idea was eventually scrapped as well.

So, for me, the album was met with a touch of disappointment right off the bat. Justify My Thug – a hook and beat which I hate – was originally supposed to feature Madonna crooning her vocals. Apparently, the album was due to be turned in on a Friday and she couldn’t make it to the studio until Monday, so that idea was compromised, too. Another let-down.

Albums often go through many different iterations. Watch the Throne supposedly went through three. I’m not mad, but it’s impossible not to be disappointed at what could’ve been. The album still turned out great. One of Jay’s best. It reminds me a lot of Nas’ “I Am…Nastradamus”. The album leaked over a month early. It originally featured much of what made “Lost Tapes” great – songs such as Blaze a 50, Fetus and Poppa Was a Playa. Combined with NY State of Mind and Project Windows, Nas had an all-time great album on his hand. After it leaked, Sony decided to scrap a majority of the project and have Nas record new records – all within a few weeks. Thus, we ended up with songs like K-I-S-S-I-N-G instead. Instead of a double album, Sony decided to release two albums in an eight month span. They wanted to include those cut songs on the second album, Nastradamus, but Nas wanted to record an entirely new album within that short window (thank you ***).

The point of that story was, I Am… still turned out to be a pretty good album. But when you compare it to what it could’ve and should’ve been? It’s difficult not to be disappointed. Fair or not.

So yea, Black Album is a really dope album. But I don’t look at it in the same vein as some. It had its bright moments and its warts. It was very close to the Hard Knock Life album. Black Album was newer and had a ton of hype, so I think we tend to let that cloud our view.

Let me give credit. VERY rarely does an artist (or the media) hype something up and then release something that actually lives up to the hype. Classic albums, great albums, they usually sneak up on you. Last year, Wale proclaimed that his Ambition album would be better than Reasonable Doubt. That creates an almost impossible standard to live up to. Blueprint snuck up on us. Reasonable Doubt snuck up on us. On the Black Album, Jay created all the hype around his retirement and then released an album that lived up to it. That deserves a tremendous kudos.

I don’t know how much of the acclaim belongs to the event that Jay created. His retirement from the industry, his Madison Square Garden concert (first rapper to headline MSG in 20 years, sold out inside of a minute and no opening acts), the release of his S. Carter Reeboks on the same day as the album, which was released on the biggest shopping day of the year (Black Friday). Jay is great at creating events (Kingdom Come debuting in a Budweiser commercial, Magna Carta’s Samsung partnership, etc.). I think people looked at this album as a celebration of his career and nobody wanted to say a negative word about it. We wanted to send him off as a conquering hero. Whereas his Vol. 2 album snuck up on us and received its praise simply for being a great album.

PSA, Moment of Clarity, 99 Problems and Encore are all-time great Jay records. December 4th, Lucifer, Allure, What More Can I Say were all amazing songs. My 1st Song – tho it didn’t stick to the concept – turned out to be terrific as well. The 9th Wonder produced Threat helped catapult 9th’s career to a star-type level. Change Clothes and Dirt Off Your Shoulder weren’t the greatest Jay singles ever, but they did their job. Justify was really the album’s only misstep. As I type this, I start to wonder if I rated this album too low on the list. It really is impressive.

I don’t think there is much of a gap between this and his other top albums, but I think it rates just a bit lower. It lacked the innovation of American Gangster. Jay is so often lambasted for being too rich and talking about it. Well, he created an entire album from the perspective of someone who’s still on the bottom. It was genius, to me. I’ve never seen an artist go back to his roots and actually sound authentic after achieving success.

And Vol. II is so underrated to me. Yes, it had a lot of songs that were on the radio, but that album was the epitome of innovation, to me. The beats were incredible. Money, Cash, Hoes – there hadn’t even been anything like that before. And the Annie sample on Hard Knock Life?? These songs literally changed the hip-hop landscape. Nigga What was so futuristic and featured Jay with an unmatched quick flow that he hadn’t displayed since he abandoned it prior to Reasonable Doubt. A Week Ago is among Jay’s best ever storytelling records and Reservoir Dogs is among his best ever collaborations. He had an endless stream of hits and on that album. It literally catapulted him into superstardom.

There’s a good chance that I’m wrong about this and am ranking it based on emotion, and that’s fine. If I just listen to the album song for song? Maybe I feel different. But music is emotion. I wanted to explain my thinking in response to the tweets I’ve been getting throughout the day. A great album, Jay’s fifth best, in my opinion, and better than the best album of 98% of any other hip-hop artist’s catalog.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments before.

Imagez

Follow me on twitter: @CultureVI

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The 808s & Heartbreak Review that OkayPlayer.com Deemed “not in the best interests of hip-hop”

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This was the moment I stopped partnering with other websites and started writing for myself.

PS – 5 years later, 808s is considered one of the most influential hip-hop albums of its era.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Gi*** S*** ‪<Gi***@okayplayer.com>
Date: Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 4:44 PM
Subject: Re: kanye

To: Culture VI Records <culturevi@gmail.com>

It was a very well-written piece and we would love for you to continue writing for our site. Unfortunately, we don’t view this album as a positive reflection of hip-hop. It is seen to us more as a gimmick and a weak attempt at quick sales and has no place in our genre. You called it important in hip-hop, but we couldn’t feel more opposite. Hip-hop will never embrace this type of attempt.

We are disappointed that you feel differently, but respect your opinion. I think you are a little too close to this album, perhaps because of your mother’s passing. We will not be posting this on our site. We don’t feel it’s in the best interest of hip-hop. I hope you understand.

Vi*** S***
The Roots and Okayplayer
84 Wooster St. Suite 503
NY, NY 10012
917.207.64**
www.okayplayer.com

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Culture VI ‪<culturevi@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Dec 4, 2008 at 4:34 PM
Subject: Is Everything Okay?
To: Gi*** S*** gi***@okayplayer.com

Haven’t heard from you in almost two weeks. The feature I sent you on Kanye is wasted obviously because the album has been out for a week already and by now there are hundreds of reviews. The major sites already published their piece. I wish you would have told me earlier so I could’ve used it on hiphopgame.com rapmusic.com or artofrhyme.com (all of which asked me for a review, which I denied, and have since published their own). Last we spoke, you said you were very interested, but just needed to finish reading it.

I’m hoping everything is okay with you. I’ve enjoyed working with OkayPlayer.com, which is a site I respect more than any other. But the lack of communication, especially as you knew I was waiting on an answer from you, was extremely disheartening. I put a lot of effort into writing that piece. If you weren’t interested, that was fine. But now it feels like time wasted.

I’ll take your silence as a sign that there is no place for me at OKP at the current time. If things should change, or if there’s anything you need from me in the future, please do not hesitate to ask. I am still a supporter of OKP, just with a little less passion than I once had.

All the Best,
Wil

Wil Loesel
CEO/Founder
Culture VI Records, Inc.
CultureVI.com

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Gi*** S*** ‪<Gi***@okayplayer.com>
Date: Thu, Nov 20, 2008 at 2:02 PM
Subject: Re: kanye
To: Culture VI Records <culturevi@gmail.com>

Wil I am interested- let me just finish reading it and I’ll get back at you

Vi*** S***
The Roots and Okayplayer
84 Wooster St. Suite 503
NY, NY 10012
917.207.64**
www.okayplayer.com

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Culture VI ‪<culturevi@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, Nov 20, 2008 at 2:00 PM
Subject: kanye?
To: Gi*** S*** <gi***@okayplayer.com>

hey ginny – just wanted to follow up on the kanye review i submitted. wanted to get your thoughts. if you’re not interested, please let me know soon. i’d like to post it on artofrhyme or rapmusic before the album drops and thousands of reviews are on the web.

obviously if you’re interested, i will keep it exclusive for OKP.

thanks,
wil

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: Culture VI Records ‪<culturevi@gmail.com>
Date: Tue, Nov 18, 2008 at 11:34 PM
Subject: Kanye West: 808s & Heartbreak Review
To: Gi*** S*** gi***@okayplayer.com

Hey Ginny – I still have a bit of editing to do on it, but I figured I would shoot the almost-finished product your way to get your feedback. I would love to hear your thoughts and welcome any criticism you might have.

If you think you would like to use the piece for OKP, please let me know and I will finish it off later today. If you don’t think it will fit the site, just let me know and I’ll have it posted elsewhere.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks!!
Wil


808’s & Heartbreak – Kanye West
Review by Wil Loesel for Culture VI

Let me preface this review by saying that I am reviewing the official album; not the pasted together Mp3’s and radio rips that are floating around online. Kanye spends an exorbitant amount of time mixing and mastering, so I feel it is only right that I review the project the way he intended. It’s disgraceful to me that so many sites are doing half-assed reviews so they can be first instead being accurate. 

Two years ago, my mother lost an eight-month battle with cancer, twenty-three days shy of her 50th birthday. I bring this up because only people who have lost a parent can understand the extreme emotion and depression that can set in; the loneliness that a person feels. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing wife, which is the number one reason why I am even here today to write this review. So I can understand the emotions that Kanye is struggling with. His music speaks to me. Add the fact that he lost his fiancé, a woman he has been with for 6 years (that’s 42 in celebrity years), and the result is…well…808’s & Heartbreak.

You can hear regret in almost every song on the album. Kanye West sounds like a man who spent his entire life chasing something, only to realize that all he ever really needed right there in front of him the whole time – only now, it’s too late. The man who ‘regular people’ are jealous of is now jealous of regular people. Take the lyrics on the album’s opening track “Welcome to Heartbreak”:

My friend showed me pictures of his kids
And all I could show him was pictures of my cribs
He said his daughter got a brand new report card
And all I got is a brand new sports car

Dad cracked a joke, all the kids laughed
But I couldn’t hear him all the way in first class
Chased the good life my whole life long
Looked back on my life and my life’s gone
Where did I go wrong?

My God sister getting married by the lake
But I couldn’t figure out who I wanna take
Bad enough that I showed up late
I had to leave before they even cut the cake
Welcome to Heartbreak

And my head keeps spinnin’
I can’t stop having these visions
I gotta keep winnin’

It sounds like the joke’s on him. Yes, he achieved financial and commercial success, but at what cost? If he never would’ve become famous, would his mother still be alive today? Did he unknowingly sell his soul to the devil? His lyrics, though in much less abundance than any typical rap song, are as poignant as they’ve ever been. He has become more a poet than a rapper. His tremendous ear for creating melodies cannot be overlooked either. He is a songwriter now, and he may never again go back.

There are plenty of closed-minded individuals who don’t really listen to music, they just hear what they’re force-fed by the media outlets. There are also people who as simple-minded as to think the Beatles suck and that music does not exist outside of rap. This album isn’t for them. Even people who are open to new ideas may not embrace this new direction, but I challenge you to at least listen to what is being expressed.

The album has a decidedly dark tone, with the exception of Paranoid, which uses 80’s synths as the backdrop to the most cross-over track on 808’s. It’s a welcome break from an otherwise gloomy mood.  Songs like Streetlights fully display Kanye’s songwriting ability. He uses a cab ride through the city as a metaphor for life. He gets into a cab and rides around, gazing at the streetlights as he passes them. But those lights represent moments in his life that have passed him by. Memories. He can see them clearly, but he is no longer there. Beautiful lights which he can see, but not touch. Amazingly written and produced.

All the streetlights glowing
Happen to be just like moments passing
In front of me

Amazing is another standout track, though not as deep or metaphorical as some of the other cuts. Basically, he’s just talking about the success as a musician he’s achieved. It’s the decision to have such a depressing beat as the background to a song titled “Amazing” that gets me the most.  Hearing him recite the words “it’s amazing” in such a dismal voice makes it seem purposely ironic and/or sarcastic. He and Jeezy have developed a great chemistry.

I’m exhausted of grieving

Say You Will has a mesmerizing beat. Good thing too, because the instrumental plays for the last three minutes or so of the song. The song is about broken promises and is best heard if you close your eyes and let the song lead you. I’ll skip past Heartless and Love Lockdown, the album’s two lead singles (Heartless being my favorite), only because I have to imagine that almost anybody reading this review as heard those tracks a thousand times already. Robocop is my least favorite cut on the disc, even with the improvements by Herbie Hancock. He has at least made the track listenable to me by adding some great strings. Still, the song doesn’t move me and is the only skippable title on the album.

My favorite part of the album is when Bad News plays. The drums and piano are Kanye at his absolute best. You have to hear this song in high quality in a good system to truly appreciate it. The leaked version doesn’t do it justice. I don’t read the gossip mags, so I don’t know much about Kanye and designer Alexis Phifer’s breakup, but from the sounds of it, she broke up with West and almost immediately had someone there to replace him. He seems to feel that she knew the direction the relationship was headed for quite some time, as it was old new to her. So following the breakup, she was already ready to move on with a new boyfriend and new direction, but to Kanye, he was just learning of all this. The lyrics drop out for a while on this track too as the strings pick up and fill in the void left by West’s absence. This is a subtle reminder that his voice is nothing more than another instrument on the track, which is why he is so damned good. The strings are so dramatic in this song that it’s easy to forget you’re just listening to a song and not watching a movie. By this part of album, by the way, I don’t even realize that Kanye is using the auto-tune anymore. It just sounds so natural with his voice that I forget he hasn’t been using it his entire career.

What haven’t I covered? Oh, the collaboration with Lil’ Wayne. The song itself isn’t bad, but I can’t stand the whole “T-Wayne” thing. Kanye uses auto-tune for a reason. Lil’ Wayne is just an idiot. I’m sorry, I’m being biased with this part of the album, but I think Wayne sounds like an old, creepy, perverted uncle. He ruins the song for me. My apologies to the editors and readers of OkayPlayer, but I can’t justify him being on this song. I literally shut the song off when I heard him say the line: You think your shit don’t stink, but you are Misses P.U.

Anyway, the album closes out with Coldest Winter, which is one of the strongest tracks on the album. Though I’m not crazy about the snare roll that sounds more like static than anything musical, the song itself has so much emotion. The first ten songs were written about his ex, but this one is about his mother. The hair on my arms stands up when I heard this song for the first time in high quality. His vocals are so powerful. I thought calling his mother his “friend” when saying goodbye was brilliant. The drums are incredibly powerful in this song, even though the track has an overall open feel.

He is a tremendous songwriter and this album proves it. Experimenting is one thing. He deserves applause for stepping out of his comfort zone and trying something bold and new, which is rare in today’s cut & paste brand of music. But successfully executing a new type of music is the true accomplishment. I’m certain there will be people that see this the opposite as I do and give this album an extremely horrible review – and I couldn’t fault them. In this case, the beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. I am probably prejudiced based on my similar life experience, but I’m not the type of person to praise anything an artist does, even if I am a fan (which in this case, I am). I’m always looking to be objective on an artist’s work. But in this case, I really believe Kanye has reached new heights and I feel that other artists will look to duplicate the trend that he’s setting. This will end up being an important album in hip-hop.

Having said that, I do hope that Mr. West’s next album, which he is said to be releasing in June, will incorporate more rap. But this was a really good listen and I hope that others have the creative flexibility to judge the album based on the music and not by the cover of the book (or in this case, the funny little hands around the heart on the album cover).

Overall Rating:
90

Be Accountable

Accountability

Be Accountable

I wanted to share with you the single, most important trait I’ve acquired in my life: accountability. The moment I accepted the fact that I’m the only person responsible for me was the moment I began to consider myself successful. It took me years before I finally learned to hold myself accountable, but it’s been the greatest lesson I’ve learned.

We often assume the way we see things is the way they really are.

Our society is very quick to place blame, because that’s what’s easiest. We blame other people in our lives, blame people in power. “I haven’t gotten promoted because my boss doesn’t know what he’s doing.” “The government hasn’t done enough to end racism.” We rarely look at ourselves to see how we may have contributed to these situations, which is the only part that we actually can control. We see one side of the coin and treat that as the end-all, be-all. We don’t take the time to consider other perspectives. Other possibilities.

Just because we’re sure we aren’t wrong doesn’t mean we’re right. It’s so simple and takes no effort to point out what other people should’ve done to improve a situation. Don’t debate a point unless you truly understand both sides of the argument. Great leaders understand their opponent’s side. That’s how they can make informed decisions. Understand your opponent and you can better emerge victorious against him.

Opportunities often come disguised as obstacles.

You may have a boss you don’t like. Maybe you feel he’s incompetent or he favors other employees. Maybe you feel he’s the reason you haven’t made it further in your career. Your boss is the obstacle. You can either use this as an opportunity or an excuse.

If you decide to not work as hard because it isn’t worth it? Because you want to prove a point to him? You’re simply using him as an excuse to not put forth full effort. It’s an excuse to be lazy. If you decide to that you aren’t going to advance in your current position because of him, so you stay and complain about your situation? You’re using him as an excuse to accept failure.

Instead, you could turn this into an opportunity. First, you need to be reflective and take an honest look at why your boss “doesn’t like you”. A major part of your boss’ success is directly tied to you and your coworkers’ performance. Managers tend to gravitate towards their best employees because those are the ones who offer them the best chance for success. Favoritism is not only common, but basically a prerequisite of top leaders. Is there something you could be doing differently to increase his or her perception of you? Could you be doing something to make yourself more valuable?

You can’t control the outcome, only the effort. 

It’s why I’ve never worried about cheating in a relationship. I can’t control what my wife does when I’m not around. What I can control is how I treat her when I’m with her. If I can be a good enough husband, I’m confident that she wouldn’t ever have to look anywhere else. If she does? Then I wasn’t the right person for her to begin with.

Instead, people waste time worrying about what their partner is doing. Trying to control them. In the process, they aren’t maximizing the time that they do have together – which is exactly the type of thing that could drive him or her away in the first place. It makes no sense when you think about it, yet we do it all the time.

My philosophy is – enjoy every moment that you have with someone. You never know when it might be your last, for any number of reasons. If my wife told me tomorrow that she was moving on? I’d be devastated. But I wouldn’t have any regrets because I’ve had the best 12 years of my life and I know I did everything I could and it just wasn’t enough. I maximized our time together. I put in the effort. That’s all I could do.

It’s the same in my career. I put forth maximum effort in everything I do. I was recently impacted negatively during a restructuring, causing me to be out of work. However, I have no regrets because I know I gave everything I could. I controlled the effort, the outcome was out of my hands. That’s the key to living a life without regret. And in the long term? I’m confident that my efforts have made enough of an impact on those I worked with that I won’t stay unemployed for long.

Circumstance helps determines if someone will become successful. You can’t control chance occurrences. See, I don’t believe in luck. I do believe that we all have circumstances that occur in our life and “luck” is simply being prepared and taking advantage of the opportunity when they happen. Luck is executing opportunities.

Point the blame on yourself

We all complain about music. We blame the labels and radio for hip-hop not being lyrical. Then, when Common and Nas drop lyrical, musical projects? Nobody buys them. Programming Directors at radio stations aren’t listening to new music trying to decide what the next trend will be. We determine what is popular. Radio stations are just advertising companies. The content is irrelevant to them. They play what will draw the largest audience so they can charge more for advertising. Radio didn’t ruin hip-hop – fans ruined hip-hop. Record labels only put money behind what consumers will buy. Radio plays what we will listen to. Every fan has the ability to change what type of music is supported. If a million people buy Lil’ Wayne and 100K buy Nas, the labels and radio are going to play more Lil’ Wayne.

So we can either complain and point fingers and find big corporate monsters to blame, or we can focus on what we can control. We can each start by buying albums and merchandise from artists we enjoy. We can attend concerts. We can support artists on websites and call into radio stations.

Or – we can just enjoy our music and not worry about who the radio plays. Because, at the end of the day, there is plenty of great, lyrical hip-hop to listen to – it just isn’t as popular. There’s Skyzoo, Sha Stimuli, Honors English, etc. We just want it to be popular so we can say we were right. It’s all pride and ego. Stop pointing fingers, because it’s a waste of time. Be glad we live in an era where we can hold 20,000 songs in our phone and access millions more via internet streaming.

Same with this blog. I get so many tweets from people who enjoy my writing. Well, the articles are free, but you can invest time. Help me grow my audience and it’ll lead to more content. Entertainment is doesn’t cost money these days. Blogs, music downloads, YouTube – we’re spoiled. We think because it doesn’t cost money, that it’s free. No. The investment you  must make now is in time. 

If you enjoy blogs like mine, support them/us! Leave comments and rate (which helps raise the rankings in google searches), RT the articles on twitter (multiple times, if you can). Same with independent artists. Comment and stream their music from every available website. You can’t put in minimal effort and then complain when there isn’t more of what you enjoy available. Support and invest in those who create what you enjoy.

Remember, opportunity often comes disguised as an obstacle.

Everybody has their own unique set of circumstances and challenges.

We often use obstacles as crutches. Race, for example, explains why we haven’t it further in life. I’m sorry, but everybody is born with their own set of challenges. For some, it’s race. For some, it’s financial. Some are born into poor neighborhoods and some have abusive parents. What it all comes down to is – your challenges are merely excuses and crutches. We’re blessed to live in a world where we all have the opportunity to overcome these. Major companies are filled with minority CEOs. Is it more difficult? Yes. Are there less minorities in key corporate positions? Yes. But the opportunity is there. There are people who haven’t had the opportunity to go to college. Some whose parents sexually abused them as children. There are all sorts of obstacles that make attaining success challenging. But that’s why it’s success. It isn’t supposed to be easily attainable.

Don’t combat racism with more racism. Don’t use economic challenges as an excuse to sacrifice integrity to gain money. That only grows the problem. Solutions are often long, slow processes that the people who initiate the change don’t get to enjoy the results of. We initiate change for those who come after us.

Stop worrying about why you haven’t been able to do something and focus simply on how to achieve it.

Perception is reality.

Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. Good employees don’t usually have rumors spreading around them. They aren’t the subject of gossip. They don’t have to explain why they’re late because being late isn’t a habit. If two times a week, you’re explaining that the train was delayed or there was traffic, the problem is you. Because, truth is, 90% of the people at your office manage to make it in on time, and they all have travel challenges. If your train is delayed two times a week, you need to be proactive and plan for that. Either leave earlier or find an alternate route. The responsibility is yours. If you’re an employee who is almost never late, I promise – you won’t have to explain yourself to your boss on those rare occasions that something out of the ordinary happened.

Ask yourself why a company would hire someone who’s so blatantly incompetent. If your boss is really that bad, it means that his or her boss has terrible judgement. And someone hired that person. So how far up the chain does this go? At some point, do you ever think that maybe every upper level executive in the company doesn’t have poor judgment? That maybe the problem isn’t them, but you?

And even if the problem is his incompetence – that is something that is out of your control. The focus needs to be on how you can make the most of this opportunity and turn the negative into a positive.

I will not lose. Cus even if I do? It’s a valuable lessoned learned, so it evens it out for me.

For instance, you can try and win over a boss. You can learn the things that you don’t want to do when you’re in his or her position. In many ways, I’ve learned more from the bosses that I didn’t have confidence in than I did the ones I admired.

Musicians often do this. They find every reason in the world to blame for them not being successful. Labels don’t sign “real” music. “Fans in (insert hometown) don’t support local artists.” In the internet age, there is no reason for not building a buzz other than you. Anyone with internet access can reach the world. There have been far too many success stories to blame anyone else for you not becoming successful.

And that’s exactly how life is. If you get fired from a job, it doesn’t much matter why. The only reason that “why” is important is so you can learn what you need to improve. But it won’t change the result – that you no longer have your job. Every time something goes wrong, try and objectively look at it and decide what you could’ve done differently to change the outcome. Then, even the negatives become positives.

That’s the lesson here. The excuses? They don’t matter. You’re the only one who controls your life. When things happen in life – the Trayvon Martin shooting – or anything else – complaining about what other people need to do is a waste of time. What you can do, however, is focus on the little things that you can do to improve.

What matters most in life is not what happens to us, but how we react to what happens.

Using work as an example again, you can’t control if you have a difficult boss or colleague. What you can control, however, is how you react to the situation. The reaction is what will ultimately determine your life’s path. But how you react to minor events, the every day annoyances, completely shapes how you’ll react when real life obstacles are in front of you. If you react poorly to discouraging situation at work, it’ll inevitably lead to poor results.

It is in the ordinary events of every day that we develop our proactive skills. It is in the little things that we show our true character traits. Our response to the little irritations in life will also affect responses to disasters.

I’d love to read your comments below.

OTHER ARTICLES YOU MIGHT ENJOY:

Will You Still Care About Troy Davis Next Week?
Troy Davis: Seriously People?
I used to rhyme like Common Sense (be the change)

DHouse

Welcome to D12’s House – Slaughterhouse Review

Forget everything you thought you knew about Slaughterhouse.

Done? Cool. Now, forget everything Slaughterhouse told you to expect from Slaughterhouse. You know, about how they were gonna “bring lyrics back”.  How they were gonna do it their way.

They didn’t. They did it Eminem’s way. We have the reincarnation of D-12. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (in terms of sales).

First off, the bringing lyrics back mantra is ridiculous. There is no lack of lyrics in hip-hop today. Matter of fact, there are plenty of rappers releasing projects that are much more lyrically potent than SH. Skyzoo, Honors English, Lupe Fiasco, Sha Stimuli – the substance in their music makes SH’s “rapping about rapping” seem….well, silly, at times. Not because there isn’t an audience for “look at how good I rap” rap, but because they position themselves as the champions of the underground who are here to do what no other artists have dared to do – be successful their way while utilizing lyrics. And that’s just not what this album is.

WTOH is going to alienate some fans, specifically their core fan base. They decided to take a stab at mainstream success, and I can’t blame them, I just didn’t expect it to be this blatant.

I might feel differently about this album if it was the collective’s first project and I had no expectations about their direction. But Slaughterhouse has released – based on my unofficial count – 49 albums/mixtapes/EPs between them, spanning more than a decade. And while I support growth, this feels like a completely different group. It feels like Eminem wanted to continue the moderate success he had with D12 instead of building something new with Slaughterhouse. The entire thing feels forced and contrived.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have history with Slaughterhouse. Before the group formed, I recorded songs with Budden, Royce and Joell separately, simply because they were three of my favorite artists. Once the group formed, I conducted interviews with all of them, covering studio sessions, previewing albums and covering their XXL shoot (where Joell also explained the origins of the word Yaowa). 

I haven’t had great results with SH regarding their reviews. I reviewed Joe’s Padded Room, which led to Joe’s PSA response to my claim that he was frustrated (yet completely ignoring the fact that I gave his album a 4/5). He also later went on a 10 minute BlogTV rant about me.

EDIT – my run continues. In reaction to this review, Royce tweets: 

(subsequently deleted)

But things really went sour during my HipHopGame.com review of their debut (where I actually gave it a very generous 3.75/5). I gave it a solid, but critical, review, I then received calls from Royce & his manager Kino demanding I change or remove the review because “we’re supposed to be boys”. I wouldn’t, for obvious reasons, and they said that I shouldn’t expect anymore SH access. I was fine with sacrificing group access for my integrity. This review is in no way biased. I wouldn’t give someone I’m cool with a positive review if they didn’t deserve it, just like I wouldn’t give a negative review to a good album just because the artist is an arrogant asshole who called me old and boring just a few weeks back (ie. my interview with Wale).

Royce had played me his entire Street Hop album and talked about Joe’s poor mixing. Crooked spoke with me for over two hours, discussing his shooting and his brother getting shot, while drinking a bottle of Ciroc. Joell and I spoke about how he got discovered. And I had lunch with Joe and Tahiry, at a time when nobody wanted to interview her. Joell & Royce talked about the formation of SH, back when it was at the very beginning. Great moments. Lost because I was honest. I’m still a fan and root for them to succeed.

Let me say this – it isn’t a horrible project. Not by any means. It just isn’t Slaughterhouse. It doesn’t establish them as anything we haven’t already heard. They didn’t establish a unique sound. There’s nothing here that reminds me anything of the past 49 projects. I’ve listened to ten years of these four artists say “fuck the industry” and slaughtering anyone who sells out for sales, yet they used their major label debut to copy industry trends. They’ve spent a decade berating artists who have done the exact thing they just did.

You cannot listen to Swizz yell “throw it away, just throw it away” and not sense the irony. This is the same track that Swizz has done again and again that dissed for ten years. Throw That is the exact same formula Eminem followed for every album until he no longer had to. And My Life was probably the most formulistic of the trio.

I’m good with one or two of those. I can even understand why they would include Throw That. But when you take all three, then add in Frat House, Flip a Bird (two of my favorite songs) and Coffin – all on the same album, by a group who have collectively never done anything like these records – it feels like this was Eminem’s creation and SH were just props. I want to hear Slaughterhouse when I buy a Slaughterhouse album.

And I don’t mind the enhanced personality they display, but they were never before known for that. To hear them acting silly and animated on so many songs left it feeling not believable and contrived.

They’ve definitely learned some new tricks, and I’m not against that. Marshal has done a good job expanding the comfort zone of each artist. I would’ve loved for this project to feel more like what we’ve come to expect, but over stronger beats and with more potent choruses – then sprinkled with some of these new tricks. Instead, it feels as if they took everything new that they’ve learned and lumped it into one project, while sprinkled in a few of their more expected songs. The transformation should’ve been more subtle. Instead, it’s inverted. Because of that, it feels like this album was done by a completely different group, or could’ve been done by any group. It doesn’t feel like it was built for these rappers. The instrumentals are so busy that they don’t compliment the artists. They don’t give the lyrics room to shine.

They failed to establish a sound with this album. Instead, they just used everyone else’s. There’s nothing I could hear that would lead me to say “that sounds like a Slaughterhouse track”. Wu-Tang, G-Unit, Dipset, Roc-A-Fella and MMG all had their own signature sound. It seems they just took everything was hot and tried to do one of each. It’s just Slaughterhouse emulating D12’s style. The problem is – did D12 have fans? Or were they just people who listened to the group to hear Eminem? I’m afraid that’s what SH might become.

Another problem. When I invest 60 minutes of my life to listen to an album, I like to learn about the artist. Most of this album, however, regurgitated the same topics. There was Joe’s Goodbye verse and Crooked’s Flip a Bird verse, but mostly, they rap about how great they rap. I thought Other Side and Asylum (which I just heard, moments before writing this) would’ve been great additions to the album. They had actual concepts and gave them the opportunity to display their lyrical talents by doing more than just bragging. Frat House was a nice display by everyone involved and properly displayed some of their newfound humor, without sacrificing who they are as a group.

I loved Flip a Bird overall – beat, flow – but thought they could’ve done more with the concept. I thought Crooked’s verse was the only one that felt authentic, while Joell felt at least believable. Joe and Royce could’ve done more with this song. Thought Royce’s flow was impeccable.

Our House was a solid track, but dragged a bit. I liked the energy of Coffin, but it felt way too busy to me. Throw That was so typical. Hammer Dance was a great single and was a prime example of the sound SH should’ve looked for more.

Get Up was a standout track to me. It had energy, lyrics and personality. Park it Sideways had such a great feel, but the lyrics were the corniest I’ve heard on the entire album. I don’t think anybody really stood out (though Joe’s “weak in the knees be” flow was dope). The hook and beat carried.

I’m looking forward to removing Die from my playlist, once this review is finished. And Our Way was fine, I guess, but at over five minutes? I can’t see myself listening on a regular basis.

The thing with rap like this is – if the verses aren’t telling a story, then I better be entertained by every line. There are far too many corny lines mixed in with the dope ones. It’s unsatisfying. I’m sure there are still fans of punchlines, but to me? It doesn’t seem like something a major label group with over 40 combined years in the industry should be focusing on. Seems like they’re capable of more. Even when they rap with substance, it’s usually about dead family members and hardships – hardly new ground for a rapper. I wish they could’ve explored some new, unique topics, or at least these same topics, but in different ways.

Crooked I and Joell Ortiz definitely stood out on this album. They sounded hungry on every verse and never let their guard down. I can’t think of a single Crooked verse that I didn’t think was great, while Joell displayed great charisma without sacrificing anything lyrically (sans the “knick knack paddywack” and “spin the wheel, no Sajack” lines).

Royce came off as the most comfortable, most willing to experiment, and unquestioned front man of the group. He’s rapped with Marshall before, so never did he feel out of place. Unfortunately, he, more than anyone else, lacked substance in his raps. He sounds as if he’s run out of things to rap about. The flow is good and his confidence is at an all time high, but the lyrics are just boring. Maybe it’s because I’m such a Royce fan and have heard all his projects. Perhaps, it will all be new to the new fans.

This next statement is going to bury my twitter mentions for a week, courtesy of Joe Budden stans (who are convinced that Joe “steals” every track he appears on), but Joe had the least impressive performance on the album. He came off as boring and disinterested. There was a complete lack of creativity in his verses and he wasn’t very good at adapting to the new direction. He also had the best verse on the entire album with his Goodbye effort. And if you’re a Joe fan, I’m sure you’re convinced he was the standout. But he wasn’t. Joe sounded comfortable only when they were recording Joe-type records. Everything else felt like canned verses.

I will say this: selfishly – the group, itself – has released enough good music to make me happy. If you combine some of the best tracks off of their mixtape (some day, I want someone to explain why they released a mixtape just days before the album), like Juggernauts and Gone, with the best songs off WTOH, and maybe even mix in a couple off of their EP – you’d have a really great collection of music. They make good music, they just lack direction. They’ve yet to put together a great project. But there is plenty of great music.

Fans of Slaughterhouse want to like their music. We’re fans. We want to see them win. They’re all relatable. I found myself trying to like certain songs that I normally wouldn’t. I think a lot of fans will be doing the same (what would a SH fan say if any other artist released Throw it Away). Most of us will be replacing songs from the album with songs from the mixtape. That’s a telltale sign.

If I was rating this album, I wouldn’t give it more than a 7/10. The beats are better than their debut, and they did a much better job of changing up the formula (aka 4 verses per song), but they haven’t established a sound. If this album was released by anyone else, I think most SH fans would hate it. We’ve convinced ourselves that this is a natural evolution.

Also, those other movements always stood together. Joe Budden, who is probably the most known and influential of the foursome, has spent the past few weeks on BlogTV and twitter distancing himself from the album. While some of it is surely posturing, in the event that the album isn’t received well (see: Joe & Ice publicly reaching out to Kendrick on twitter for a Black Hippy collab, while his boss Em is best friends with Dre, and Jimmy walked Kendrick into Dre’s office – as if it was him that could make a collab happen), it does a lot of damage to people who are on the fence about this new sound. Whether or not he is satisfied with the final tracklisting (I have it from two exceptionally strong sources that Joe is not only behind the songs, but was the loudest voice in the room when it came to recording these – but this is meaningless without revealing the people I spoke with, so I’ll leave this topic alone), you have a responsibility to your label, to your group, and to your fans to stand behind the music and be accountable. He, more than anyone, should be using his influence to tell people that this is the new sound. This isn’t a Joe Budden solo project, so even if he was outvoted on certain decisions, he needs to present a unified front. If not, he’s basically sabotaging the project. It’s difficult to feel a project when the artist says they aren’t behind it. You recorded the songs. Accept responsibility for the final project.

It reminds me of Lupe with Lasers (PS – you can NOT defend WTOH if you hated on Lupe for Lasers). I’m a huge Lupe fan (talk about “bringing lyrics back”), but I hated that he spoke out so venomously against the album. I still strongly believe it was staged, just so Lupe could release a pop album while maintaining his credibility, but it’s just a theory. I hate that Joe is playing songs that didn’t make the mixtape and album on BlogTV the day these projects leak. I hate that he’s promoting his solo stuff (which isn’t even recorded yet) the week of the release and saying his “hands were tied” as far as Slaughterhouse goes. Even if he didn’t agree wit the song choices, he agreed to accept the label’s money. Everyone in Slaughterhouse should have enough money by now to record and release their own album, where they can maintain creative control. If their music is that important? Go that route. If you do not want to invest your own money and accept somebody else’s? Then you’re selling control. Stop acting surprised. This isn’t a new thing for anyone in the group. I’m tired of the complaining.

Do I think the album will be successful? Hard to tell. Shady Records is really doing everything possible to force-feed us these records. They already have 3 singles and 3 videos – amazing for a major label project with no sales history with the label. Bad Meets Evil sold 170k first week. It had a huge single, which SH has failed replicate, but was only an EP and didn’t have nearly the support that WTOH has. I think Eminem’s involvement is enough to guarantee at least moderate success. Yelawolf did 50k without much backing, and he didn’t have the built-in fan base that these four have. I’d expect somewhere close to 90k. Enough to keep them relevant enough to consider future projects and keep them touring. For their sake, I hope the album does well. I also hope they all feel that it was worth taking these shortcuts and becoming what they claimed they’ve hated.

Let me know if you agree or disagree below. Also, post your “WTOH 2.0 Playlists”.

@culturevi

SIDENOTE: You should all purchase this album. Between the mixtape and the album, they’ve given fans plenty of good, new music to listen to. For that alone, we should support. If we don’t, we won’t get any new music from them. Matter of fact, I’m bumping my version of the album now:

MY WELCOME TO OUR HOUSE 2.0 PLAYLIST
Our House
Hammer Dance
Get Up
My Life
Flip a Bird
Rescue Me
Goodbye
Gone
Asylum
Weight Scaale
All on Me
Juggernauts
Park it Sideways