443. Kanye West and Jay-Z’s ‘Watch the Throne’ (Written by Trey Smith)

Hey y’all, I’ve got another guest writer on the blog. This week it’s Trey Smith, better known to Twitter users with good taste as Slimi Hendrix, covering Jay and Kanye’s maligned-for-the-wrong-reasons Watch the Throne. Like I said, if you’re not following Trey, why are you even on Twitter. He’s the visionary behind this incredible Tumblr, and one half of the Poor Home empire. Anyways, here’s Trey:

There are two types of people in the world:

1) Those who see Watch The Throne as a disgusting display of gluttony and excess.

2) Those who see Watch The Throne as motivation.

I remember there being a segment of the population that was unhappy about the album when it dropped. I get not liking the music or thinking they could’ve done better, and those are arguments I’ll listen to (won’t agree though). I’m talking more about the ones who saw some deep moral problems with the project. “They’re assholes for releasing this during an economic crisis.” “Kanye and Jay are praising false idols and setting a bad example.” “There’s Illuminati subliminal messaging in every other track that will make your pets try to fellate you while you sleep.”

It’s cool to think that way and all, if that’s what you want to do, but chill out and consider some stuff for a minute. These are two guys who decided to get together and celebrate the hard work they’ve been putting in for a combined number of years that’s possibly longer than you’ve been alive. They bragged about their material goods and accomplishments and snorting drugs off of other human beings, but they also reflected on where they came from and dreamed of a better future for themselves and others. Not exactly what I would consider vile and revolting, but to each his or her own.

“But why are they so special that I should even care?” Well, these are guys who’ve kept themselves not just relevant, but on top of the most competitive genre of music for some time. They’ve gone to war with Nas, 50 Cent, George Bush, and Taylor Swift and come out with undefeated records. You can’t even beat Flappy Bird, fuckboy/girl. (fuckperson?) They earned the right to put this album out. So if you’re in that first group from the original point, maybe take a deep breath and think about what’s really going on with your life where you’d try to paint the successes of others in a negative light. Jay and Kanye are showing you what hard work, good taste, and the right vision can lead to on Watch The Throne. Do yourself a favor and pay attention.

Few other related thoughts:

- They should play “Niggas In Paris” during every graduation ceremony. Especially kindergarten graduations. 

- I wish The Neptunes would spend the next half decade or so only making beats like that “Gotta Have It” one.

- For some reason “Made In America” and “Murder To Excellence” make me think Frederick Douglass would’ve been a good rapper.

- “I Can’t Stop” is perfect standing on furniture music.

- Kind of amazing that anybody will still let Swizz speak a word on songs after he said “My beats go hard like fuck you dicks” on that Good Friday track.

 - “Racks on racks on racks/Maybachs on bachs on bachs on bachs on bachs/Who in that?/Oh shit, it’s just blacks on blacks on blacks” is arguably the best thing to happen in a rap song in the 21st century. “Your weed purple, my money purple.” is a close second.

- “New Day” is an even better song if you imagine Kanye is talking about Chief Keef in his verse.

Trey Smith’s plug lives in Eskilstuna. He’s on Twitter—@slimihendrix

438. Kanye West’s ‘Graduation’ (Written by Alex Hancock)

Hey y’all, it’s me again. I’ve got another guest writer on the blog; Alex Hancock, who’s written for Mostly Junk Food and Noisey Canada, among other places. He’s one of the most consistently funny dudes in my Twitter feed, and I was totally unsurprised when he asked to write about a Kanye record. Here’s Alex on trying and failing to write about GRADUATION

When Andrew told me I could write for this blog, I immediately chose a Kanye album because I figured it would come naturally. I’ve listened to his music for 10 years. I’ve followed his life religiously for five years. He’s my favorite musician of all time. Easy, right?

Yet, it didn’t come naturally. He wasn’t easy to write about. The only subject I’m really good at writing about and I had nothing. It was frustrating, to say the least. What the fuck should I write about Kanye West?

When someone’s presence is influential in your life for a decade, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment to write about. It’s ethereal, all-encompassing, like trying to pick out one thing to tell a first date to describe who you are in your entirety. Should I just write about Graduation? Should I write fanfiction? Should I write about how a movie of Kanye watching Pacific Rim would be the best thing anyone would ever see?

No, those wouldn’t do it justice. So here I am, at the precipice of uncertainty, which is strangely what we’ve all grown to love about Kanye. His constant desire to create and change, his ability to be both captivating and polarizing, his creative genius. All of these things we’re uncertain of, we don’t really understand, but we trust him because he’s him. Nothing really makes sense, but he makes them make sense, if that makes sense.

Whether it’s mad corny or not – I really don’t care if it is – Kanye has been incredibly influential in my life. It’s true and it will always be true. At one point, I considered ripping my bottom teeth out and replacing them with diamonds and that’s a true story. He has an uncanny way of inspiring by just being himself. His music, his interviews, his old blog (R.I.P.), his love for Kim and Nori. Everything is a never-ending cycle of creative inspiration we could all learn from and become better people for it.

Whenever I feel bogged down by life, I’ll turn on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or one of the other six, classic albums he’s made. Or I’ll check out the conversation he had with Sway and watch him ascend above his body, nearing god levels. Or I’ll turn on his proposal to Kim. Or I’ll watch the Runaway short film. Or I’ll read the interview he did with Caramanica.

It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s like he said when he sat down with Zane Lowe, "Go listen to all my music. It’s the code to self-esteem. It’s the code of who you are. If you’re a Kanye West fan, you’re not a fan of me. You’re a fan of yourself. You will believe in yourself. I’m just the espresso. I’m just the shot in the morning to get you going to make you believe you can overcome that situation that you’re dealing with all the time." That’s the thing about Kanye West – he’s dope.

Oh yeah, Graduation is awesome and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is the greatest song of all time.

Also, Here is a picture of me rap squatting on top of my hotel in Chicago after the Yeezus Tour, paying tribute to our one true lord and savior, Kanye West. 

Alex Hancock likes Kanye West. Like, a lot. He’s on Twitter——@hancxck

415. The Isley Brothers’ ‘Givin It Back’

This album is the most sub-tweetingest album of all time: The Isley Brothers, R&B pioneers, spent most of the ’60s watching rock bands take their best music (like “Twist and Shout”) and turn it into pop-rock hits. So they recorded Givin’ It Back in 1971, an album that finds them covering James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Stephen Stills. That it’s probably one of the weaker Isley Brothers albums of the era is beside the point: They were gonna try to beat the rockers at the covering game. The fact that their cover of “Lay Lady Lay” actually charted was a bonus. 

405. A$AP Rocky’s ‘Live Love A$AP’

As I’ve gotten older—and it’s how my mind works, really—I’ve come to mostly associate music with specific memories, rather than how the music makes me feel or whatever. I can’t really recapture what it was like to listen to Meteora every day in 11th grade, but I can remember driving around on a sunny day at lunch on time, listening to “Lying from You” and screaming and laughing with Matt and Nick about dumb shit and eating Burger King. 

When I listen to this, the first mixtape from A$AP Rocky, I remember listening to the entire thing while sitting hungover in the Notre Dame in Montreal, missing Wisconsin, wondering if I’d be able to score with that the radio programmer from L.A. (nope), and thinking about how God might not exist, but his houses on Earth are fucking awesome. I remember being worried about French directions on city busses, and smoking too much hash the night before my flight home and worrying I was going to be detained by homeland security. I remember seeing M83 in a weird monolithic art studio thing, and I remember trying to explain A$AP Rocky to a Belgian music writer.

And now, that I’ve bought a bootleg vinyl copy of this, I’ll always remember where I got it; Repo Records in Philadelphia, on a trip that included me and Graham going to MoMA, to the Philadelphia Art Museum, and to Barcade to meet Irene. I’ll remember waking up Irene’s roommates with Lil Boosie at 3 am, and showing up at a fancy bar for a birthday party for a girl I’d never met dressed in a Bray Wyatt T-shirt. I’ll remember Wrestlemania, and grilling steaks on a perfect Saturday, seeing a Flyers game, and rap squatting at the Liberty Bell.

I hope that my memory holds up as I get to old age, because I can’t imagine not being able to remember this stuff thanks to records. I guess as long as I keep them, hopefully I can keep the memories too.   

401. Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Same Trailer Different Park’

1. A few weeks ago, I wrote a concert review/thoughtpiece for Noisey about making the conscious choice to see Kacey Musgraves instead of Neutral Milk Hotel, a decision that confounded my friends (quote Matt: “Kaaaaccceeeyy Musgraves? Who is that? What? A country singer?” quote James: “fuck you”) but which really required no debate. Despite owning In The Aeroplane Over the Sea and being a member of Madison’s indie rock blogging cognoscenti, I never even considered going to see a band I liked when I was 19 over a woman who made one of my favorite albums last year. It wasn’t even a decision, and I think I came close to explaining why that is in that piece. 

2. Since about November, I’ve been reclaiming my pop country roots in a way I don’t think I would have ever considered a life possibility. From the ages of about 5 till 11, I listened to pop music—whatever was on MTV and VH1—and pop country. I have life memories related to Alan Jackson singles. I remember listening to Tim McGraw’s “Don’t Take The Girl” on a cassingle a bunch as a kid. I remember being in the back of the van on car trips and singing every song on No Fences with my entire family. I have seen more country music videos than you can imagine, because watching the CMT countdown on Saturday mornings has been my mom’s Saturday ritual since about 1995. 

But for a combination of reasons—wanting to set myself apart from my parents, wanting to establish myself as someone “too serious” to listen to country music, wanting to separate from the “hicks” in my school who listened to country and wore cowboy boots, despite living in nice houses far away from farms, building a #personalbrand—I stopped listening to country music all together. I never gave it any time in my listening schedule.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: quitting full time music blogging opened me up to being able to ONLY listen to shit I wanted to, instead of shit that could allow me to pay rent. And I can actually slow down and appreciate shit without having to jump to the next thing always. So after spending like 4 months this year playing Florida Georgia Line’s debut album after getting into them via Nelly and “Cruise,” I’ve been on a major pop country binge.  

Which I guess led to me spending the last month pretty much only listening to the new Dierks Bentley album (which rules), the Eric Church discography (rules even more), Kacey Musgraves, Taylor Swift, Florida Georga Line, and Luke Bryan. I wish I could explain why I’m so way back into country music, but part of me loving listening to those artists is that I am not forced to intellectualize it. I can just enjoy mouthing the words to “Bourbon in Kentucky” while I walk around campus and not caring about what it means that I have gotten more enjoyment from Dierks Bentley this year than anyone else really. 

I am not sure where I’ll end up with this pop country renaissance, but I know that I’m going to be buying tickets to Country USA, a country festival in my hometown, to see Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, in June. 

395. Beastie Boys’ ‘Licensed to Ill’

1. It starts, as I suppose all these things do, with someone’s older brother. It is sometime in 1991-1992, and I am in kindergarten at Washington Elementary in Oshkosh. Back then, kindergarten was only a half day, and I went in the morning because my parents could then send me to a daycare in the afternoon. This daycare was in the basement of a church, and there were maybe 6 other kids my age; most of the daycare was taken up by 3-year-olds like my sister.

I don’t remember a whole lot about this daycare except for two things: 1. The time I pooped my pants and I tried to hide that fact by throwing my underwear in a locker, which of course was the locker actually assigned to me, so everyone knew it was me because the whole locker area smelt like shit and they found shit-filled Ninja Turtles underwear in my locker 2. the fact that for the kindergartners, the area where we hung out—this elevated room in the basement that was segregated off from the rest of the kids—had a boombox that we basically controlled. Most of our time was spent goofing off and wrestling and picking on the one girl in the room—it was 5 boys, 1 girl—but we also spent a lot of time fiddling around with that boombox. We listened to the radio mostly, but every once in a while, we’d play tapes that someone brought from home. Kyra, the girl, used to play New Kids on the Block, and then we used to have to BE New Kids on the Block for Kyra’s enjoyment (I suppose this what a PUA would call “building worth”).

But the tape I remember listening to the most was the tape of Licensed to Ill that Zach’s older brother gave to him. We played that shit over and over again, and “by that shit” I mean the three song stretch of “Girls,” “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” I remember headbanging to “Fight For Your Right” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and slam dancing and basically being 6-year-old punks. I remember trying to get every word of “Girls” right, and I remember when the tape got taken away because our teacher—who spent most of her time sitting outside the room reading magazines and checking on us every half hour—finally heard that we were singing songs about wanting to have drunken parties while inside of a church.

I was supposed to tell my parents I was sorry for listening to that music—our teacher was trying to teach us “responsibility”—but I never did. I didn’t feel bad for liking the Beastie Boys.

2. 

3 . I know the Beastie Boys eventually began to hate this album—they never made anything close to it again, and felt bad about the subject matter—but as a kid who was born 7 months and 9 days before it came out, it’s one of the few albums that has been a constant my entire life. It’s in that ThrillerPurple Rain, seminal albums of the ’80s territory. I think a song from License has been played at every dance/wedding/church service I’ve been to my whole life. I played air guitar to “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” at my first dance in sixth grade, and then two weeks ago at a bar. I have no doubt that I will try to slam dance with another 80-year-old in the nursing home when “Fight For Your Right” comes on.

4. When I was in middle school, we had this school-wide project in English class, where for a quarter of the year, every English class wrote, filmed, and produced its own 10-minute movie, and then we had a film festival every year. It was a pretty cool thing to be involved in; it was basically the only thing everyone in school always looked forward to academically.

In sixth grade, the love story (there were sub groups in every class writing a script based on different genres) me and a group of girls wrote became the movie our class made, and I was a character actor in it—I played the fat weirdo in 3 separate scenes. In seventh grade, the science fiction script me and the two “hottest” guys in class wrote got selected and filmed, despite not having a third act…or a first or second one. But then in eighth grade, I was selected as director of our class film, a script about a kid who was dating two different girls at once, and then they conspire to sabotage a skateboarding contest he was in.

As part of being the “director” I was the principal editor, along with this girl Katie, who I had taken to a couple dances in 7th grade before it became clear that we liked each other mostly because we liked to argue angrily with each other in classes and at lunch.

So here’s where I’m going: as part of editing this movie, we had to pick music for scenes, and Katie and I had a very angry fight in the school library—where the editing computers were—over my insistence we use “Girls” as the soundtrack for a scene where the main character goes between dates at a restaurant. I don’t remember all of what I said, but I know she kept saying that that song was “misogynistic” and I was mostly mad that I didn’t know what that even meant because I was 14 and stupid.

I guess I remember this because it taught me that there are different ways to interpret songs, and that maybe I need to be aware of how other people will react to songs that I think are great. I also remember this because this would basically be the beginning of my exposure to the never-ending—which it shouldn’t end—misogyny and hip-hop battle.

Either way, the song was in the movie. I won.

5. 

6. The major thing I get from listening to this album in 2014 is how audacious the sample swipes are here; I mean Led Zeppelin, the Clash, Black Sabbath samples are on here, which would cost something like 12 billion dollars today.

But that’s maybe the most genius thing about the album. It was made to sell a generation of Middle Americans on hip-hop as an art form, and functionally, the album is a rock album with spoken vocals. There are more guitars on this than the newest Van Halen album.

I know it’s messed up that a white group helped prime a large population for rap music, but at the same time, I don’t think N.W.A. would have made as much of an impact in Wisconsin—my cousin Troy had their first album, and he lived in Wausau—if a generation of kids hadn’t listened to “Fight For Your Right” at every turn up function. We had no frame of reference for rap at all—and I don’t mean this in the Macklemore way of people who don’t listen to rap liking him, I mean that the Beastie Boys were the only rap group on pop radio in Wisconsin in the ’80s (my dad confirmed this)— until the Beasties. For that, they’ll always be Important.  

7. 

375. Freddie Jackson’s ‘Just Like The First Time’

1. One of my fashion goals for 2014 is to find an outfit that would make sense to wear with a cummerbund. Cummerbunds personify swag and not giving a fuck to me. They are the most obtuse man’s fashion accessory of all time, not including spats.

2. My record buying goal for 2014—well, in addition to maybe slowing doing so I can actually afford to go on the trips I have planned this year—is to get a record by every artist mentioned on “Slow Jamz,” and this is the record that made me think of doing that. Mostly because I knew the name Freddie Jackson but hadn’t listened to him until I bought this record for $3.

3. Turns out he sounds a lot like the Peabo Bryson albums my mom used to listen to when she cleaned the house on Saturday mornings when I was 5. Which is to say this hit a comfort food pleasure center for me, in a way I did not expect.

4. Also, this went platinum, which only goes to show that even if you are a platinum artist, you can be moved off the center of history and be discount bin fodder a quarter centry later.  

374. Willie Hutch’s ‘The Mack’

1. This is the best rap music video of all time, and it’s not even debatable. 

2. I put that there because, in case you were unaware, Willie Hutch’s “I Choose You” provides the backbone of “International Player’s Anthem.” Here’s the original. 

3. I’ve mentioned it a lot on my Twitter, and a little on here, but when I think back to what I did in 2013, the most life changing thing I did was start going to a karaoke bar. 

I’ve lived here for four and a half years, and until the first week of October, I had never thought about going to Karaoke Kid, Madison’s only dedicated karaoke spot. That was until a kid who works for me told me he goes there every weekend, without fail, and that performing karaoke was the best thing he did every week. So I had a four day weekend in October, and I invited 10 of my student employees to my downtown apartment, and we drank a bunch of beer and went to the Karaoke bar. 

I don’t want this to be another one of those, “Karaoke is a transformative experience” thinkpieces 45-year-old music writers sometimes get commissioned to write, but seriously performing karaoke totally rules. James, the kid who went every weekend, said to me after my first performance that he could tell I liked it because, “it allows you to be the star you’ve assumed you are in your head,” and damn if that 21-year-old wasn’t right. The song I did first? Bun B’s verse on “International Player’s Anthem”, with three kids doing verses and one singing Willie Hutch’s part. 

4. Now the song has become something I do everytime I do karaoke. I think I’ve done it 10 times, including 3 or 4 times alone, rapping every verse. It’s not exactly a song that fires up the typical karaoke bar crowd in Madison, Wisconsin, on a Wednesday night—though one time a guy bought me a drink because he couldn’t believe I had nailed every verse because “you didn’t look like you had it in you” he said—but I’ve come to realize that that doesn’t matter. Karaoke is ultimately about using someone else’s song to sing and forget the bullshit you have in your life.

It’s not at all about entertaining other people for me; it’s entirely about proving to myself that I can do it, and forgetting for a moment that I have a car note due via yelling “my bitch a choosy lover never fuck without a rubber” into space in front of 8 friends and 30 strangers. One of the girls who came out with us last weekend said, “Don’t you guys (me and James) get sick of doing that song? No one here knows it except me.” And we both kind of laughed and said we didn’t care. We do it as a warmup song before doing whatever else we’re gonna do that night, and one time we paid $10 to do it at 2 a.m. right when the bar was closing. I did it this past weekend and I think I’m doing it next weekend. And I’ll probably do “International Player’s Anthem” again.

5. Which is why I bought this Willie Hutch album. UGK’s Underground Kingz album isn’t on vinyl, and the only way I can see clear to pay someone via royalties for a song that has been such a huge part of my social life the last 4 months. RIP, Willie Hutch. RIP Pimp C. 

372. The Gap Band’s ‘Gap Band VII’

1. This cover is swag personified. 

2. This is apparently a “lesser” Gap Band album, but since I haven’t heard all of them—I want to listen to them only on vinyl, I’ve resisted torrenting their discography except for jumping around on YouTube—but I still found a lot to love here. When Gap Band get in slow jam mode—as they do on “I’ll Know We’ll Make It”—they give hints that Charlie could solo and would be capable as the hired gun old school soul crooner Kanye hired him as for Yeezus

3. I found it inconceivable that the Gap Band were from Oklahoma; I kind of assumed they were from D.C. or Detroit. Can you name any band other than Flaming Lips and Gap Band to come out of Oklahoma? Yeah me neither.