Ciara - Ciara
I love Ciara. She is basically perfect. I’ve been anxiously awaiting for her new album for a long time, hoping that a move from Jive, who had been badly mismanaging her most recent efforts, to Epic Records would allow Ciara to show the world that she is one of the most talented pop artists working today. Unfortunately, Epic kinda fucked it up. Here’s the breakdown:
First off, the initial handling of this album was stunningly incompetent. Originally, this album was titled One Woman Army, and the song “Sweat” featuring 2 Chainz was leaked in June 2012 (more than a year ago!). While “Sweat” was a pretty decent song, and featured one of the hottest rappers in the game right now in 2 Chainz, it ended up being scrapped for some unknown reason, and the single was never even officially released. In September 2012 we got another single, “Sorry”, which was a solid track, along with a music video. Now we’re in November 2012. Another single, “Got Me Good”, is released, along with a music video. “Got Me Good” was a quality song, the music video was cool, shit was well-liked. Move to April 2013. The new name, Ciara, was revealed, along with the tracklist. “Sorry” and “Got Me Good” both don’t make it onto the album, even as bonus tracks. This is how you destine an album to fail. You can’t just blow money promoting singles and making music videos for shit that won’t even be on the album, and change the album name for no reason (especially to make it a self-titled album. Self-titled albums that aren’t the artist’s first album are always always always dumb). So, to put it nicely, Epic wasn’t off to a good start with this one.
BUT WAIT! A miracle was sent from the heavens! That miracle was “Body Party”, crafted by two of the kings of pop music right now, Future and Mike WiLL Made It. “Body Party” immediately became one of the best songs of 2013 upon it’s release, and people got really excited about Ciara for the first time in a long time. But then the music video. Ohhhhhh man the music video. If I could only watch one music video for the rest of my life, it would be the “Body Party” video. It’s perfect in every way. Ciara is at peak hotness. The dancing. The cameos from Trinidad James and Ludacris and Jazze Pha. The obvious love between Future and Ciara, and the dialogue that ensued. “They don’t call me the Future for no reeeeeason.” “Well, we’ll see about that, Mr. Future.” I could write a book on the “Body Party” video. I couldn’t wait for this album.
Then I heard the album. And I was disappointed. The songs were all at least decent, but nothing approached the level of “Body Party”. “Where You Go”, another Mike WiLL Made It and Future creation, gets the closest, and the happy guitar and the pounding bass and the random synths actually fit together really well. Both tracks with Nicki Minaj, “I’m Out” and “Livin’ It Up”, aren’t objectionable at all and good Nicki shows up on each, but they both aren’t hits. “Sophomore”, “Read My Lips”, and “Overdose” are just so boring and clunky and have bad lyrics. You can’t have that much lazy filler on a ten track album. “Keep On Lookin’” is actually a banger, besides the random Jamaican dude at the beginning of the song, and the Juicy J “ayyye” sample and the (possible) Iman Shumpert “swayyyy!” sample (which would be weird because Shump, a guard for the New York Knicks, is much more well known for his basketball skills and amazing flat-top than his rapping prowess, but he’s the only dude I know that says sway so I think it’s him) are both really great. “Super Turnt Up”, produced by fake Ruben Studdard and CiCi’s longtime friend/collaborator Jasper Cameron, is decent but really just a worse version of “Keep On Lookin’”. “DUI” is excellently produced, and has that great 70s sex-funk vibe, but the lyrics are just a little bit too corny to be taken completely seriously.
Here’s the real problem, though. There was no cohesion to the album, which is odd for an album so short (only ten tracks). Pop albums aren’t always that cohesive, so Ciara seeming like a random collection of tracks isn’t the worst thing in the world. But if you’re going to just take a bunch of tracks and not care about album flow and sequencing, you should at least make the best choices for which tracks to include, and Epic did not. I have so many questions.
Mac Miller - Watching Movies with the Sound Off
For the last few years, I’ve heard many bros and biddies raving about this rapper Mac Miller. To put it kindly, I wasn’t a fan of his. My friends and I even titled our sort-of joke mixtape #blueslut4, playing off of how he announced the title of his debut album Blue Slide Park. He really couldn’t rap well at all, he seemed like a douche, and he looked content to settle in among the Asher Roths and Hoodie Allens in the awful frat-rap sphere. Besides the occasional song that had cool production that made it tolerable (“Nikes On My Feet”), Miller’s output up through his first album, while commercially pretty successful, wasn’t really anything to be taken seriously artistically.
But after going through and overcoming some drug problems and apparently realizing that he wanted more than to be an empty frat-rap sensation, Miller stepped up his lyrical skills and artistic focus, brought in some of the best artists in hip-hop right now and made himself a really fucking good album. When I first heard lead single “S.D.S.”, I was very surprised by how intricate his wordplay was, a huge step up from anything I’d ever heard from him before. “Let bygones be bygones, my mind strong as pythons/The day that I die on will turn me to an icon/Search the world for Zion or a shoulder I can cry on” is fucking top-notch shit. “S.D.S.” with Miller’s stellar rhyming and a super dope beat from Flying Lotus is clearly the best offering from the album, but the good news is that every other song is pretty good too. Every track from the opener “The Star Room” through “REMember” is just dope as fuck. Can’t hate on none of that. Mac delivers solid verse after solid verse, taking himself more seriously without losing his natural wit. And none of the illustrious guests disappoint, the highlight being Mac and Action Bronson trading their respective goofy, endearing stylings on “Red Dot Music”, with the beat produced by The Alchemist, who is always great. That song is probably the best moment for white dudes in hip-hop in a long time, and would be perfect if Loaded Lux didn’t spit that totally unnecessary spoken word shit on the back minute and a half of the track.
The last three tracks, “Someone Like You”, “Aquarium”, and “Youforia” are a little same-y, and have a little too much of Mac trying to sing, but they aren’t complete trash or anything, rather just a little to much fat on the bottom of the album that probably should’ve been trimmed. The bonus tracks were probably rightfully relegated to bonus tracks, as “Goosebumpz” isn’t bad but not on par with the rest of the album, “OK” is way too different from the album and pretty underwhelming overall from Mac and Tyler, The Creator, and “Claymation” is actually pretty dope but not as good as the album cuts because of a lame Vinny Chase verse holding it back.
Overall, this is a hell of an album, and proves that young rappers can improve and change up their styles if they work at it a little bit (Domo Genesis’ progress over the last few years is another great example of this, and even though J. Cole still isn’t great he’s gotten better since Sideline Story). And it also can’t be lost that Miller’s production is really good, as the Larry Fisherman beats fit in seamlessly with the works of the more accomplished producers on the album, including huge names like Pharrell, Flying Lotus, The Alchemist, and Clams Casino. Yeezus may have won the battle of June 18th, but Watching Movies with the Sound Off is a valiant runner-up.
J. Cole - Born Sinner First off fuck J. Cole and his stupid eyebrows. Honestly this album wasn’t as god-awful as I thought it would be, though. It’s just kinda meh. Nothing to love, nothing to hate. Well, actually, two things to hate: “Land of the Snakes”, in which Cole smears shit all over the beat to OutKast’s classic “Da Art of Storytellin’ (Part 1)”, and “Forbidden Fruit”, in which Cole smears shit all over the beat to A Tribe Called Quest’s classic “Electric Relaxation”. These are two beats that should never be rapped over by anyone else ever, because the original song were too good. Cole’s simpleton bars aren’t ever topping the tales of Suzy Skrew and Sasha Thumper or “Bust off on your couch, now you got Siemens furniture”, and neither are anyone else’s. And if you really think you gotta pull that shit, at least have the dignity to leave it on a mixtape instead of putting it on an album. Okay, so onto the less bad stuff. “Power Trip” is the best song on this album, as Cole isn’t terrible and Miguel is great as usual. The whole Cole offending gay people and then trying to apologize or whatever on “Villuminati” made me fucking cringe. Next time just take like five minutes and write something else that isn’t so awkward. As BigGhostfase said in his review, Cole constantly comparing himself to legends like Jay-Z/Kanye/Nas/Pac/Biggie only makes his averageness stand out even more. That brings is to “Let Nas Down”, which is just Cole being sad about his idol Nas saying that he didn’t like “Work Out”. Not even terrible bars from Cole on this song though, and No ID shows that while Cole’s beats aren’t bad, he still isn’t on the level of the top producers in the game yet. Cole’s definitely getting better, but he’s not even up to being consistently good yet, let alone being the next great artist in the rap game. And I still think Jay-Z doesn’t give two shits about Cole and is always like “Yeah Cole I’ll get on your album yeah oh sorry I’m too busy fucking Beyonce maybe next time Cole” and that’s really funny to me.
A bunch of albums recently came out and people won’t shut up about them and I’m still unemployed so here are my disjointed thoughts that are too long for Twitter. First up, Yeezus
Kanye West - Yeezus ”Bound 2” is the best song of 2013. “Blood On The Leaves” is the second best song of 2013. They’re masterpieces, on par with any song Kanye’s made in his career. The random Charlie Wilson bridge in “Bound 2” is perfect, because as The Gap Band and Snoop Dogg have proven, Charlie Wilson is always great. “Blood On The Leaves” is the manifestation of 808s Kanye, soul/piano sampling Kanye, and trap Kanye into a perfect union. “New Slaves” is Kanye at his angry activist best, and the fact that this song is so powerful even without any drums is a testament his great production. “Hold My Liquor” meshes the styles of Justin Vernon and Chief Keef perfectly, and Kanye delivers a superb Keef-style hard, straightforward, one basic rhyme throughout verse. Those four tracks just mentioned are the only really great tracks on the album. “On Sight”, “Black Skinhead”, and “Guilt Trip” are all merely very good, with “Guilt Trip” being the best of the three, as Kid Cudi miraculously didn’t ruin it even though his presence on the track wasn’t that necessary. I was disappointed that the album version of “Black Skinhead” was much more toned down than when Kanye performed it on SNL. Overall, all of the Daft Punk productions were a bit of a let down, including “I Am a God” which is in my opinion the worst song on the album. It baffled me that King L had the only full guest verse on the album and did the hook on “Send It Up”, and his struggles combined with a bad Kanye verse made it a pretty bad song. Also not helping “Send It Up”: the Beenie Man sample. No song has ever needed more Beenie Man. Kanye has some great lines on “I’m In It” and Vernon kills it as always, but Agent Sasco/Assassin’s bullshit is too much for me to handle. Yeezus is a damn good album, probably one of the best that’ll come out this year, but a 9.5 like Pitchfork gave it is probably too high. Yeezus definitely won the battle of June 18th, though.
Because I’m a sensible guy that had nothing to do for a week, I immersed myself in Ciara’s music videos, and planned on ranking them. I haven’t done that yet because I’m incredibly lazy BUT ALSO because I was busy debunking a myth. “What is this very important thing that you found out?” my nonexistent reader asks. Well, only the most important thing ever. Let’s start with this:
This is the music video for “Never Ever” by Ciara, featuring Young Jeezy. There are many cameos in this video, from Kevin Phillips (who cares), Monica (meh), Al Horford (hey! cool!), to most importantly, RUBEN STUDDARD, who begins the video by talking to Ciara and friends about how to best identify ducks.
It wasn’t obvious to me that this was former American Idol winner back when American Idol was relevant/soulful obese man/gangsta Ruben Studdard when I first watched this video, but the Wikipedia page for “Never Ever” opened my eyes to this majestic cameo.
With knowledge of this fun fact, I continued to live my life and watch more of Ciara’s music videos. I soon found myself tuning into the undisputed music video champion, the video for Ciara’s seductive jam “Body Party”.
This was approximately the ten millionth time I’ve watched this video, but the first since learning of the Ruben Studdard cameo in “Never Ever”. Then, at 1:14, a wave of shock and excitement rushes through me:
This man appears. The same man that we have been led to believe was Ruben Studdard in the “Never Ever” video. The same man that taught us all so much about ducks. Ruben Studdard in the “Body Party” video would be a life-making event. But how could this be Ruben Studdard in the “Body Party” video? The Ruben Studdard I know and love doesn’t dress like that or have arm tattoos or attend crazy parties with Trinidad James. So needless to say, I was skeptical. I did a quick Google Image search and compared Ruben to the man in the videos, and I knew that something was off. But due to the dearth of recent pictures of Ruben Studdard’s forearms, I couldn’t say anything for sure. I needed real proof.
I can pretty safely say that Google is some sort of divine being. By giving it the super-refined search “ciara ruben studdrd”, it turned my cloudy glass of water into a bottle of wine worthy of being uncorked at the occasion when Ciara and Future announce that they are adopting me and changing my name to Freebandz #CiSquad Hendrix. Google armed me with this piece (http://concreteloop.com/2009/01/video-ciara-feat-young-jeezy-never-ever), a post on ConcreteLoop from January 31st, 2009 (hey I turned 16 that day, shoutout to me) updating the world about the release of the “Never Ever” video. After exhaustedly mining through a bunch of mindless comments, the diamond was found.
Not Ruben Studdard in the “Never Ever” video. Instead, a mystery friend of Ciara’s named Jasper who helped her write “Promise”. This was a major find, but there was still more work to be done. How do we know that guy specifically was Jasper? I had to keep digging.
Back to Google. Search “ciara’s friend jasper”. It brings me this (http://www.paperchaserdotcom.com/profiles/blogs/ciara-mtv-special-when-i-was), Ciara’s turn on MTV’s When I Was 17. Key quote: “As her friend Jasper describes her, ‘When Ciara was 17 she was just real ambitious, just happy all the time. Sing and dance [he repeated that several times] that’s all she do.’” I watched the clip in tense anticipation, like I was on the mound at the bottom of the ninth, full count on the batter, ball in my hand.
The arm tats. The voice. The look. This was the proof I was looking for. Strike three. I walk off the mound with a smile on my face, earning a victory after a hard night’s work.
Ciara’s friend Jasper, the man in these videos, our fake Ruben Studdard, turned out to be Jasper Cameron, who did in fact write “Promise”, as well as Ciara’s “Sorry” and Lloyd’s hit song “You”.
I can’t say I’m not sad. A reality in which Ruben Studdard isn’t in “Body Party” or “Never Ever” or any of Ciara’s music videos at all is worse than if he was. But now we know the truth. And the unfortunate lesson, as many stodgy old high school librarians often told me, is this: don’t trust Wikipedia.
(Source: oakleyandallen, via stationtostation)
Mets hurler Tom Seaver delivers a pitch during the 1969 World Series against Baltimore. (Walter Iooss Jr./SI)
After a brief conversation with the police, World Peace put on his Cookie Monster pajamas and accompanied them outside.” - Los Angeles Times — Finally, Someone Has Written The Perfect Metta World Peace Sentence - Deadspin (via sportsnetny)
(Source: weird5cience, via stationtostation)