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I’m taking a class on hip hop and the media this term, and part of the class involves blogging. You can read what both my peers and I have to say about hip hop and the internet here. This is really aiming to be a pretty academic blog, so there should be some interesting insights.

But seriously, if you enjoyed what I had to say on this blog, check out my new stuff.

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So it should come as no surprise that this is pretty much the best post of all time.

Not to hate on ‘Ye’s design sensibility or anything…

This blog might have, though.

Anyway, besides that, I just wanted to mention how much I like Chris Brown, because I didn’t realize it until recently. But seriously, don’t even try to tell me everything about this isn’t awesome.

I don’t think I’ve heard him spit anything that wasn’t at least pretty good, and generally he’s fire.

I wish I could say that I was the one to break some obscure Beijing folk sensation to the indie blogosphere, but Beijing’s most interesting band already hit Pitchfork over the summer, so you may already know about them. Regardless, I saw them live for the second time last night, and I can safely affirm that you should know about this band.

Chinese folk music is rarely seen as being a particularly forward genre, and Mongolian folk music is even more obscure, but the sounds of Hanggai’s music, which incorporates a drum set and electric bass, not only is timeless, but is actually quite avant-garde in a society that is hurtling towards Westernization as fast as it can. Listening to Hanggai really does conjure images of Mongolian steppes, with its expansive, nostalgic sound. The otherworldly drone of the Mongolian-style throat-singing, which provides an interesting bassline for much of the vocals, is also indescribably cool. And for every song that bleakly echoes lone string instruments and plaintive singing there is also one with infectious camaraderie, particularly the frantic “Drinking Song,” which actually strikes me as a pretty great drinking song. The first time I saw Hanggai, the whole crowd rowdily joined in on this one, although last night’s show was more subdued. Accompanied by an older singer dressed in classical imperial clothes and missing their charismatic lead singer, the band stuck to the ethereal sounds that characterize the bleaker half of their music, creating a soundtrack for introspection or long train rides through the Mongolian steppes.

To summarize, you should listen to Hanggai.

Hanggai – “My Banjo And I”

Hanggai’s Web Site

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I remember when Greg sat me down a few years ago and made me listen to the first track on Be and we both pretty much creamed our pants hearing the bassline and the synths leading into the track. That song is hands down one of my favorite songs ever, but Common and J Dilla’s work on Like Water For Chocolate is also excellent, so when I saw that this song had leaked, I was a little torn. This was apparently the original Dilla-produced intro to Be. It’s a great song and definitely hails back to the work the two had done previously, with a little bit harder sound than Be ended up having. I love Dilla’s scattershot drums and sirens, and Common spits well, but, in the end, I’m actually glad that the intro ended up being the track it was. Out of that context, this is an awesome song, and I’m still pretty excited about it.

Common – “Be (Original Version prod. J Dilla)”

I have no idea what there is to say at this point. I’m waiting until the album drops to give my two cents.

But if you’re curious:

Kanye West feat. Lil’ Wayne – “Tell Everybody That You Know”

Kanye West feat. Young Jeezy – “Amazing”

Kanye West Def Jam Conference Call

I’m warning you, this may not be what you were hoping for.

(Post-it notes for Kanye’s studio):

Kanye West – “Love Lockdown (Remastered)”: All those people who bought this on iTunes are huge suckers. Remember like two months ago when this supposedly came out? And then a new version came out that was better? And then this version came out? Well, if rushing out an album in two weeks struck anyone as a bad idea, this is proof that sometimes it pays to tweak things until they are better. This song still isn’t going to win any awards (well, I mean, it probably is, but that’s not the point), but ramping up those tribal drums and the filling out the bassline and whatever else is different, was a really good call. Hey, there’s still a lot of post-election goodwill, maybe nobody will be upset if it takes a couple more weeks to fine-tune this album.

Kanye West – “Heartless (Remastered)”: I’m not exactly sure how this song was changed other than moving the bass on the equalizer up a little bit, but I don’t really have an ear for these things. I kind of liked the spareness on the original version, but this one was altered so slightly that it won’t make a huge difference. The video is really cool, even if animated Kanye is still a terrible actor. “Any Way” would have been a better single pick than this one, though.

Jay-Z – “History”: Oops, you mixed this wrong. This is an awesome beat, but seriously, despite the problem I mentioned on the “Heartless” note, within two seconds of this song starting I could tell the bass needed to be brought up and the vocals on the sample sounded tinny and high-pitched. I think I can fix this with the EQ dials on my car stereo, so it should be possible on ProTools too. It would be a shame to put this version on the album because this is an amazing song. In addition to the implications that this song has by being leaked the day after Election Day (the original leak version sounded a lot fuller, by the way – bring that back, that’s all), it sees Jay confronting his role as the preeminent figure in hip hop. There is obvious desire to read into the lyrics about making history and achieving victory as a commentary on Obama, but this is also about Jay’s career, and it’s deep stuff. With its personification (Victory, Defeat, Success, History, etc.) there is little subtlety, but it still is dipping into the literary concerns of poets like Spenser and Shakespeare. In his Amoretti Spenser claims “For I myself shall like to this decay/And eek my name be wiped out likewise./Not so, (quod I) let baser things devise/To die in dust, but you shall live by fame:” hoping that his poem will immortalize his love. This is not the kind of thing that it’s cool to rap about. The fact that I’m quoting a 16th century poet proves that. But consider Jay’s lyrics:

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Here’s a dope track from Brother Ali while the rest of America is busy dancing in the streets.

Brother Ali – “You’re The Man (Mr. President)”

“Today I’ve got my hand on my heart/I might go and plant a flag in my yard.”

Also, Kevin Nottingham threw together a mixtape for you to play at your ongoing Obama victory party. You can grab it here.

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