Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tha Slow Poetry of Lil Wayne? (only sort of, and not really at all)

And I don't rap fast I rap slow. Cause I mean every letter in the words in the sentence of my quotes. --Lil Wayne

Despite my love Tha Carter III, I can't say I'm excited about Lil Wayne's new album Rebirth, scheduled for release in September. The album will be his "rock debut", and as scary as that sounded, I was going to be open minded. I like when artists step out of their element to try something new. Even when they fail hard, I'm still glad to have seen them try.

That's how I feel here, but I just listened to the new singles Prom Queen and Hot Revolver. And I hope I never have to hear them again. It's hard to tell how much my distaste for these songs comes from their failure to be what they want to be, and how much it comes from my hatred for what these songs are actually trying to emulate. When I thought of Weezy doing rock, I thought of a bizarre new rock/rap, but these aren't even the songs of a rapper immersing himself in rock music. This is studio-mixed radio rock with erratic auto-tuned vocals. Wayne's raspy erratic lyrical style just doesn't mix well with the sterile over-produced sound that rock has honed over the years. The sound of a distorted guitar playing power chords has become so cheezy that polka now sounds more edgy and transgressive. And at least at its best, radio rock songs still sound like they were composed (at least at some point) during a jam session, all the members playing together, riding each other's energy. The lead guitar's wails shouldn't sound (like they do on Wayne's new songs) as if they were mixed-in in post-production.

Rock tends to be performance-driven music, good bands are best live because the performance is energized by the band playing together. Rock can become quickly watered-down in the studio, especially with an over-zealous producer. Hip-hop, on the other hand, is production-as-performance. We don't necessarily remember the producers of the rock albums we like as much as we do with hip-hop. It's a producer's genre (not as much as electronica, but...).

These are just ideas of course. Rock has (decades ago even) ceased to be a genre. And certainly not one you can talk about using just the word "rock". Hip-hop, too, is becoming that way fast.

Wayne just didn't step out of his element enough to make this sound work (and I guess I should withhold some judgment until I hear the whole album). He's not composing (as if you could call anything Wayne does "composing") along with a live band rocking the fuck out. He's still in the studio spiting lyrics (with only slightly more song in his voice) to whatever Cool & Dre have mixed up for him in his headphones. It's just a "rock" beat now. And who knows, even that could have been cool somehow. It's just that here, it really just isn't.

Of course, I'm sure many will say, when Rebirth finally comes out, that Wayne is turning his back on hip-hop (as some said for Kanye with 808s & Heartbreak). And at that, I will gladly defend the album. Hip-hop has always been about appropriating and participating in (on its own terms) the sounds of pop culture and pop music. It's a post-Death of the Author art movement (even more so in that it has never needed Barthes to be so).

Hip hop has never been about creating "new things", but about reassembling what's already there. It's participatory. It's why Kanye can "just" rap over Daft Punk (in Stronger) without really changing the song. It's why Drake can "just" rap over Kanye's Say You Will (on Say What's Real) without "doing" anything else at all to the song. People who don't "get" hip-hop tend to be put off by this, and think these artists are just riding other people's talent.

It's the art of a "reader" (listener in this case), appropriating a sound you like and adding your own voice to the conversation.

: : :

Perhaps unknown to Tom Orange, hip-hop (at least as I've described it above) fulfills a lot of what he's looking for in his "poetics of the long now" laid out in gallery 3 of the slopo feature. That he doesn't identify various past movements with similar goals is perhaps the biggest flaw with the article, which is otherwise quite good. Easily the best thing in the feature thus far. At the very least it has fully formed ideas that I can argue with without having to speculate on what he could mean (which describes a lot of the other pieces in the feature). More on this later.


tmorange said...

i'm a fan: public enemy has always been my favorite, tho by now they're hardly "the latest" -- a category i'm pretty sure the genre is still subject to and which poetries of the long now would resist as much as possible -- though i'm hoping to have dana w school me on some lil' wayne...


Aaron Apps said...

Hip Hop won't go the way of rock anytime soon--it is much better at self-checking (it has a grass roots element like folk or punk... you do get the pop varieties, but the real stuff sticks around).

And, if you were really up on your hip hop, you'd know that Jay-Z just killed autotune with the first single off of Blueprint 3 "Death of Autotune" ,,,Kanye West stopped using it as well. What Jay-Z says usually goes. There are some diss records by some younger artists and whatnot in reaction to it, but, eh.. I don't see it holding up.


Lil Wayne's upcoming album is trash--but, than again, he's REALLY all about mixtapes anyway.

And, eh, Kanye retooled Stronger like 20 times before he was happy with it. He didn't just rap over it. He really takes the production side of what he does seriously.

I'd also say that there is definitely a lot of ego/authority going on in hip hop; but the place/reason for it coming into the medium is a bit different/more interesting. Ego itself is appropriated for the sake of the community mindset (inner city, black, and so on)--though, "thug life" is a double edged sword.

Iain said...

Thanks for the comment Aaron,

I've have actually heard (and seen the video for) Jay-Z's D.O.A., but Lil Wayne's new singles still feature auto-tune (so does a lot of stuff Kanye's done, even post-808s, though D.O.A. did just come out so we'll see).

Kanye is a brilliant producer, and I know the Daft Punk sample is re-tooled (it's a lot slower for one). That's why I put the word "just" in quotes, I was referring to the fact that, for most people who don't listen to hip hop, he's not being "creative" enough. It wasn't a value judgment on my end, I love the song.

And no way am I going to judge Weezy for having a shitty album. He seems like he'll basically do whatever comes to his head, which is part of what's so awesome about him. He's gonna be hit and miss, that's just the way he is. Hopefully, he'll ease up on the syrup though, his flows have been pretty weak lately.

anyway, glad to see there's another poet who knows Kanye's a lot smarter than the print media wanted to paint him over that "proud non-reader" thing.

Anonymous said...

Well you can tell people aren't even up to date with Weezy's newer rock style songs, if you decide to actually take the time and listen they are beginning to sound better than Hot Revolver & Prom Queen. It's a tester album, it's not going to do well and it will fail but it'll get a reaction and give him some experience. Hence why he has Tha Carter IV lined up aswell.

But I disagree about Tha Carter III, it was just a shitty commercial album and I've seen Lil Wayne even say himself that he doesn't like the album. He is hot on the mic for real rap fans who listen to all his stuff, more his underground than anything else. His album work is purely to make sales, get a larger fan base and suprise suprise, make him money.

The big query over rappers using autotune is nonsense in my opinion, rap has grown and developed and so have artists like Wayne & Kanye, they push boundries whereas people like Jay-Z want rap to be what it was and that's just not gonna happen. Even 50 Cent & Eminem have used auto-tune lately.

Iain said...


This post was written before any of the newer songs were available to listen to. Still not so into them though, with the exception that I fucking love what he is doing vocally on the "fuck you" track.

I guess I disagree with Lil Wayne about Tha Carter III then. Though, Da Drought III and Dedication II are certainly better "rap albums", Tha Carter III is a fantastic pop album.

And on Jay-Z, I completely agree with you. I love the guy as a rapper, but who the fuck cares what he thinks about autotune.