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.
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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.