the red backpack


matthew ramirez. houston. ramiremj at gmail dot com.


this is incredible, just incredible, almost a month after i first heard and it does not get old. why wasn’t this everywhere? yes wale but yes everything else too.

(Source: Spotify)

Rap's Physical Being: Schoolboy Q's "Oxymoron"

Recently I had a friend tell me she spent a part of her evening staring at herself in the mirror, playing with her belly fat. She said, “moving my tummy in different directions…that is your privilege as a fat person, the ability to be like, what if my stomach was up here? What if it was over there? What if it wasn’t there at all?” I nodded at my keyboard because I knew what she was talking about, the ability to see yourself transform in your own reflection.

I wrote about Schoolboy Q for So Many Shrimp, but I also wrote a little bit about body image, which is something usually only reserved for gazing at female artists. I just want Q to prosper.

SPRIIIIING BREAAAAAK 2014

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now can we fall in love while southernplayalistic bangin through the night?

my friend amber told me spring break is a time when shit happens. it’s true, at least it was when spring break meant something. i’m not in school. remember when homer said, “relax, when you’re my age you’ll miss every summer”?

sometimes i’m aware something is happening and i’m content to let it slide because i know it’ll be there when i’m ready for it. last summer i listened to yeezus and soulja boy exclusively so bop went right by me. i hated “clarity” for a long time before i decided i loved it. it’s a great power ballad and possibly the only song in the history of music that sounds good as an acoustic version. (can my girl jena on american idol do this song please?) one day i was driving and mindlessly listening to the radio and “dark horse” just did it for me, and still did it for me when i bought it on itunes, and still does it for me when i’m listening to it three or four times in a row in the car.

2014 feels wide open in a way 2013 didn’t. i can see myself enjoying 2014. friday night i was at an opening—my friend is roommates with an artist in residence at the MFAH. for some reason, maybe it was nerves, i couldn’t help but get annoyed at my pedantic tendency to want to figure out what everything i look at “means”. i feel music when i listen to it, i know how stories work, but when it comes to visual art i’m like, “yes but what’s it all mean, man?” i got mad at myself for being so entry-level, like why couldn’t i just enjoy the moment? that’s not usually a thing i am good at (enjoying the moment) but i know that; what was new was feeling like i didn’t need to know. 

it’s important to me to be around people i think are successful or becoming successful at what they want to do. it reaffirms my sometimes shaky belief in the ability of young people to be successful. it pleases me to look at my friends or the people closest to me as something like role models. idk i think i missed that in college. i was too busy trying to do the “college thing” and not busy enough actively pursuing my career path. spring break is a time when shit happens. this is a lot of preamble for a list of songs i dance to when drunk, but people seem to like these posts. there’s a lot of pharrell and warm electronic sounds.

at least we fell in love with something greater than debating suicide

Lil B “Fuck Kevin Durant
Katy Perry/Juicy J “Dark Horse
Future/Pusha T/Pharrell/Casino “Move That Dope
Q-Tip “Vivrant Thing
Fat Tony “No More
Rick Ross/Kanye/Big Sean “Sanctified
Zedd/Foxes “Clarity
John Walt “Kemo Walk
Isaiah Rashad/SZA “West Savannah
Luther Vandross “Take You Out
Selena “Que Creias

Jay-Z “Change Clothes
B-Real/Busta Rhymes/Coolio/LL Cool J/Method Man “Hit ‘Em High
YG/TeeFlii “Do It To Ya
KC “Bop Then
Shy Glizzy “Or Nah
Casino “White
Lakutis “Too Ill for the Law
Nikatine Da King/Cousin Fik/Knowledge “Snitch
Pharrell & The Yessirs “Angel
Jennifer Lopez “Secretly

Among other things, I rap about racism and cultural appropriation, so I realize that a) I make black music, b) I’m not black and c) the experience of my people in this country hasn’t been as tough as that of black people. Folks seem to get caught up on the first two. Fans have told me they hate rap but love us and I don’t know how to feel about that, especially as a participant in someone else’s art form (although to be fair, hip-hop has some parallels to Bhangra, which developed in the fields of Punjab back in the ‘70s). I make fun of white people on records, and they’re listened to by a whole lot of white people. I’ve been able to profit from white guilt, while potentially being capable of it.

Also:

Some have suggested that we were making fun of rap. Which, admittedly, has a little to do with the surface impression of our music—a debut single about fast food joints isn’t exactly Biggie’s “Party & Bullshit”—but I believe it also has to do with my race.

And:

But still, the most frustrating aspect of my career is being referred to as white, which has happened more times than I care to remember. I never wanted being Indian to be my thing as an MC, but I’d gladly take that over someone trying to take my race from me.

Further:

I recently heard a rapper—maybe Riff Raff—complain that being white has made listeners think he’s a joke; I don’t feel for him. It’s a great time to be a white rapper.

I’ve never cared what a white person thinks about them; I don’t need Heems or Kool A.D. to make music together, I just want them to keep writing and saying smart things about music, race, culture, etc. They are probably better writers and thinkers than most people who are paid to write and think for a living.

between tony introducing me to bones and me washing my hands a thousand times i mostly wrangled various animals during the filming of this video, from the same team who made the still great “u ain’t fat" video. it slaps. "no more" produced by iLL FADED. pre-order the 7" from volcom here.


Like all Mexican-Americans of his generation, Abraham experienced a great deal of institutionalized racism during his childhood. Attending elementary school in Corpus Christi, Abraham and his fellow students were sent to the principal’s office and/or whipped if they were caught speaking Spanish. When Abraham settled in Lake Jackson, TX with his wife Marcela to raise his family, like most Mexican-Americans of his generation, he raised his children to speak English, so that they might avoid the humiliations he endured.
Selena Quintanilla was born on April 6, 1971. She, along with her older brother and sister, A.B. (Abraham III) and Suzette, were part of the second generation of Chicanos. Selena pronounced her name with an American accent, and for much of her life couldn’t speak Spanish —although she could sing it perfectly.

Emphasis is mine. People of this generation (roughly my grandparents) and even after (my parents) were reluctant to teach their children Spanish for many reasons, some as institutionalized as this, others more subtle and likely class-conscious/cultural-based. For these reasons (i.e., not letting her inability to speak Spanish inhibit her embrace of singing/the culture, embodying real experiences of multigenerational Latin@s) and more, Selena is still the G.O.A.T.

This was music that could actively do, not show, tell, preach, pander, vibe, meander, linger, proselytize, get lost in itself, wallow, overreach, slump—it was doing music, it was active, alive, vital, reassuring, motivating, it put blood in the veins and got you to pay attention. It readjusted the narrative on pop music, how it’s always kind of trying to get you to do something: dance, sing, yell, move, make love, but it’s at its most sublime when it all feels natural, like the music a person creates comes from a real place inside them that wants you to do those things, the purest distillation of a shared desire that unites people trying to do better. 

2014 is shaping up to be quite the year of looking back at things that happened in 2004. I did my part by (sort of) writing about the tenth anniversary of The College Dropout for the born-again So Many Shrimp. Click through the block quote for the full read.

MY YEAR IN LISTS
Fifty Songs I Liked In 2013

THE TURN UP FUNCTION
Future “Sh!t
Young Dro “F.D.B.
Lil Durk “Dis Ain’t What U Want
Ace Hood/Future/Rick Ross “Bugatti
Young Jeezy/2 Chainz “R.I.P.
Migos “Adios
2 Chainz/Pharrell “Feds Watching
Juicy J/Pimp C “Smokin’ Rollin’
Big Sean “Guap
T-Pain/B.o.B. “Up Down (Do This All Day)

SPEED UP
Future/Casino “Karate Chop
Bobby Brackins “Open Yo Legs
Schoolboy Q/Kendrick Lamar “Collard Greens
Beyonce/Jay Z “Drunk In Love
Sage The Gemini/Iamsu “Gas Pedal
Katie Got Bandz/King Louie “Pop Out
Young Thug “Stoner
Rich Kidz “Trayvon
Lil Snupe “Melo
Fredo Santana/Kendrick Lamar “Jealous

MY SHIT DUMB
Future/Wale “Ceelo
Waka Flocka Flame/Wooh Da Kid “Tax Money
Kevin Gates/Juicy J “Thinkin With My Dick
Drake “Worst Behaviour
Jay Z/Rick Ross “Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit
ASAP Rocky/Drake/Kendrick Lamar/2 Chainz “Fuckin Problems
Ty $/Joe Moses “Paranoid
Problem/Iamsu/Juvenile/Kool John “100 Grand
Chief Keef “Ain’t Done Turnin Up
Pusha T/Kendrick Lamar “Nosetalgia

I’MMA BALL
Danny Brown/Scrufizzer “Dubstep
TeeCee4800/E-40/Ty $/C. Hood “4G’s
Tree “Devotion
Schoolboy Q “Man of the Year
Rilgood/Fat Tony/Chase N. Cashe “God Bless America
Vic Mensa “Orange Soda
Allan Kingdom “Achilles
Roc Marciano “Ice Cream Man
Metro Zu “Interesting
Danny Brown/Freddie Gibbs “The Return

UH-HUH, HONEY
YG/TeeFlii “Sprung
J. Cole/Miguel “Power Trip
August Alsina/Trinidad James “I Luv This Shit
The-Dream/Pusha T/Big Sean “Pussy
Ciara “Body Party
Kelela “Floor Show
Jeremih/Shlohmo “Bo Peep (Do U Right)
Ty $ “Get It How I Live
Mariah Carey/Miguel “#Beautiful
Kanye West/Charlie Wilson “Bound 2

Favorite Movies of 2013

7. Big Words
What happened to all the golden age hip-hop groups? Not Tribe, De La, Run DMC. But guys who released a few singles, played some shows, blew up a little, probably appear somewhere in Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists, and never broke all the way through. This is a story never really attempted by movies before. Sometimes rough and unfolding like a web-series, what makes it work is how good the writing is, with a foreign-to-Hollywood sense of humor. The fake radio-R&B song that prominently features a sample of the fake group’s biggest hit and haunts all the lead characters is such a good and well-observed joke. The titular character (still wearing Timbs and denim button-ups) waxing poetic about “Potholes in My Lawn” is a rare example of movies getting music criticism right. Setting it on election day 2008 seems trite at first but undercuts the film with a sadness that resonates far more than the jokes: what happens to those whom history often forgets? What kind of hope was bought into by these middle-aged guys who kept foolishly and selfishly waiting for the right opportunity to blow? Also: Jean Grae is a really good actress.

6. Gimme the Loot
So funny and so charming and so wistful, and gets everything right the same way most movies get everything wrong. More thoughts here.

5. Newlyweeds
I like movies about people, even if the story told comes nowhere close to resolving. There were zero good movies about people this year. All independent movies are glorified sitcoms when they’re not masturbatory exercises in style or high-concept. There were no human stories this year (besides my #3, which is a dream anyway) that moved me like these three days-in-the-life-of-non-white-New-Yorkers. Big Words had the most distinct writerly voice, a classic hangout movie. Gimme the Loot is the most polished and traditional, but this one blends the two, playing like loose comedic sketches with a light-experimental and, for lack of a better word, trippy touch. An honest story about two people (Trae Harris and Amari Cheatom are great in this btw) in a loving relationship with a dependence on weed that neither condemns smoking or idealizes a stupid stoner lifestyle. What these movies prove is the lack of diversity in cinema is stunting its growth, at least in America. (This depressing link states that “black independent film” is the lowest-scoring keyword-phrase in Hollywood.) Gimme the Loot was directed by a white guy but its performances, which feel mostly improvised, are some of the finest acting I saw all year. There are still people writing human stories about flawed people with greater nuance and heart than anything involving Alex Payne or David O. Russell.

4. Beyonce
Currently working on something about why I think Beyonce’s “visual album” is a better movie.

3. Inside Llewyn Davis
Thoughts here.

2. Only God Forgives
Nicolas Winding Refn is a non-evil version of all the people I was told to love as a teenager but grew to resent for their narrow-minded morality and overall basicness. This movie’s images are jaw-droppingly beautiful, eclipsing everything I put in front of my eyes this year. Refn picks and chooses what to keep and what to get rid of from all of arthouse’s defining so-called rebels but there’s a human voice in there. Drive killed movies for me. This one resurrects them. He felt the need to flash Jodorowsky’s name at the end because he knew audiences raised on David Lynch’s cynicism would be too dense to get it. This is where American exceptionalism goes to die, both in content and form.

1. Spring Breakers
What is there left to say about this movie? It’s literally my second favorite movie ever, behind only my idea of what would be my favorite movie ever (hyperbole is not understandable, like perfection, but it must exist if intangibly as a way to gauge excellence [or maybe my favorite movie is Dazed and Confused]). The endless promise of cinema—what is possible with movement, colors, music, actors, story, dialogue, voice-over—has never been so realized. It’s not a fantasy or a dream or a thesis, but a total nightmare, where American ambition and youth and destruction and indulgence and entitlement and genuine wistfulness and rap music and WorldStar aesthetics collide. The movie I’ve seen the most number of times in a theater ever. I don’t feel like explaining it; Korine’s vision is so perfectly detailed further interpretations of it feel worthless. So perfectly executed other movies feel worthless. This and Acid Rap were the most remarkable art of the year.

Favorite Shows on TV

4. New Girl
Nothing will top how great the first season was, but it rebounded nicely after a spotty second season that started to get too sitcom-y before it decided Nick and Jess should date. This show is really at its best when its characters are living normal, stable lives, not going on camping trips or being visited by relatives or having wacky adventures. Smarter and more daring about relationships, sex, and friendships than every other show on TV, especially shows on premium networks.

3. Catfish
This season was too heavy on teenagers but when the people involved are desperately in love it is a human drama that better encapsulates some idea of the zeitgeist where technology and identity and modernity meet than literally anything else. I hope next season focuses more on the flawed and tragic, not the young and horny.

2. The Eric Andre Show
It did everything it should have done with a second season. Chance and Curren$y and Jonwayne (in an inspired unplugged performance) made appearances. This is the only show of its type I can stand, because instead of being defensive and walling off itself from squares who don’t get it, it invites the audience onto its wavelength. It wants you to get it, not callously put you on the offensive. Miles ahead of everything associated with it.

1. The League
The League became my favorite show on television during an episode where Jenny suspects her daughter is being bullied by her basketball coach. The conflict-averse Kevin whines he’s not going to intervene because he wants his daughter to stand up for herself; he wants her to lean in. Jenny: “Lean in? ‘Lean in’ is the white collar ‘git er done.’” In one sentence this show proved itself to be smart about gender and class in a way nothing else is. The League is full of small moments like this, short, choppy, brisk interactions that peel open the minds of upwardly-mobile mostly-white white-collars who play fantasy football but aren’t complete monsters or idiots, as they would be in any other show. The League was similarly smart a few seasons back when Pete observed any time a sports commentator calls an athlete a “class act” is a slur akin to calling someone articulate. With these witticisms, The League proves to be the only comedy show on TV not powered by xenophobia or hate. Like the best of its kind, its satire is light, meaning it loves its characters too much for them to be props. The exclusively-Rafi-and-Dirty Randy episode was next-level. Maybe because the episodes are largely improvised it invites a warm feeling like seeing old friends get back together every year, but it makes the performances more immediate and that takes awhile to build momentum. Every season gets better as it goes on, starting weak and finishing strong, like a good…well, you know. This year The League was as good as the Panthers. For all these reasons, and I don’t believe this about any other show on TV: I don’t think it will ever get bad.

Other stuff I liked: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Family Tree, Kroll Show

Worst Show on TV

Breaking Bad
Trolling slightly, but look: “smart TV” or “good TV” (as opposed to TV that happens to be smart/good) is a sham and a lie, a concept created by people who got a little too into The Sopranos for their own good and promulgated a myth if a show has nudity or swearing or is on HBO or AMC it’s automatically brilliant. Six Feet Under was good; The Wire had its seasons. Everything else is shades of “meh,” but the only one that was truly deplorable was the one that made the biggest splash. Mad Men is boring, shallow, and pseudo-intellectual in the worst way but I don’t resent it for existing. But Breaking Bad—has there ever been a cultural phenomenon so utterly lacking in smarts, humor, depth? Something so universally loved as heartless, cold, and manufactured? Something so critically lauded as trite, shallow, smug, smarmy, and boring? Mere months after it’s over I have trouble remembering anything about it. No funny lines or memorable scenes or lovable characters or arcs or narratives, no episodes that stand on their own outside the confines of the show. The endless moral debates about Walt and Skyler were useless and circular and relentlessly banal (like, what does it even mean to be, like, evil, dude???) because this show was not smart enough to write any of its characters well with any kind of nuance or consistency. Which would be fine, if it were content to be pulp or genre fiction. But it tries so hard, and the results are embarrassing, like, dumb-kid-in-high-school-writing-a-crime-novel embarrassing. One of a few pieces of cultural detritus I’ve voluntarily consumed that has made me feel dumber, both for time invested (I feel tricked, fleeced, and resentful) and its effect on me as a discerning viewer: I’ve had to re-center what I consider “good” in its wake (not a bad thing, really) and break the trust of just about everybody who actively loved it. Trust me, in ten years people will be saying: “why did we think this show was so good?”

Stuff I Was Wrong About

1. Louis C.K.
2. Enlightened
3. The Before movies
4. Most things I liked in 2011 tbh

Albums That Were Actually Pretty Great

Afraid of Heights
Overgrown

Other Things That Happened

1. Minnie Riperton
2. Last Train to Paris
3. @Vice_Is_Hip
4. Getting “over” vinyl
5. The Gap Band
6. Sportscenter as background noise
7. New desk
8. Polo everything
9. Shabba Ranks
10. Snapchat
11. The Headphone Masterpiece
12. Gallery hopping
13. Black socks
14. R.I.P. Greeley
15. Deferring all my student loans and defaulting one
16. “As I Slither Into Ur Vag”/“Ima Prolly Die
17. Keeping it 100/300/1000/drill/trill/who cares/smh

Film Log #4: The Oscars Edition

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Inside Llewyn Davis

The easiest compliment to give Inside Llewyn Davis is it’s most unlike all Coen brothers movies, more humane and small, with less derision for its characters or the audience than anything they’ve ever made. But this isn’t the whole story, because it doesn’t account for the subtle but wrenching emotional experience of watching it. The days after first seeing it were filled with longing, some intangible quality I felt softly weighing down on me. I was sullen and brooding and surprised by my emotions, but not in a way where I wallowed. I didn’t wallow. I felt more in tune to the rhythm of living. I felt introspective and eager to self-examine. I wanted to do better.

The Coens are usually callous filmmakers because they don’t care about their characters. I don’t know anything about them personally but I’d bet they are self-described “animal people.” Fargo is not about William H. Macy it is about Pride. The Big Lebowski is not about The Dude it is about Nothing. No Country for Old Men is not about a manhunt it is about Good and Evil. Conversely, Inside Llewyn Davis is not about subtweeting Dylan or lovingly exalting folk music or a sorry man’s rise to stardom or baby boomer nostalgia it is about Llewyn Davis, just like A Serious Man, my former favorite Coens movie, was about its titular character. Creating something about Something is boring and rings of someone who stopped growing intellectually around sophomore year of college, which is why when the Coens drop their schtick and focus on humans they manage to squeeze out something decent.

But I like this movie more than A Serious Man, which got a lot of mileage out of building its story around the Job archetype among many other cultural totems. “Greenwich Village in the ‘60s” is similarly archetypal but is hardly universal, and not Biblical, so the Coens are even further to the ground than they were five years ago. However, there is a similar tone of hopelessness, something that feels eternally bound 2 disappointment, futility, and resignation—the framing device of the movie is literally cyclical, with minor variations at the end to imply the changes Llewyn could make if he wised up. If this sounds stupidly grandiose, it kind of is, but the Coens want us to go there. Why else make a movie so solemn about a person who is neither tragically flawed or traditionally likable?

I don’t know, what’s the point of telling any story? In a dinner scene where Llewyn loses his cool he rants about what he does being a job, never mind the fact he is essentially homeless. If a movie was about a dentist we wouldn’t ask ourselves, “yes but is he the best dentist in the country?” Being a musician, or any creative person, is a vocation but strip away romantic ideas of it being a “calling” and it is a job like any other just with different hours. And I mean, only at its best, being an artist is a job: it’s a reliable way to make money and spend time and build a career. But for about 85% of the population of artists being one is just like being a top-seeded amateur in their field. Forever.

When does a person decide to quit on themselves? When do people make this decision? I once knew someone intimately who said they never felt smart but always just felt like a hard worker, which was ridiculous to me because I thought (and still think) they were in the top five smartest people I’ve ever known. Were they lying to themselves, or just being #honest, or humble, or oblivious? Or did they at some point—I knew them when they were like, 19-22, so they must have made this decision early—choose to “just” be a hard worker? The scenes where Llewyn visits his sister are explicitly about this. He whines to her their father just “existed,” and she argues it’s not a bad way to live, but to him, it’s the worst. (The movie wisely refuses judgment on his petulance but it quickly becomes obvious where the Coens [like any reasonable people] think how far his attitude goes.) To me it’s somewhat disappointing to think about. I respect the hustle but the dreamer in me hasn’t died yet, though it’s come perilously close. I don’t know when people make these decisions—some are just thrust into them, as I’m well aware this is a privilege not a lot of people have, but the point is not about specifics (how much money you’re making, where you’re living, who loves you) but greater ideas, like: am I living up to my potential? Do I still have a larger vision for how my life should be? Or is how I’m living currently enough? Am I working hard enough to enjoy life, or, barring that, just live through as little suffering as possible?

Inside Llewyn Davis understands this struggle so coherently and thoroughly these themes aren’t spelled out. It’s similar to Barton Fink but with less neuroses and more heart so I like it more. I don’t even care for folk music like that but in the long and patient musical interludes (well, with the exception of “Please Mr. Kennedy”) the Coens do a great job of highlighting the redemptive nature of so much traditional (in the oral- and anthropological sense) songwriting. You don’t have to like folk as much as these characters do but that’s okay, and it’s so hard to make a movie about anything that accomplishes that goal. Insofar as film critic types like to think of themselves as cultural gatekeepers the movie’s angle on folk music versus folk legend versus archetype versus how good T-Bone Burnett’s purposely sterile tastefulness is adds up to one of the Coen brothers’ many signature red herrings. This movie is about one person’s identity crisis on the cusp of an overblown cultural event, nothing more. (Its greatest misstep comes at the very end—playing that Dylan song over the credits would be fine enough, but they had to go hire a doppelganger to perform IMMEDIATELY AFTER Llewyn and it’s too obvious, just like the cat’s name being Ulysses is too obvious.)

For some people taking care of a cat is a Sisyphean task even if it’s of no greater purpose. Of course importance is relative—people I’ve known who’ve been in rehab talk about putting out small fires like making the bed and getting dressed in the morning as the most satisfying accomplishments in their life. Not every single individual action, and not every interaction with someone else can be so meaningful, but through a careful process enough good contact with people and experience adds up to a life worth living. (As Llewyn says at one point, “surely there is someone in the five boroughs who doesn’t hate me,” and it’s one the movie’s most sincerely optimistic moments.) This simple lesson is a more beautiful story than almost any other narrative possible.

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Her

There comes a point in every young buck’s life where he decides he wants to make a squishy project about love and encompass every emotional nook that lies therein. The problem with these types of passion projects—from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, Charlie Kaufman’s Eternal Sunshine, Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep, Linklater’s Before movies, even a hack like David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook—is illustrating “love” is just not that interesting. I think about this Jens Lekman quote a lot (“When people ask me about my production rate the last five years I sometimes say, ‘Well you can’t pour manure in an espresso machine and expect a cappuccino to come out.’ By which I mean that some things you just go through, you don’t write about them or make art out of them”). And the inverse of this is you can’t put flowers in an espresso machine and expect a cappuccino. You gotta put coffee grounds in an espresso machine to get a cappuccino and there is no coffee in these types of movies whose intended lasting impression is “wow he really nailed what being in love is like.”

From the get-go Her seems like the most egregious of these types of projects, from Joaquin Phoenix’s childlike mannerisms to the Anthropologie-meets-Apple-Store production design to an anonymous score from Arcade Fire. Admittedly some of it works on a gut level, like how flirty Scarlett Johansson’s voice sounds and the brief scene where Theodore Twombly (ugh, speaking of college-aged cultural references) is presented with a bound copy of every love letter he’s written in his life.

But Jonze is not a good writer. At so many parts of this I winced hard, from Amy Adams saying “love is a socially acceptable form of insanity” to Samantha’s “the past is just a story we tell ourselves” (this one cued my going to the bathroom) to someone saying “I just want to feel good in this life.” There is literally no theme or trope in this movie that doesn’t get an obvious handling. Rooney Mara has an utterly thankless role as the nearly mute ex-wife and between her cruel treatment by Jonze and Adams’s wide-eyed naivete (and being a cliched Interesting Woman type) and every cringe-inducing baby-talk sequence it becomes clear Jonze’s (or Theodore’s or whoever’s) idea of love is contingent on passivity and having a person in your life who merely coddles you like a child, not teaches you anything or challenges you to do better or guides you through difficult circumstances. It feels fundamentally shallow and immature, and this attitude inevitably affects every aspect of the movie.

This is why I always thought some of those mumblecore movies were really important, from Mutual Appreciation to Humpday to (of course) The Puffy Chair. They stripped a traditional narrative away from the foundation of movies and got at the heart of what makes interpersonal relationships (not just romantic ones) work. Ioeno if I have a favorite romantic movie anymore, movies are a visual medium and it’s impossible to simply visualize a feeling without there being more behind it. I wish all these guys would stop trying to do this thing where they say “hey I’m quirky and smart but I also FEEL A LOT too” and get on with it. Let’s stop now and recognize What’s Up Fatlip? will forever remain Spike Jonze’s greatest cinematic contribution.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

Pick a word, any word, from the Scorsese word-association cloud: Catholic, 71, gangster, epic, mob, Leonardo, cocaine, et. al. You just wrote a review of The Wolf of Wall Street.

First of all I can’t even pretend to care some 18-year-old somewhere will put a poster of this on his dorm wall and talk about how cool Jordan Belfort is. White Men Behaving Badly is a genre every white male loves at some point in his life but Scorsese throws a curveball with this one I’ll get to in a second. Next, I can’t even pretend to care about the movie’s lack of focus on the victims of Belfort’s scam. I didn’t realize every time someone is victimized in a movie we needed to see their origin story. And last, I can’t even pretend to care what the real Belfort thinks about this movie. I’m sure 99% of people on the planet would love a movie about them on principle alone even if they are a despicable person. One can hope they feel remorse if a movie depicts their worst behaviour but idk human morality is complex. What’s more disturbing is this swindle-then-redemption complex even exists, where someone like Belfort can be paid for sharing his story at convention centers and in books, and let’s be real, this is an exploitation of that but Scorsese is gifted enough etc etc etc to redeem the content etc etc etc.

Scorsese does some interesting things other people would not with the material. The mere length of the movie and the depths it reaches in dramatizing the bacchanalia of the times recalls St. Augustine. Everyone knows his famous quote: “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” As Scorsese gets into his seventies there’s a natural tendency as an audience to take stock of his life, but instead of a standard weepy lump that’d deal with morality in a dumb obvious pandering way (see every movie made explicitly “about” Catholicism/redemption/sin) he takes the exact opposite approach. The movie is too long to be cool and too exhausting to be glamorous, even though it flirts with valorizing certain habits. But hey, if you think the Jerry Lewis-inspired body horror of Leo crawling around in a Quaalude-induced stupor is exciting or funny, more power to you. (The drugs-as-Popeye’s-spinach image is brilliant by the way.)

By letting the audience really be indoctrinated into the movie’s world of sex, drugs, violence, cronyism, etc, it removes some of the mystique surrounding those things. Snorting cocaine out of someone’s butt is really gross if you think about it and this movie visually proves that. With every orgy scene Scorcese is saying, Lord, grant me chastity—but not yet. And of course the life of Augustine is the great redemption narrative of Catholicism, and he’s one of the defining doctors of the Church, whose Confessions is something else. There’s no way to talk about redemption without mentioning from what one needs to be redeemed.

Scorsese nails the philosophical and moral anxiety that drives aspirational wealth in America. All the guys in the movie who start working for Belfort out of a garage are rough blue-collar types, and, yes their lifestyles were gross, greedy, inhumane, unsustainable, to say nothing of the lives they single-handedly ruined, but a scene late in the movie where a woman who works as a receptionist in the office desperately recalls how Belfort saved her life by loaning her $20,000 to pay off her mortgage left many in the audience in tears. We don’t need to be told the reality of the situation is horrible, but Scorsese includes a scene like that to get at the heart of what many people desire: wealth as the definitive measure of success, wealth as moral fortitude, wealth as spiritual enlightenment. (He often frames Leo inside his office like the pastor of a mega church preaching the prosperity gospel.) In America where success is measured by dollars, property, and possessions, there is something noble-seeming about trying to achieve at that level when you come from nothing, even if flaunting it is often seen as gauche. By dramatizing all aspects of the acquisition of wealth, power, and vice by an elite class, Scorsese damns as well as he lionizes and understands: Lord, grant me chastity, continence, humility, abstinence (of all types)—just not within the next three hours.

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I’m going to write this in only one draft because that’s how Yeezus feels to me (a one-draft Kanye album) and really after the masterwork of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the spotty Watch the Throne/Cruel Summer isn’t this kind of EXACTLY what ‘Ye needed to do? There was a time there, like, August-September where it felt like admitting you liked Yeezus was kinda frowned upon and I’m glad that as this EOTY stuff has hit it’s regained some of its status but I still think only one person on the planet has written about this knotty, baffling, but potentially-brilliant album satisfactorily and unfortunately that man is no longer alive.

It is fortunate however that this album dropped in June because the longer time goes on the more I feel strongly about it. Admittedly my first impression was positive but I also felt short-shrifted. There were undeniable sparks of brilliance but a lot of it seemed all-over-the-place. I loved about half the songs but almost loathed the other half. It felt needlessly dark and off-putting.

But here’s what happened: a lot of other people released albums in 2013 after Kanye did and it quickly became obvious that even in a hurried rush Kanye is still working at a level few are working at. I think Kanye is doing something that’s unprecedented right now, although, given the past few weeks, I’d say the only other person in the room is Beyonce (but they do different things so the comparison isn’t perfect). Kanye is popular enough to have the clout to do whatever he wants and the fans will show out for him. But he’s also credible enough to do whatever he wants and the fans will show out for him. There is no Kanye base. The “base” is probably exclusively College Dropout/Late Registration/Graduation fans who with every year that passes seem more and more out-of-touch. On the other hand you have the young and nerdy, dudes who wear Hood By Air kilts and call each other “fam” and can’t go a day without using the acronym G.O.A.T. w/r/t Kanye or someone on his team. And there’s a large group of people in the middle. And somehow some way all of them keep showing up every time he makes an album.

There’s an Ira Glass quote where he says (in a million words; I’m paraphrasing) that an artist feels moved to create because they have good taste. A person sees what they like in the things they enjoy or are inspired by or feel enlightened by and that motivates them to do the same. And they struggle against it for potentially-years until they start creating the things they want to create. I watched this interview with Ali, the guy who mixes all of Kendrick’s songs (“let it run, Ali”). And the interviewer (it was on “Pensado’s Place”) was being really hugely respectful and almost downright thirsty, but he said something along these lines: “you have great taste. And that’s the most important thing.” Kanye has great taste. He’s at the point now where there’s no “slumming it” for him. I mean, he could wrap up an album in ten days and rush it out with no cover art. And in a sense that’s slumming it. But it’ll still be better than like 85% of most things. He’s in a zone that goes out of reach for most creative people their entire lives. He’s cultivated enough good instincts and taste to go along with his talent, which has been there since The College Dropout. In a way, Yeezus feels like his most personal and essential work, because it’s the one where he’s most locked in.

Like I’ve always thought of Kanye as one of my favorite musicians because I liked his style and his interviews and I thought he made great music but I also struggled to find that “one” album when I was compiling a list of my favorite albums last year. I just didn’t think he had made one. But now I do. As far as albums go, you know, a group of songs that are intrinsically linked either thematically or sonically or whatever, Yeezus is my favorite, because it seems the most pure. I don’t like explaining it (and I don’t think anyone would care) and I also have zero interest in talking about his extra-curricular activities. In my own personal history I have so rarely developed a kinship with an artist to where I’d subject myself to unbearable May humidity and walk all over creation so I could see their face on the side of a building. And of course it didn’t happen because we can’t have nice things here. But I didn’t care, I was glad to have the story. Just like I was glad to be almost blackout one Friday night a month ago and scream “Bound 2” at the top of my lungs in a room with my favorite people. Or how I went and saw his concert even though all the cool parts were spoiled by me lurking on the internet. I still didn’t not experience an outburst of emotion as he lied on top of a mountain bleating “Coldest Winter” as artificial snow fell.

This is a transitional moment. It feels silly to say a whole lot of extra stuff right now because Kanye is clearly going through a lot of things creatively and w/r/t his place in the culture and maybe will release more music or won’t or whatever, and then we can contextualize the record more. But, I dunno. Almost no one this year engaged me consistently like ‘Ye did.

I’m 25 now. I don’t want to be pandered to, or talked down to, or be scolded at, or whatever. I don’t need that bland reassurance from the things I consume. So while lots of moments on this album give me pause, I’m just grateful that I can experience something that moves me in a significant way. Every time I see a movie nowadays in a theater I fall asleep. (The pleasant foods smells, the calming environment, not being on my horrendous back are all conducive to me catching some zzz’s as whatever garbage I stupidly paid for unspools into my brain.) The radio was unbearable this year. TV is a wasteland. The internet is dead. Every bit of time I spent “with” Kanye and Yeezus this year was antithetical to all this deadening shit. What Lou Reed so perfectly articulated in his review was the moments that make up Yeezus are more than the sum of their parts. As soon as the album dropped (partly because this album does wear its influences on its sleeve) people were already making comparison after comparison to all the stuff Kanye bit for his album. And really, most of them were on the money. But really as an artistic creator Kanye is a God of his own little universe. And he can bring it together (whether it was through him or Rick Rubin or whoever else’s name is in these long credits) in a way that is bigger than its parts. That’s what great artists do.

When you get older, naturally you start hedging your bets more. But I have no interest in that. All I want is dopeness. I’m forever the 5-year-old of something. The opposite of grandeur is not the pits, it’s insecurity. In my manic modes when I’m thinking a million thoughts a second and I start writing emails that are thousands of words long to people who probably have no interest in reading them—Yeezy’s there. In my moods where I’m just trying to cool it and readjust all my shit—Yeezy’s there. When I’m fucking shit up on the elliptical with “Black Skinhead” on blast in my ears—Yeezy’s there. In my moods where I feel totally at one with the walls of my bedroom around me and Idgaf about anyone outside of them—Yeezy’s there. It’s true. No point in talking about this album sensibly. It is made of moments. Every moment leads into the next. OK. Done with writing this. Going to listen to the outro of “New Slaves” for the next thirty minutes.

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WHEN I LOOK AT MYSELF, LOOK LIKE A MEAL TICKET

A year ago I wrote about the self-help undertones of Young Thug lyrics. He really stepped it up with 1017 Thug. This is twenty songs of empowerment. It’s not a front to back masterpiece; there are songs I haven’t listened to all the way through more than once. But the highlights, dear god the highlights—some of the best music of all 2013.

I GOT THIS WATCH FROM ITALY, BUT THE CURRENT TIME SAY NEW YORK

Atlanta has reclaimed its status as the center of rap. Everywhere you turned this year was Future on a hook, Future dropping a single from his coming-out-this-Neveruary album Honest. 2 Chainz on primetime and daytime TV. Jeezy finally making good on a credible return; T.I. on the year’s biggest single. Gucci and Waka traded subtweets; both of them dropped consistent if not stellar tapes all year long. Scooter quietly dominated from behind bars; Migos broke out; Rich Kidz “got next.” There’s also a hundred other guys and groups working under the shadow of these giants. Young Thug is my favorite.

GAMBLE WITH YOUR LIFE, IF I DON’T GET TWO CUPS STUFFED

Rap reached some kind of peak in 2011 with the glut and takeover of independent/internet rappers, but the internet in 2013 is a totally different place. “The internet,” as a concept, and as a space for creating content, is in a deep slump right now. It’s hard to say who’s at fault: everyone’s blogging for a book deal, everyone’s making music for a record deal. Validation comes with $$$ and you can’t make money off Tumblr or Twitter or YouTube forever, if at all. People are less interested in something that’s not riding a giant cosign or wave of money. Something not a lot of people are saying, though, is Kendrick killed a lot of this stuff last year. Naturally, fickle writers have expressed some remorse over their quick beatification of good kid, mAAd city. It’s still great even if the only album from 2012 getting obsessive replays from me now is Late Nights with Jeremih. But what’s happened since is what always happens with benchmarks like those: a slew of less-talented imitators in its wake, and the evaporation of the context that allowed Kendrick to happen in the first place, which has less to do with the internet and more the freedom of being independent.

WHEN SHE GET OUT THE SHOWER, DRINK HER BATHTUB

Chicago is making a lot of great music, and I can’t overlook the west coast Mustard-wave. But in a way it feels redundant. A lot of it is fun party music, some of it is more serious, but it’s all variations on a theme at this point. Not counting outliers like Kanye or Earl, or guys who are really consistent like Roc Marciano, there were only a handful of rappers this year transcending rap’s post-Kendrick 2013 limits. They flourished and rejoiced; Thug is one of them. No one currently raps or sings or squawks like Thug. I understand basic music theory but most things are out of my reach. “Condo Music” has two indelible moments on tape. The first is right near the beginning, after the Nard & B drop, Thug does a guttural yell that is not a sound normally made by humans. He does it again and it becomes clear it’s a gunshot noise but that first yelp is inhuman, perplexing, yet addictive. The second is during the hook, when Thug sings, “I love her friends, I love her friends ohhhh yeaahhh" in a half-sigh, half-croon, all-heart tone. Its coyness has made me levitate. There are times you hear him smiling as he raps. It’s one of the most joyous sounds I heard all year.

WHEN I WALK THROUGH THE CLUB, MY DIAMONDS DANCIN’

Other Thug mixtapes may be “better” or more consistent or his one-offs more satisfying in an unquantifiable way but there’s a reason “Nigeria” is my third most played song in iTunes and it has nothing to do with brainy analysis. Some things are just felt and enjoyed. One of my favorite memories of 2013 is driving late at night after the bars closed with two friends, one of whom doesn’t normally listen to rap at all. She said “this is the craziest music I’ve heard in my life.” It was “Nigeria”. It wasn’t condescending either but pure wide-eyed glee. This is the lane Thug operates in. As the year progressed he did weirder stuff that was a bit more polished, confident, and under-control, which is what happens with any artist getting better at what they do. There was the collab with perhaps the only rapper weirder than Thug: Casino’s “Communication,” which was fairly slept-on. “Danny Glover" was slightly overrated to me. Perfectly rated: "Stoner" and "Loaded,” two of my absolute favorite tracks. I could’ve loaded up my favorite songs of the year list with half Young Thug hits but I tried to show some restraint (somehow I ended up with three Rich Homie Quan songs though, I didn’t even realize that happened until it happened). Listen to the no-DJ version. It gives the songs more room and refocuses the energy on Thug’s raps, and less the hurried frenzy of the regular version. It’s a whole new experience, though I miss those “SWAMP IZZO!!!!” intrusions that sound like Ryu’s hadouken in drop form. Come to think of it, 1017 Thug is a hadouken in rap form. 

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Cupid Deluxe manages to embody many moving parts toward creating something the opposite of trite. It’s nostalgic yet forward-looking. It’s sometimes uncomfortably personal while airing out big stadium-rock drums and sax solos. It makes room for nearly everything on the spectrum between masculine and feminine. I used to think the title was a sly nod to Sade’s Love Deluxe, but when news of Dev Hynes’s devastating apartment fire broke it was noted the name of his dog who died was Cupid. This album is like taking the untarnished love for a pet or family member or music and transferring it onto wax.

That’s the word I come to every time I listen to Cupid Deluxe: love. It sounds lovely, it’s about love, it’s clearly made with love, it’s full of love. For this reason it’s one of the only albums I’ve ever enjoyed I’d describe as sexy or seductive or alluring. The spoken-word portion of “Chosen” has made me cry; it uses a zoom-lens to stop time on “he was the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen,” and “I know none of it is real” with equal time given to each. The pulsing drums and ornate horn section make it feel like an anthem, but it’s really nothing more than a scribbled-down memory writ large on an IMAX screen. It’s so charged with longing by the time Hynes takes over vocal duties in its final minutes singing “let me take you home” over and over again, it’s only natural to conclude his is the voice of the boy from the start of the song. His promise of intimacy reunites lovers with more heft than three hour art-house movies. It’s the centerpiece of Cupid Deluxe, the place from which all its tentacles unravel.

Cupid Deluxe is the NYC answer to Channel Orange, but instead of taking a laidback, assertively west coast vision and infusing it with equal parts west coast rap and dad rock like Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan, it’s a small, claustrophobic ride on an underground subway fusing New York rapper Despot with grime MC Skepta, a union fitting for a city deemed cosmopolitan and international by nearly everyone. And instead of “dad rock” it draws on a different dad’s rock: Lionel Richie, Luther Vandross, The Gap Band, Sade, Anita Baker, endless quiet-storm late-evening playlists. And just like Channel Orange at the center of it all is a gifted songwriter stubbornly refusing to write simple pop songs. But I like Cupid Deluxe more.

First, it’s more complete. Also, Hynes is older than Ocean and there’s an intangible quality to this record that displays that clearly. Among the rotating features and turn-of-the-century-pop-song covers and “It Is What It Is” getting an extended reprise at the end, something lurks in the back of all these songs that speaks to a wisdom earned from living well into your twenties. On Dave Longstreth showcase “No Right Thing,” a squirmy production half-composed by Clams Casino with drums that scatter like spiders when you shine a light on them, Hynes sings “I’ve been changing my whole scene, you need somebody different” and the line hits a few ways. The surface, entry-level read is it’s someone singing about changing their personality and social group to leave a former lover in the dust. A deeper reading says something more meaningful, true, and decidedly adult: how a person adapts to the changes in their partner, no matter how much the culture tells us a person who truly loves you will continue to love you no matter what and if they can’t put up with you without confrontation you gotta walk away.

Whenever bands like M83 (among many others) have tried to make big-gestured statement-albums the results are embarrassing because their intentions do not match their ability. I saw M83 at a festival when they were touring behind Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and was so bored and turned off by the empty spectacle I gave up my first-row vantage point I was saving for Girls and chilled further back on the hill. Keith Urban in this great Rolling Stone interview articulated how Cupid Deluxe perfects all types of visions into one album-length slab. The difference between Cupid Deluxe and M83 is Dev Hynes is firstly working at an incredible level as a songwriter but is also smart enough to hire other talented people around him to see his project through. Urban hit the nail on the head by comparing it to New Radicals, a band that revolved around one songwriter but felt equal parts communal, collaborative, huge, and still personal.

Cupid Deluxe is all about ambition and aspiring to grandeur (which it frequently nails). Hynes didn’t forget the moral of “Little Room”; it’s a humble but hugely textured record performed with patience. I still haven’t mentioned how deep the bass consistently rumbles, or “Uncle Ace,” which moves with the inevitability of a subway train but writhes like an insecure teenager. It’s an exhausting, crushing album, but I’m overjoyed to listen to it literally every single night before bed and I’m never reluctant to dive back in it the next day. I wonder if this how people from NYC love their city.

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Matangi and my #4 have a lot in common w/r/t feeling like complete immersions into lived experience. It’s not that they’re perfect records, but in their singularity lies their value: when MIA was mocked in 2010 for rapping about Google’s ties with the government, it was split about evenly between those who thought she was ignorant versus those unwilling to examine their own illogical emotional attachment to a faceless tech corporation. What Matangi accomplishes is justifying her worldview, one where the government is watching, white Americans don’t want to listen to “jungle music” from India, and even in the context of romance is the uncanny feeling something is watching; “there’s a thousand ways to meet you now/there’s a thousand ways to track you down,” is one of the most powerful opening lines of a song from this year.

One of the least interesting things about technology is the constant conversation about people’s “relationship” with it. I know it’s discouraging to be in a public place and see everyone’s face glued to a screen, and I’m sure these computers we carry everywhere aren’t good for our eyes/attention spans (to say nothing about their effect on the environment/or the working conditions of where they’re manufactured). But undue moral panic is a bit much. People experience facsimile after facsimile of real human connection on one piece of equipment after another and maybe I’m naive but I would like to think fatigue is more prevalent and frequent than a top-down destruction of morals and the raw material of human-to-human relationships. What Someone’s Twitter Says About Them is 100 times less interesting than what someone makes from their technological toys. 

So it all goes in this bouillabaisse of experience, first as a woman, then as a woman of color, then as a WOC living in a first-world country, then as an artist, then as one with as much history of being hated as she. She named her album after a Hindu goddess. She makes a home for her world-dominating “Bad Girls” anthem. She revisits the same Weeknd song twice. She hired Julian Assange for “atTENTion,” which wrings a lot of mileage out of a seemingly-non-sequitur commitment to rhyming as many words with “-ent” as possible, but manages to be one of the catchiest songs on the record. They were playing “Only 1 U” at a record store and one of the clerks said “this sounds like Crazy Frog,” then laughed, but when I looked up the other guys were nodding their head in approval. (I concluded they were making the comparison as a positive.) Remember how purists hated ringtone rap? Matangi is ringtone third-world-get-ready-for-the-future pop tunes.

On the brilliant 1:15-long “Boom Skit” she raps, “eat, pray, love, spend time in the Ashram/or I’ll drone you/Kony 2012 you/now scram.” The non-generous could see the spread of ideas on Matangi as (further, to their nearsighted eyes) proof MIA doesn’t have a strict, coherent palette to draw from, and the above just a slew of buzzwords delivered in a sneer to garner cheap applause from the congregation. But what’s missed is this is the fitting satire for our times: not a double-disc thud from some Canadians playing dress-up, but an artist who flipped the bird during the Super Bowl offhandedly shitting on first-world detritus and making it shorter than her album’s intro. If we make the argument technology/social networking is making us dumber, or more xenophobic, or more self-absorbed, shouldn’t our satire and skewering of that offer more than masturbatory hand-wringing? Shouldn’t it knock? (Hit-Boy produced.) The secret unfettered truth of technology is only the boring get bored. You can claim The Internet Ruins Everything or you can X the browser and dismiss all the white anxiety from your eyes then use that same piece of equipment to rewriteTrouble”. (Is the nearing-40 Maya Arulpragasam secretly a ’90s kid? IS SHE A #MILLENNIAL)

So many Americans don’t realize what passes for mainstream conversation or mainstream media is intrinsically, predominantly white. It seems obvious to me the widespread adoption of social networks and blogging is (and has been) a grassroots attempt at shifting people’s attention, often by the same (non-white) people disenfranchised or alienated from the (white) polite conversation of America. When MIA writes a song called “Y.A.L.A.” (you always live again) as a tongue-in-cheek ribbing of the latest trend in seizing the day, that she writes from a “YOLO unless you’re Hindu" perspective is key to the whole thing: we so rarely let minority voices truly be heard, at least as anything further than tokenism. She’s not "taking shots" at Drake or some such nonsense, but manipulating this mainstream (and therefore inherently white) pseudo-philosophy into a half-serious, half-joking probe of her own lifestyle. "If you only live once why we keep doing the same shit?" she asks in mocking bemusement, snickering at the obliviousness of the privileged.

This is one of those things that’s so absurdly obvious it’s kinda dumb and maybe condescending to say, but I still don’t think even well-meaning white people “get” it: make one, or two, or however-many non-white friends and notice they don’t care about the same things you do, or at least, not in the same way. It’s so easy to assume everyone cares the way you do about the same stuff you do but venture outside the echo chamber for some perspective. Matangi is easily my favorite MIA album and immediately became one of my favorites this year because it’s the one where she’s closest to articulating exactly what people who won’t listen to her need to hear: she doesn’t care. (And they won’t care, and we don’t care.)

That the record is less abrasive than /\/\/\Y/\ and more consciously “about” something than Arular and Kala feels important. It was initially rejected by her label for being “too positive.” (Yet another example of policing what roles we allow minorities to play in the culture.) But it’s her finest work because it doesn’t spell all this out for you, it doesn’t scold or chide or condemn, it bangs and slaps and fill in the blank here as an invitation: let’s stop the fuckshit, 2013. When we can stop treating people as symbolic of what demographics they represent is an important step, otherwise liberal (usually white) guilt will continue to paradoxically, and sadly, dominate the conversation about diversity and the necessity of minority voices in America. The record makes me think about all my friends and all their friends and all their families and how they “don’t fit” (in almost every which way) and how I keep getting away from mainstream identity politics and I’ve stopped asking myself questions that go beyond how can I affect change around me, how can I do something more than what’s around me. I can’t. We usually can’t. Charity begins at home. Etc. I realize I have the luxury of living in the city that recently unseated NYC as the most diverse in the country, so I feel a tinge of validation writing about things like this, knowing that in the coming years where I’m from is always the first signpost toward what America becomes. Matangi, for me anyway, sounds like the soundtrack to a series of very necessary and inevitable changes. It’s already in car commercials.

Houston Rap 2013

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Hi, Kenny Evans (aka @KennyNotMad) and I made a list for you of our favorite Houston rap music from this year. 

Quinn – “Booty Springs” ft. Rai P

June James wins Texas Man of Year 2013. Your a Jenius 3 is my most played mixtape from any city and Quinn’s kanyelaughsthenrealizesheslaughingnowhesupset.gif verses are consistently the most enjoyable pieces of the comp. This track sounds as close to Mike Will (brings to mind “Turn on the Lights”) as it does TX club and Jesus is it catchy. And…they finally shot the video this past weekend!!! Let’s hope this song is the “Gas Pedal” of 2014. KE

Rai P – “Talm Bout It” ft. First Day of Skool

Best known for “Swagged Up I Be Killin” Rai P has continuously released music for years now but hit a note-perfect equation with this three minutes of XD. It slaps fer sher and also the raps are funny and memorable—“she got the voicemail” should be rap music’s new favorite joke but ioeno if people want to consume that kind of content anymore, not with everyone so concerned about rap only if it’s validated by the right people. Rai P has been blessed with a voice that makes anything he says sound mercurial but good-natured and he hits this track like a pendulum knocking it out of the park before it comes back around to maintaining ultimate chill. My personal favorite song out of Houston this year, if you were in this room with me right now I’d force you to listen to it and observe my world-class rap hands. MR

BeatKing – “Throw Dat Ahh” ft. DJ Chose

One time after the Fat Tony/Riff Raff/Bun B Vice Brisk show Stacks, Tea, and I caught a couple bros in the parking lot hitting all types of Dallas swag in front of their headlights. It was a good moment, but I can only imagine that this same thing happened in at least two driveways every minute after midnight of every day of this past year. KE

Fat Tony – Smart Ass Black Boy

Tony is Houston’s URL and IRL phenom and this is easily the best full-length album (of any genre) out of Houston this year, even though we’ve lived with some of these songs far longer than that. But what they know about rolling a giant blunt and rapping along to “BKNY”? What they know about his electric live shows? If you seen him take the stage before Riff Raff and Bun B while taking tallboys to the face and outrap them both while the crowd moshes to “Hood Party” then you know. If you’ve ever sipped a Topo Chico or a Jarrito while walking off being drunk on these Houston streets then you know about “Frenzy”. Every time I eat jerk chicken I think about Tom Cruz’s dancehall-meets-Mountasia production, I don’t know nothing about Travis Scott. Don’t count the boys out. MR

Maxo Kream – “Whitney Houston

Bars KE

Mr. Wired Up – “Strippin” ft. Fat Pimp & Sherro

Hands down this year’s best Houston music video. Sherro went to jail not long after his first mixtape dropped and that was just so sad because everyone deserves to hear his album which he so aptly described as “A GOOD BLEND OF SOUTHERN CLUB/TRAP MUSIC THAT WILL GIVE YOU AN EXCITING MOTIVATING FEELING WHEN LISTENING TO IT”. If you heard this particular exciting motivating song on Southern Hospitality & Tha Fixx’s Texas Club Music Vol. 1 please delete that version and download this one because they mixed it down all weird and the bass no longer rattles your brain/trunk/stack of ones like it is perfectly engineered to do. KE

B L A C K I E – “Marathon Man” ONLY 4 THE REAL

His two releases this year didn’t touch GEN (what could?) but I’m sure if I said that out loud a gang of dudes who drink exclusively at Mango’s would break my glasses while yelling “FUCK THE FALSE” and blast this song (his 2013 peak) until my bowels erupted. Good story I’ve always wanted to tell: the first time I saw B L A C K I E in 2008 I had no idea who he was I was just trying to drink illegally at Numbers and nod my head to the Mathletes, but I also had to defecate and I quickly needed to decide if I wanted to stick around and continue to have my mind blown while risk being embarrassed in perpetuity for losing control of my bodily functions or save face. Then he tore the wire out of his mic and rapped a capella on top a pool table while the entire building shook. I chose to risk it and it was one of the best decisions I ever made. DON’T COME TO HOUSTON MR

Beyoncé – “I Been On (Bow Down) Remix” ft. Bun B, Z-Ro, Scarface, Willie D, Slim Thug, & Lil Keke

Ratchet earrings, something about “No Angel,” whatever, this song is so chill. Remember when Kirko said he felt “disrespected” for not being asked to appear on it on Chicago radio lololololol KE

Z-Ro - “I’m Alive

Rother Vandross has a new song with 40 water and it rules (duh, also it’s produced my Mr. Lee — he’s having a good year). Here’s hoping Rap-A-Lot finally lets his nuts go in 2014. KE

Mel (The Outfit, TX) - “Drunk Driving

Mel is Houston’s current best triple threat. The Outfit have been at the front of the “most slept on” for almost two years now. Who is sleeping, why are they sleeping, where are they sleeping? I don’t get it. Last month I dragged Stacks to their mixtape release party and it was packed full of very awake people going ham to DJ Candlestick. One of the dudes from The Niceguys bought me a cider and my dick grew two full sizes. KE

Cory Jreamz - “Nina

It sort of sounds like El-P but better because you don’t have to imagine a 40-year-old white guy sweating between verses. MR

Killa Kyleon - “Cadillac

2013 is the year Killa’s biceps became bigger than my head. KE

Chingo Bling - “Bersace

Some rappers can rap well but only Chingo Bling raps, hustles his own versions of hit songs that usually usurp their source (never forget), and slangs tamales at your church parking lot. MR

Slim Thug - “Coming Down (Every Town)” ft. Kirko Bangz, Big K.R.I.T., & Z-Ro

Mr. Lee reminds us that he’s still supremely wavy and should be included on the short list of G.O.A.T. southern rap producers and Z-Ro reminds us why he’s the greatest rapper/singer of our time. KE

DeLorean - “Feel Like I’m Winning” ft. Trae

GRACE is this year’s best Houston “underground” mixtape, Ridin’ Slab a close second, and E36 an even closer third. This K.R.I.T. beat is my favorite since “Money On The Floor”. KE

Yung Nation – “Skurr Skate” ft. Rai P

While these dudes are from Dallas they have a lot of connects to Houston, this being one of them. Before “Talm Bout It” came into my life I was ready to go ham til I die to this track which was surprisingly left off their YNU 2 tape that got a lot of national love. They linked up with Rai P and made some petulant rap shit, bang it at your next house party instead of staring at Instagram in the corner. MR

Dustin-Prestige – “Mr. P

Dustin’s music sounds a lot like his perfectly weathered Polo ranger boots. KE

Doublebe - “Ball” ft. Doughbeezy

Doublebe is really fucking doing it. Dough’s new single is also pretty tough but doesn’t involve this dude bleating an autotuned chorus at the top of his lungs soooooo KE

ROSEWOOD THIEVZ – ENTER THE TERRORDOME

Do you miss the days when you’d click on something on the internet not knowing anything about it then suddenly have your whole shit fucked up? I got passed this link because some of the guys’ whose house we shot the “Hood Party” video at are in this group. I listened to “Lurking” and once I heard “she spread eagle in the Terrordome/puffin on Brian Cushing/I’m rocked up, ho/now can you smell what I’m cooking” I knew nothing was the same. It sounds like insert your favorite hallmark for golden age rap purity here mixed with undeniable Houston danger (the best Houston music has an intangible edge to it, it’s what 95 degree heat with 100% humidity does to a person). Why is FACT still putting Raider Klan mixtapes on their year-end lists when this exists? One song interpolates Rick James’s “Mary Jane” while “Wild Zebra” is on some Toro y Moi wave. Perfect for driving to the HEB off O.S.T. Stop saying “trill.” MR