the red backpack


matthew ramirez. houston. ramiremj at gmail dot com.


i literally act like i’m allergic to emails they cause me anxiety make me hyperventilate i open them then don’t read them just so they can be marked as read in my inbox i am a complete psycho about emails just communicate with me telepathically bruh

on principle/in theory i am into “outsider rap,” because usually i am into things that take the form of one thing and turn it into another. it can be subversive, or cool, or unique, etc. and i genuinely f/w some yung lean songs—but man, a year later, we still talking about this dude? what’s depressing is it’s painfully obvious—as if it weren’t before—mainstream outlets are only interested in rap produced by white people. so yung lean is relevant to the new yorker, and not young thug, the most boundary-pushing rapper working on a pseudo-mainstream stage. bullshit scam artists/”writers” are relevant to the new yorker and not the rap figurehead that launched a thousand internet dorks: lil b.

what’s so cynical about this type of coverage from overhyped new york-based media outlets is assuming a general audience only cares about rap when it pivots from their out-of-date and inaccurate perception of it. to the average, non-clued in person, rap is only relevant when they can get what they want from it—and the average person wants a white person, some kind of “outsider,” to deliver them their rap. it’s obvious, now that “fancy” has been number one for seemingly decades. aside from the fact this subconscious desire/assumption is racist, it also goes to prove how fucking bad a lot of mainstream reporting on rap is—because the media only makes people care when someone outside of rap is rapping. what if this same philosophy was extended to other areas of coverage? let’s not talk about the MLB all-star game; here’s something interesting that happened at a minor-league game last week.

who cares, though, right? the clueless person eating up this coverage is irrelevant. but it doesn’t have to be that way. we don’t have to keep, little by little, conceding coverage of rap and its many-tentacled family tree to outsiders and caricatures and novelties. not only is it further marginalizing a genre, it marginalizes fans of the genre, it marginalizes the artists who wish they could receive half the attention of yung lean. then again, it isn’t about yung lean, insomuch it’s about the cynical media who claims to care about one thing, but in their actions doesn’t give a shit at all about rap, or rappers, or any kind of non-white person doing anything cool/eccentric/progressive.

that’s what’s so sad, though, is people who go until they’re blue in the face about their ideologies and ideas but then kinda cheekily concede “well i guess [insert schlock-peddler here] made a fun thing” and it’s clear that no one really cares, as long as they can get +1’s into shows and then rhapsodize about what it all means, man for a check that comes three weeks late. the media is so twisted it distorts reality into something unrecognizable, and then the media circle-jerk never fucking ends.

4th of July 2014

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It’s been a long time, shouldn’t have left you without a dope mix to step to. Lotta stuff here takes me to a pre-2007 place but I’m also feeling good about what I’m currently doing. Things are real right now in a way they haven’t been for some time. Most of these songs are a Google away to download. Haven’t been this excited for the start of July in some time. Let’s go Costa Rica/Colombia. #InMoreyWeTrust

Wiz “We Dem Boyz
Big Tymers “Still Fly
J. Lo/French “I Luh Ya Papi
5th Ward Weebie “Let Me Find Out
Kia Shine “Krispy
Iamsu! “Stop Signs
Rae Sremmurd “No Flex Zone
Rich the Kid/Migos “Island
Soulja Boy “Wassup
ILOVEMAKONNEN “Club Going Up on a Tuesday

Seals & Crofts “Summer Breeze

Slim Thug/Z-Ro/Paul Wall “Pokin Out
Clyde Carson “No Sleep
T.I./Young Thug “About the Money
Chingo Bling/5th Ward Weebie “Walk Like Cleto
Rai P/Quinn “Imma Hoe
BeatKing/Queen “Shade
Lil Rob “Summer Nights
Big Bear “Player Hatas
Propain/Rich Homie Quan “Two Rounds
Mac DeMarco “Let My Baby Stay" (demo version)

Stuff I’ve Liked, 2014

I’ve never done this before. Going to start right now. Still haven’t seen Obvious Child.

-John Walt, “Kemo Walk
Soak the last three years of music, strain, enjoy.

-YG, My Krazy Life
A hip-hopera.

-Mac DeMarco, Salad Days
Unexpectedly trenchant, like the third hour of a conversation.

-NBA Playoffs/Finals, Games 3-5
The beautiful game.

-The World Cup
^^^^^

-Isaiah Rashad, Cilvia Demo
These people think I really give a fuck about the shit they give a fuck about.

-Jennifer Lopez/French Montana, “I Luh Ya Papi
A.K.A. sold 30,000 in its first week, but here it’s always March.

-K Camp, “Cut Her Off
It’s got a good beat, and I can dance to it.

-Nicki Minaj/Soulja Boy, “Yasss Bish!!
Millions of haters who cried out in terror were suddenly silenced.

-Future, Honest
You could cut an EP that is the perfect marriage of James Taylor and ATL rap. This is a positive.

-Ab-Soul, These Days…
Honest.

-Jamie xx, “Girl/Sleep Sound
Quit your day job.

-Sage the Gemini, Remember Me
Get at the front of the 2016 line where we look back and say “Sage released a pretty great album you could get at Best Buy but y’all were sleep tho ~.~”

-Hearing Young Thug on the radio
Let’s get weird.

-Silicon Valley
A really good and funny TV show.

-Wiz Khalifa, “We Dem Boyz
There’s been a glut of rap songs that are just a great chorus carrying the dead weight of verses, this is the one I like the most.

-Podcasts
Better than music, sometimes.

-Slim Thug/Z-Ro/Paul Wall, “Pokin Out
There’s no reason a song like this with these guys should still be good in 2014 but people from Houston are ageless. Pairs nicely with “Two Rounds”.

-Vic Mensa, “Down on My Luck
-Todd Terje/Bryan Ferry “Johnny and Mary
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

George Strait: The Cowboy Rides Away Farewell Show

I wrote about George Strait’s farewell tour and why he’s the GOAT for Wondering Sound. There is no music icon as universally loved in Texas as George…maybe Beyonce.

Where were you when Kawhi Leonard put back a massive dunk in Game 4 of the 2014 NBA Finals?

Sports games often fade from memory in spite of being the most popular form of entertainment in the world. But some people remember some plays and some players and some games forever. Even if that memory is faulty.

Though the game happened last night I am not 100% on this sequence of events, but this is how I choose to remember it. When Leonard hit that dunk I blacked out: like when people survive car crashes and don’t remember the crash they just remember waking up and wondering how they got there.

Second quarter, Spurs already on a tear. One less massive than Game 3 but of course it was, it had to have been. But they are on a “let’s get this over with” attack to finish the first half. A few plays before the Leonard dunk, Boris Diaw took the ball to the post, looked trapped among Heat defenders, and flawlessly executed a no-look behind-the-back pass to Tiago Splitter, who I didn’t even see on my TV screen. I was seriously sitting there like, how the fuck did that happen? When did the CGI guys drag-and-drop Splitter there? He wasn’t there before. And on what was surely going to be a turnover Diaw teleports the ball into Splitter’s hands who goes for the one-hand dunk. It’s good.

A play or so later, Patty Mills, who turned into an elite version of Patrick Beverley last night, just attacking guys for 94 feet, takes the ball to the perimeter and splashes a three. It’s good, Spurs go up TWENTY.

Heat have a bad play, Spurs get the ball. A few passes, Mills has a chance to dagger a three and end the first half triumphantly. He pulls up but the shot is too strong. The ball lingers for a moment like it might go in, but it bounces off the rim. Then time slowed down and Leonard turned the game into The Matrix.

Transition defense for the Spurs has been phenomenal this series; even Danny Green is great on it. When Mills releases the ball Kawhi Leonard is already near the half-court, as all five Heat players gawk at the sight, doing absolutely nothing other than look old. Their arrangement creates a perfect lane. Leonard pauses, and in what must have been a moment of complete over-stimulation coupled with complete clarity, chooses the perfect play, sprints through the perfect lane, and

holy

fuck.

We had just seen Diaw do an impossible play, and Mills created the momentum, but Leonard hit that dunk with a passion that gave me chills. Nothing gives me chills. I’m jaded. Leonard, a guy who hit my radar this season, has been great all playoffs, but has rocketed to a new level these past two Finals games. I joke and say I haven’t felt an emotion since 2010. It’s a half-joke. Any time I do enjoy something I usually have to intellectualize it to prove to myself I am not wasting my time, because I genuinely feel I wasted a lot of the first 21 years or so of my life.

But holy shit. This was like if Kendrick Lamar won that Grammy instead of Macklemore. Or if I were a Portland fan on the good end of Lillard’s season-ending three-pointer. This was like if the things I’ve been rooting and aiming for since 2010 materialized in one instant. I am an emotional person; sometimes a thing happens to me and I react without even being conscious of my reaction. When Leonard stopped time mid-air only to fast-forward, swing on the rim, and land as gracefully as a feather on top of all five Heat players, I teared up, felt goosebumps, and punched my couch. 

If this sounds stupidly grandiose, it’s the only way I know how to process things. People talk about art changing your whole life, fucking up your whole shit, but I am left so cold these days by everything. I don’t even want to write fiction or poetry anymore. (Cue a guy in the background screaming, “Good!”) I want to examine how the world works, and why it works the way it does, and I can’t do that narratively. Learning this has been the most important thing I’ve learned since college. The old writing cliche goes, “write what you know.” I write to know. I write to sort out the millions of feelings, hunches, bits of intuition, and data I collect daily. I hate taking pictures; pictures are so one-dimensional. I have never kept a traditional diary because I am loath to pile my secrets in one place. I gotta spread it around.

I am navigating a moment in my life where I am hostile to the idea of someone trying to convince me of anything, which is why I find the understated and misunderstood virtue of the things I enjoy so enlightening. There’s an idea of "termite art"—understated, underappreciated, quiet creators burrowing into a topic or truth more artfully than those creators who stand around pontificating about it.

Kawhi Leonard is quickly gaining a reputation of being a gentle giant—someone who doesn’t say much, and who refuses to hit the podium after a game. It may or may not be a cliche, but for now, he’s playing into it. He’s a termite basketball player. He made me feel more things in a split second than 99% of people who are supposed to be professionals at making me feel things.

We used to dream, now we watch the Spurs play.

what’s your favorite louie episode is it the one where he

-follows a woman at the supermarket all the way to her house

-hits a woman in the face in bed “hilariously”

-chases pam around his apartment, as she protests, corners her, and then forces himself on her

idk they’re all so good

San Antonio is not my home. But the difference between Austin, where I’m from, and San Antonio, where we went to visit my mom’s (Mexican) side of the family is this: Austin was, is, and always will be a city for, by, and about white people. San Antonio was, is, and always will be a city for, by and about Mexican people. Somewhere along the highway south, I-35 was my border crossing.

Lauren is a friend-of-a-friend and usually I go out of my way to not say things about people I know’s work because anything negative or positive has unintentional implications but I cannot lie and say this essay didn’t move me in many ways. A personal history about growing up in Texas mixed in with lengthy basketball anecdotes fields all of my relevant interests checkboxes.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Texas lately and then I watched Bernie for the 9,000th time last night and kept thinking about how the spirit of “six flags over Texas” lives on and will probably endure forever, as long as Texas continues to be a place where Mexicans, white Americans, country folk, cowboys, African Americans, Native Americans, Cajun/French people, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, and many others continue to call a place with no state income tax home. It’s a state that is simultaneously the result of many occupations as well as a place whose rich native history continues to thrive.

The whole essay is good but also this:

Anyone who knows about the history of Texas knows about the colonization of the indigenous population by the Spanish, who founded the city of San Antonio de Béxar originally as a mission. Monks there were bent on collecting converts when they weren’t dodging arrows, hunger, disease, etc. Then came the Americans pushing west, who soon wrested control from the Spanish. With the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1948, thousands of Spanish-speaking, Catholic Mexicans in much of the Southwest lost rights to their language, faith, and nationality overnight. The Anglo invaders had been wearing them down for a good while before then (Texas gained “independence” in 1836). And who are we kidding? The Spanish invaded the shit out of this hemisphere before that.

SNL sucks. TV sucks. But what else am I going to look at after I smoke weed, am I right?
I remember talking with a friend in Harlem about a back-and-forth I had with a dude from the New Yorker one time and he was like, “Go across the street and ask anybody in that bodega if they read the New Yorker, they’ll probably say no. What does your beef with the New Yorker mean in that context?” And yeah, the answer was nothing. And that context is larger and more storied/important/globally useful/relatable than that of the New Yorker.
So similarly, and to expand that a bit further, who in Nigeria, Afghanistan, Mexico, China, Syria, Ukraine, etc. cares about SNL? Relatively nobody really. nor should they.
So I mean, while it was hella fun to dust off all of those $10 words I learned in college just now, I feel like ultimately semiotic arguments about American culture are parlor games of relatively little consequence and negligible impact on like pretty much anything?

Kool A.D. writes a powerful but faintly #whocares response in this frequently engaging and thoughtful roundtable about SNL on MySpace

It’s treading a slippery slope to start thinking how Victor explains here but what makes his response so thoughtful is he zooms all the way out on the issue to consider the context of concerns over representation, which is something he’s really good at. He’s written the most nuanced, smart, and streamlined explanation about how porn works as a product of capitalism as I’ve seen from anyone.

Iamsu!, Sincerely Yours

Hi, I wrote a review of Iamsu’s Sincerely Yours for Wondering Sound. It is a good but slight album; in that way, it is a lot like Sage the Gemini’s Remember Me from earlier this year, except with weaker hit singles. Still, it’s hard to be mad at these guys for succeeding. Thanks to Jayson Greene for letting me do this.

You wrote a piece of paper in my locker that said, “K.D. MVP.” And that’s after we had lost two or three straight. I don’t really say much in those moments, but I remember that. I go home and I think about that stuff, man.
—To me this was the most moving part of Durant’s MVP speech because it made me think about all the ways all the people in my life affect me on the daily and they don’t eno it. If I was an actor I would use this exchange at about 3:00-3:45 to make myself cry on cue.

re: current discussion about record stores, formats, etc.

David Turner is my internet brother and you should read his piece at Pitchfork about feeling weird about Record Store Day. Using his piece as a jump-off point, then reading discussions of it, and general conversation currently in the air about these topics, I was motivated to write something similar until I remembered I already sorta addressed these issues before. I’m going to link to these pieces here because I’ve already said everything I would want to say about this stuff and I want to put these ideas back out there at a time when people can’t make heads or tails about physical formats.

Vinyl is Dumb (May 2013)

A misleading title for a post about being frustrated by the vinyl price of the new Daft Punk album, one that was sold without any gimmicks like colored vinyl or detailed packaging or as a limited run. I received a thoughtful response from a good professional music writer about this piece: he essentially said, “You don’t hate vinyl, just the commercialization of it.” That’s very true, and that’s the larger point of this blog post that was written quickly, and pretty angrily, out of frustration. The points about the pains of archiving records are still true, but mostly beside The Point. Although a friend recently made fun of me for alphabetizing + protecting the records I do have and so maybe that says something about the attitude of casual music fans toward vinyl as a format in 2014.
Post-script: I waited a week and found a vinyl copy of this in a Fry’s. Yes, giant, corporate, electronics-selling-ass Fry’s. It was about $25 which was relatively reasonable but at that point I bought it for some reason that has to do with being a glutton for punishment and never having any principles. It, along with Blood Orange’s Cupid Deluxe were the only new vinyl records I bought in 2013. Both sound great, and were worth it, at least for me.

Vinyl Pressings of Rap Mixtapes (April 2012)

Wherein I tried to clumsily tie in the need for physically archiving rap tapes with the cultural progress of Houston. This is an interesting point though, because idk if it’s something in the water here, but you may remember a Houston-based label got in trouble last year for pressing CD copies of Acid Rap. And, sadly, in the two years that have passed since writing this, the record store I talk about—one that existed in a mostly Latino/black part of “old Houston” whose stock was 90% rap and Tejano/Norteno CDs—has closed. If I were to write this now, I might include a little more about DJ Screw whom I mention off-handedly here. “Screw tapes” are an archive, and charted a progression of not just one man’s taste, but the taste that would reflect the stuff he was sent and saw happen not only in the city but the region. It speaks to how there are many roads to archival, not just the binary between physical and digital; but what kinds of physical archival, what kinds of digital archival? In 2014 a Screw tape isn’t just a thing he produced consisting of his take of other people’s songs, but its own musical entity, which was perhaps always true, but even more so now that there’s Tumblr rappers and Drake and Screwed Up Records and Tapes closed in 2011 and the Crosstimbers Soundwaves closed last year. Physical preservation of music is a multi-faceted beast, consisting of who/what/when/where/why/how.

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 want Q to prosper.

SPRIIIIING BREAAAAAK 2014

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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.

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.