the red backpack


matthew ramirez. houston. ramiremj at gmail dot com.


Hey remember this?

I was going to contribute this essay to a larger project that never got off the ground. I wanted to cram every idea I had about the album into one chunk; it’s a little unwieldy. But I’m so happy to finally be able to share this.

2. Acid Rap
Even the most cursory pass through the thirteen tracks on
Acid Rap reveals the curious fact that the ideal human state as envisioned by Chance the Rapper is “good.” The first line of the first song on the record is, “Even better than I was the last time baby—I’m good. So good.” The song is appropriately titled, “Good Ass Intro.” The last song on the record—appropriately titled, “Everything’s Good (Good Ass Outro),” has Chance affixing the titular assertion on the end of innocuous statements like “remember sittin’ in class the first time listening to Dilla.” He also raps “I’m good like books and church is,” “it feels good for me to thank you,” and ends the song, and the record, with a simple: “everything’s good.”

On “Paranoia,” the second half of the second song on Acid Rap “Pusha Man,”  he raps “pray for a safer hood, when my paper good.” Chance opens “Everybody’s Something” by flipping the word “good” into different connotations: “What’s good, good? What’s good, evil? What’s good, gangstas, and what’s good, people?” The very next song—the gospel tinged “Interlude (That’s Love)” builds on “Everybody’s Something” that came before it, where Chance runs down a list of “what’s better than ___ is ___,” whose logical baseline is something “better than” another thing means the first thing is, at the very least, “good.” But “good” is still the default; “better than” is what comes after.

However, consider the conceit of the record: by opening Acid Rap with “even better than I was the last time,” it’s safe to assume everything on the record is “better than” what came before it. “Good” isn’t good enough. Chance is cataloging, not just on the “Interlude,” but the entire record, what can happen when Good is transcended. When Good is something that isn’t seen by most people his age. The relentless optimism is what makes Acid Rap so good: everything’s Good, but it can be better, it will be better, I’m better than I was the last time.

The frame of “Good Ass Intro” is built on Kanye West’s “Intro” to his I’m Good mixtape, a simple loop of John Legend singing, “Even better than I was the last time, baby—I’m good. So good.” (The same exact cadence was reused by T-Pain on Graduation's triumphant “Good Life”.) On Chance’s version the line is sung by at least six other people. Kanye raps a little on his song before ending by simply stating, “It’s people at war right now. We can’t be sittin’ up here complaining about the bills, complaining about whatever beef we may have. We good, man. We blessed.”

“Good Ass Intro” snatches its syntax from the rumored album Kanye was supposed to drop after Graduation, that later became My Beautiful Dark Twisted FantasyGood Ass Job.

Mr. Bennett you done did it, you did it, you did it
You did a good ass job, you did a good ass job

Or consider that Kanye’s record label imprint is called G.O.O.D. Music, where G.O.O.D. stands for “Getting Out Our Dreams.” Kendrick Lamar, another gifted young rapper, titled his breakout 2012 record, good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Chance is obviously influenced by Kanye, and is a contemporary of Kendrick. He’s in good company.

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So-called academic takes and reads on rap music often feel hollow because they seem to think subtracting the context of the music makes it easier to digest or talk about, and the effect is both weakening the analysis of the music as well as the impact the music made that justified writing about it in the first place. While this type of writing can often be helpful, insightful, and worthwhile, the result can create something like an “In” club, elevating a certain type of rap music and a certain type of listener and a certain reading of rap that zaps all the fun out of it. If there is a problem with this type of writing, it’s that over-analyzing and processing the music to explain or decode it for a wider audience makes music feel like work, or anthropological documents, and nothing is more condescending or disrespectful to artists than to view their work as the result of othering the experiences that created their art. When people, especially black and other people of color, criticize the whitewashing of rap journalism, this seems to be the main issue: removing the context from which the music was created. Making a safe judgment from afar. Ignorance of the real issues. No baseline to gauge the black experience. Art for art’s sake or ignoring from where it was borne? Take into account the real-life ramifications or come across looking like a hand-wringing moralizer? It’s tough, but not impossible, to strike a balance.

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Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah wrote for the Los Angeles Review of Books an essay titled, “When the Lights Shut Off: Kendrick Lamar and the Decline of the Black Blues Narrative.” In her last paragraph, she hits on what made Kendrick’s good kid so good, and, you know, Important, or influential, or whatever:

Lamar is not just a wandering preacher in town to be angry at the locals and their chaos. Nor is he salaciously telling their stories, hoping to give people an angry crime fantasy so that he can bait and hook anyone who is susceptible. …Kendrick Lamar has made a third way, and by the end of his album, one cannot help but feel excited for him.

I like Acid Rap more than good kid because Chance finds a fourth, fifth, maybe even a sixth, seventh, and eighth way. His album is funny and fun in the right moments and heart-wrenching in others. It’s also not so concerned with the self-consciously middle-class issues of Kanye West’s perfect debut The College Dropout. It’s a personal story, but one that’s not about working at the Gap, or about losing his virginity.

My favorite record of 2011 was Danny Brown’s XXX, and in 2012 it was obviously good kid. In 2013 it was Acid Rap. What we have is a triumvirate of personal narratives that elevate rap to a novelistic vision, which isn’t to condescend to all the great music that came before, but is to say there is currently a focus on highly personal records in a form that dropped out of popularity for awhile. Detroit. Compton. Chicago. These are records that place their pain on a map, as well as their celebrations and resilience, their drugs and drinks, their heroes and villains. It’s not new, and it’s not exclusive to these three records. But they remain among my favorite from recent years.

Acid Rap leaps past references, allusions, real life stories, drugs, violence, desperation, all with Chance at the center laughing, smiling, ad-libbing his trademark high-pitched yelp, insisting everything’s good. It manages to crawl all over forty years of rap production while still finding some middle point in classic soul samples, sometimes immediately-recognizable samples already sampled on classic rap records, creating a mobius strip of hip-hop and R&B’s hit-parade hall-of-fame, while still finding time to call back to Chicago footwork, juke, and bop, allowing Nosaj Thing to ramble on for a few minutes before a song that rests firmly on old-fashioned-sounding samples. A lot of songs sound like outtakes from Common’s Be (the cascading coda on “Good Ass Intro” quotes wholesale “Faithful”), but to their advantage. Hometown giants like R. Kelly (whose “World’s Greatest" is appropriately interpolated), Twista (who appears), Kanye, and countless Chicago rock and blues legends loom large. There’s Willie Hutch, Donny Hathaway, and Betty Wright. An intersection of spoken-word-open-mic-poetry ethos and battle-rap mentality. It sounds like the culmination of many underground visions, without major label backing or star-powered cosigns.

The last real line Chance raps on “Good Ass Intro” is, “This your favorite fuckin’ album and I ain’t even fuckin’ done,” in a snotty slur that registers as humorous but with the threat of being real. Chance is sneering, insisting he’s “better than,” but the scary part is, he really means it.

Literally no one cares and that Pitchfork “best music of the decade so far” feature was already two weeks ago but I thought I’d write about my favorite albums of the decade so far because I like writing. Apologies to (in alphabetical order): Last Train to Paris, Matangi, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, My Krazy Life, and Section.80.

5. Late Nights with Jeremih
We will look back at the first five years of this decade and see R&B in all its forms and changing permutations as the defining sound of the era. (At least before the DJ Mustard wrecking ball hits.) I only knew/cared about Jeremih as a fun radio artist (even his fans did!) until this mixtape, which is essentially flawless. The hooks are memorable, the vibe is sexy, it’s straightforward when it needs to be, progressive when it wants to be. You can run it back endlessly, finding new nuances and sounds every single time. Unlike a lot of the other figureheads for the new wave of R&B, Jeremih isn’t an auteur—he’s a singer first, songwriter second, auteur third. This benefits him, though—his voice always sounds great so whatever happens around him instantly improves. He doesn’t bank on easily-identifiable inspirations either, which is something guys like Miguel and Frank Ocean (who are better songwriters) fall victim to. I’m still waiting on their classic albums. Jeremih beat everyone to it.

4. XXX
It pains me this album’s stock has dropped somewhat. Taste moves in ebbs and flows, so maybe this is a low tide, and in a few years XXX will go back up again. I just think Old (and a lot of his post-XXX work) was a worse retread of XXX and it hampered what an achievement XXX was. I’ve listened to it all the way through a few times in the past weeks, anticipating writing something about it (most likely how it was my favorite record of the past half-decade). Instead, when it all ends, I just feel exhausted. Having said all that though, it’s still a towering achievement—what one guy, one microphone, and 19 songs can do in under an hour. From that standpoint, nothing else even comes close.

3. good kid, mAAd city
I prefer termite art, and I also understand the type of person for whom Section.80 does it more. But there’s something in this record that’s honest-to-God Important. Something Important about how Kendrick captured a life on record so thoroughly you can picture all of the characters in your head no matter how many times you revisit it. Something Important about how thoughtful, introspective, and plain maudlin Kendrick wrote about the life of a young black man—and how he used a medium through which he could speak to the largest possible audience. Sometimes it feels good to have a thing everyone—and I literally mean everyone (my brother, my mom, those Friends Who Don’t Listen to Rap)—can agree on. It’s an unembarrassed piece of emotional and self-indulgent work. That’s its biggest strength.

things that make me happy

august was a good month for me personally but a pretty shitty one for the world. it’s late and it’s now september and i keep getting mad at myself for not sitting down to write non-work related things. 230am is when i achieve perfect mental clarity.

here are some things that make me happy:

-the limited edition version of late registration i found for $3 today at the used CD store. it is in brand-new condition. it’s a digipak and has a poster. a gorgeous little piece of cardboard that sits on my desk as i write this.

-james harden’s ability to drive to the basket, euro-step, draw a foul, float the ball, and get it in. he combines like two or three sometimes four moves in a play. it reminds me of that fabo quote—like “i do 100 moves in one snap.” the team USA game against turkey was pretty atrocious—they shot the ball horribly and tanked the game until the third quarter where they blew it open—and call it homerism or the fact i can only watch curry and thompson hit threes so many times but any time harden had the ball the excitement meter rose three clicks. him and irving got crazy handles.

-i really like the new ariana grande album. it effortlessly blends a lot of trends from the last few years of music but without making a big deal out of it. “problem” is pretty terrible and not indicative of the rest of the album. the big sean and gambino verses should be cut and tossed into the ocean. this album is basically if grimes had the ability to write actual pop songs and not just songs that sound like pop songs—it also sounds like, you know, mariah. i wasn’t as sold on yours truly as a lot of people were—i thought “the way” sans mac miller was borderline transcendent, but the rest was too manic. but this is a surprisingly cohesive record, and the left-of-center touches like the weeknd essentially compressing his entire aesthetic for one song or the zedd track lend it real musical weight. excited to listen to it again and again this fall.

-i like driving to work and listening to a sports podcast and starting my day with an avalanche of opinions and facts. it also makes me feel startlingly normal. i’ve listened to so many “NFL preview” podcasts that i’m certain this is the most prepared for a season i’ve literally ever been. will geno smith and mike vick revitalize the jets? how far will the panthers recede? do the broncos make it back to the super bowl? will deandre hopkins have a breakout year? is it a make or break season for RG III?

-i like all the new shoes i’ve bought. i got some jordan 10s a few months ago that i thought transcended the idea of a basketball shoe. i think it’s literally perfect—grey suede with a black-and-burnt orange bottom, plus i love the MJ resume on the bottom. i think 10s are more subtle than the 11s, whose spot has been thoroughly blown up. i complemented those 10s with the new 6s that came out. if the 10s were transcendent, the 6s are just a close-to-perfect basketball shoe. so the 10s are my beautiful dark twisted fantasy and the 6s are graduation. all the leather on the 6s smells so good i think i inhaled too many fumes and got a headache earlier this evening.

-transitions make me happy and this is a time for transition, not just for myself but for a lot of my friends. i really think september is gonna be a great month. football is back. baseball is about to get exciting. there’s the world cup for basketball and then training camp should start by the end of the month. personally i’m making a lot of moves. for the first time in my adult life i have real money. the potential makes me dizzy. i don’t want to jinx anything but what if i got my own place? i’m salivating already.

-i love it when i have a stupid, meaningless infatuation on someone and reverse-engineer their personality in my head. i have no idea how someone actually is but internally i’ve written their entire biography. this is maybe my favorite feeling in the world, maybe even more than learning of reciprocated feelings, or actual compatibility.

-this real estate cover of one of my least favorite songs ever. real estate have become a non-complicated band for me to like, because i have literally no emotions tied to their music, but it sounds like music i should have emotions to. it’s like ersatz-feelings music. i don’t feel anything when i listen to atlas, but i also feel everything. that’s the perfect feeling.

cccnnnfff:

I love Seihor by Castro featuring D-Black just as much as the next person, and recently a friend in Adenta sent a slew of snaps of himself + his friends (after eight balls of banku and a bottle of vodka) going all the way in listening to it. Watching the snaps, and hearing the song made me miss dancing, made me miss Ghana, made me miss boys who could move their waist very fluidly in a non-sexual (but totally sexual) way.

But more importantly made me realize I was in Ghana during a very busy time. Between Ghana not getting past the group stage at the World Cup (and being defeated by the U.S., who they considered an easssssy opponent), Castro falling into the sea while trying to save his girlfriend then never being found and ultimately declared dead, and the petrol crisis (which is linked to their general economic crisis) my summer of 2014 in Ghana was “newsworthy”. I only realize how crazy newsworthy  my summer was after the fact. While there, most major news was covered up and/or overshadowed by the temporal:

Ghana’s loss to the U.S. at the World Cup was disguised by a long drive from Taifa to Osu at 12am, the tie with Germany disguised by the beautifully large crowd at the Accra Mall and meeting Idriss Elba at The Republic and drinking a lot of Axe of in the mall parking lot, the loss to Portugal disguised by the free bottles of Club I was rewarded with from merely being an American and “winning” the first match. 

Castro’s death … didn’t even “play out.” Quite frankly, I thought it was preposterous. The morning I went in to my internship at the museum and Auntie Judy was crying when Odo Pa came on I stared in disbelief How could a musician fall off a jet ski into the water to save his girlfriend and literally never turn up again (to this day, he still has not turned up and he fell in on July 6th)? A few days later I was with friends having pizza-Jen sat with a slice in her hand and her phone in the other reading new developments on what could have possibly happened to Castro via Twitter. My favorite rumor being that Castro has been taken in/down by Mami Wata. Some say he was kidnapped. Others that he was eaten by sharks. Notably, a number of people blamed his death/disappearnce on Kwesi Appiah … stating that had the Black Stars (Ghana’s Futbol team) advanced in the World Cup Asamoah Gyan would not have been back in Ghana, and the entire jet ski incident could have been avoided completely. Now. This story was a total stretch to me. But, that’s besides the point.

As for the petro crisis … I have nothing more to say other than the fact that I had the scariest cab ride in my life from Ridge to Osu as a direct result of the crisis. The cab I was in was filled with petrol mixed with water and the cab literally cut out/off every half mile. Ridge is not very far from Osu, but it probably took me an hour to get home this particular evening. If I really wanted to go in on the petrol crisis, and in turn the economic crisis, I’d have to start with corruption and bribing and exploitation and a slew of other factors that contribute to why capitalism is inherently racist. Which I’d rather not sit here and do. 

Very long story short. Even though I can get a snap of friends in Adenta going in on Seihor, and even though I am quick to type “me tete” to a friend on WhatsApp … at the time of Castro’s death I took it in jest and writing through it low key is serving as an apology. 

My friend Chanelle Frazier wrote this and I liked it a lot so I re-blogged it. You can read it if you want.

Two Not Entirely Unrelated Thoughts

1. When I told my mom I wrote about George Strait, upon considering a recent bulk purchase of used CDs and some paisley shirts, she said, “you going country?” before immediately singing the chorus of the Alan Jackson song. I’ve always liked that song—it makes me happy in a non-convoluted way. I’ve heard it no less than 500 times since birth and never really thought too hard about it, but in a closer listen I realized what a slightly-cynical but overall sweet song it is.

Nashville is often given the backhanded compliment of being a place where the musicians crank out “professional” tunes. Every musician is a “polished professional,” every singer, every songwriter. This tends to go hand-in-hand with a narrow way of thinking of country music as simply a result of all the professionalistic professionals who knock out songs about trucks during the day and cash a check the next week, and this process is somehow seen as undervalued, inauthentic, or soulless. (A lot of positive country criticism implies a record is good in spite of the assembly-line professionalism. A lot of good things come from assembly lines.) Surely it can be all those things, but can’t a standard of professionalism and traditionalism be considered a good thing?

It’s not like Nashville is a musician’s utopia where everyone sharpens their skill to their best ability and all this great music is easily created. It’s still the type of showbiz industry town that proliferates nepotism, the good ‘ol boy system, and a cyclical cast of “who you know” types—leeches, in other words. It still inspired the song “Fuck This Town.” (Which sucks btw, but represents something bigger than itself.)

Alan Jackson (or to be more precise, his songwriter Bob McDill) tackle the mythological version of Nashville: a place where dreams can come true if you put work in. On the surface, it’s a happy song, and McDill in his words and Jackson through his delivery wisely avoid any overt judgment. But every verse still comes with a sub-tweet that jeopardizes its seemingly good-natured message apparent to the type of person (like myself) who only pays attention to the catchy chorus.

What the song suggests is Nashville/country music is the Hollywood of music, where you can see the bright lights and big checks if you put just a few ounces of elbow grease together and adopt the attitude or style. In the first verse, the lounge singer considers a move to Nashville because she’s from Long Island—“a simple girl myself.” Long Island is considered a blue-collar place, but everyone in country music believes New York to be an entity of suspicion, not unlike Homer Simpson’s view of it. “I’m a simple girl myself, grew up in Long Island” is a deadpan line, something that zips by but on second thought, you go, “wait, no country star would ever consider any part of New York—or New England, for that matter, where all the yankees live, to be analogous to the tropes of the heartland experience.”

The second verse from a folksinger’s perspective includes: “I don’t believe in money, a but a man can make him a killing,” such a clever but subtle nugget of songwriting, a note on creativity and commerce telling, true, and satirical. It subtweets an entitled assumption believed in by every dipshit hippie since the beginning of time—imagine Llewyn Davis singing those words.

Jackson sells the mythology country music is for everyone because there’s no real judgment passed, it’s just three characters in three verses who make the argument for themselves why they’ve gone country. But as with the rarest of satire—the good kind—the real message in the song lies in how Jackson and McDill juxtapose three stories. (Bad satire tells you what you already know. Good satire suggests things aren’t what they seem to be.) It’s like what I said about rap music—a certain kind of person only wants what they can get from it, and nothing more. What “Gone Country” implies is three people unlike each other find what they want from country music—and what ultimately ends up being a positive enforcement of both genres is suggesting anyone can make good on hustling it, which reinforces the inclusive and democratic tropes of both at their most basic level. And what’s more American than that? (Please don’t take that to mean I in any way support Iggy Azalea.) 

2. The second verse of “Gone Country” is maybe my favorite, and not just because it’s the one that comes closest to expressing disdain for its character. When I read about country music from a publication or person that doesn’t normally talk about country music I look for some variation of the following: 

I hear down there, it’s changed, you see
They’re not as backward as they used to be

This follows one of the great critical takes on country in a country song:

Some of that stuff don’t sound much different than Dylan

This is the artistic choice the folksinger makes in choosing to go country and I don’t know why this judgment is not made more often by music listeners and writers and critical thinkers. Not that I have to sell a long, storied, genre of music by comparing it to the highest-profile songwriter of the last century—unless I do, because the dirty hippies and their hipster offspring extol “authenticity,” cosmopolitan tastefulness and elegance (often hand-in-hand with coastal elitism), and one-songwriter-one-singer as the ultimate virtues in music, and to their untrained ears go soft at the sound of a steel guitar (when an acoustic one makes my head hurt). 

There’s a famous Steve Earle quote that goes, “Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” He later said he felt embarrassed by the statement, and the question I ask is: why???

I don’t know if Van Zandt is/was a better songwriter than Dylan but I do know I never listen to Bob Dylan anymore, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt is my Blonde on Blonde, and Live at the Old Quarter, Houston Texas is my Basement Tapes. Everything else TVZ did is my everything else BD did. 

That’s what blows my mind about Neil Young releasing a box set of music on Blu-Ray or whatever—yeah I could listen to 500 versions of “Ohio,” or I could listen to Kenny Rogers or Willie Nelson or Guy Clark or John Prine. (Or BeatKing.)

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

image

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.