Monday, January 26, 2009

Five Fingers On Jaydiohead

Finally got to peep Jaydiohead, pushed into action by Toure's piece for The Beast (ed: Jaydiohead is a 10-track mashup of Jay-Z lyrics over beats sourced by Radiohead).

It's a strikingly profound combination, this "Jaydiohead" project, especially for those of us interested in the science of assimilation; two mainstream/popular artists who also pack a lot of ethnocultural baggage. It's also one of those ideas, as many reviews note, that makes you slap your head and/or wonder how this didn't come about five minutes after Danger Mouse's "The Grey Album".

In this case, it's also sorta perfect to have Touré speaking on it. Touré is like the Obama of music-writers (i'm thinking every black person will be described here on out in terms of Obama; Jay is the hip hop Obama, Radiohead is a heroined-out indie-rock Obama etc.) and he's currently rolling as the Man-O-Melanin for a site competing for that coveted Obama of the internet-media position. If anything could alert us to the profundity seeded in this ode to biculturalism, 'twould be this perfect storm of Obamadom!

so.... i don't know, have i written enough intro yet?

1. The Jay Cameo is the best part: "Even Jay-Z knows about it. In an email, he told The Daily Beast, “Heard OF it but haven’t actually heard IT. (The gate squeaks as I close it back!)”

Yo, that parenthetical is straight fire! best lyrics from Jay since The Black Album. did he really write that, or does he have ghost mailers? does Jay use exclamation points and caps to deliver his e-jokes? holla! But yo, it was worth grooming (you gotta groom, y'know!). I'm trying to think of who I could use "the gate squeaks" line on ... are there only a handful of people who can do that?

2. Touré thinks Radiohead is funky: I was reading the piece and feeling like my afro was growing and the James Brown was getting loud in my ear, and other random cultural minutiae to indicate i was in the 70s and I was wondering why? Was I thin-slicing Touré as a bohemian neo-retro-soul dude who thinks everything is funky? Nah, I wouldn't want to do that to an Obama... but then everywhere I looked I would see him barking at the band:

give me a funky bass line! -- "But it has the advantage of Radiohead’s heavy, funky grooves..."

hit me with the funk again! -- (they’re a bit of a funk-rock band to me—the delicious bass lines on Kid A is what first drew me into them)

can you feel it?! -- "It’s fun listening to the puzzle coming together, and there’s a deep funkiness to this mixture of gangster tales and intellectual rock."

I said, can you feel the funk?! -- "Or on “99 Anthems,” the heavy, danceable funk of Radiohead’s "National Anthem" meets “99 Problems”..."

ok, now take me home to funkytown! -- "but Jay-Z gives us clearly delivered vocals that fill up the musical space and show you how funky Radiohead really is."

Now that's FUNKY. I can dig it.

3. The Problem with Jaydiohead: Here's Touré's nut graf, worth italicizing: "If this were just a good idea but not actually good music—just a thought exercise—then it wouldn’t even be worth commenting on. We’ve heard lots of mashup albums and they’re not news in and of themselves. But this is interesting because most of the songs cook."

Unfortunately, Touré is off on this one. It succeeds specifically as an idea, not as music. The first track "Wrong Prayer" -in the be-froed parlance- cooks, but the rest barely simmers after that.

I can see the falling in love with it though, the concept is so hot, and the first track validates the concept (in an interview the producer Minty Fresh Beats said that was the first outburst, then he sat on it and massaged it out over time. Classic blueprint for a great initial burst dragged out into an overwrought idea), any music writer positioned as an ambassador of assimilation would want it to work, like real bad. Like Obama bad.

It feels like a music analogue to the Pacino/Deniro combo; there are notable moments, but in general the execution falls well short of the seemingly epic possibilities.

I don't know how the third track "No Karma" got by Touré's sniff-check. It makes Jay sound like a white guy, and impossibly ruins the groove for Karma Police. Now that's impressive! If and when Jay listens to this, he won't get past #3.

All respect to Touré -- I'd still vote for him to write the piece -- but if he didn't avoid the "thought exercise" of it all in order to rely on "funk" as lazy code for all the ethnocultural baggage wrapped up in the artists, we'd have had some commentary that was, for lack of a better term, more Obama-ish.

"Wrong Prayer" -- hot


"No Karma" -- hmmm


4. The Problem with Jaydiohead, Part II: Further unpacking... part of the reason for the dissonance in Jaydiohead, I suspect, is that Jay and Radiohead seem complementary on the surface but are actually antithetical artists in sensibility. Jay in his own words, "is a business-man." "He's not trying to do numbers like The Roots." The Roots, of course, are artists. Maybe the closest thing to a Radiohead of hip hop. Also, the Obama of hip hop bands.

Jay's most artistic piece is The Black Album, and it's awesome fodder for mashups, but it was exhausted years ago. And the rest of his oeuvre doesn't jibe with Radiohead, who have a commercial frequency, but sacrificed numbers for art after OK Computer.

Again, if Obama ditched the skin tone, did some drugs, started making beats, playing guitar or whathaveyou ...he'd be radioheadish. More artsy. broad strokes, i know, but ...

The real mashup that would scratch the itch the Jaydiohead idea creates would be Radiohead and ...... Nas. RadioNas. Both Jay and Nas craft lyrics like artists, but Nas's content speaks to that artist disposition. More abstractions and emotivation. Valuing the thought exercise of making music more than the bottom line. Nas is sort of the Obama of thug poets, dontchaknow.

5. The Commenter Addendum: I'm too exhausted to do all the linking now, but the comments of both the Beast's post and other reviews 'round the net on jaydiohead provide a great testament to the value of an intelligent commenter community. In this case, their presence helps fill in the blanks a little bit, making it less of a he-said he-said.

Introducing Jaydiohead [The Daily Beast]
Jaydiohead Home Site

5 comments:

  1. Amen. You said it so I don't have to. Or, rather, you said it better than I ever could.

    I was hoping to like this album for assimilated reasons: a) big fan of both artists here, b) toure, the original assimilated one, went to the same boarding school as me c) cool-enough sounding idea.

    And yet...

    as much as I love the Jigga man, I come to him for intelligent ignorance -- aka street knowledge. Busting down Jigga's lyrics over these soupy Radiohead tracks (which I often love), well, I hate to go all Jesse Jackson in the assimilated space, but it kind of "cuts his nuts off."

    Ah well, Toure, you've let us down. but only a little bit. 'Cause that smack-down you performed on Stanley Crouch a few weeks back was worth ten off-target record reviews.

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  2. Illish1/27/2009

    A Radiohead version of "I gave you power" might be the only chance to improve on the original cut.

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  3. Anonymous1/29/2009

    lighten up. i think the jaydiohead album is great, and very interesting to listen to.

    preach.

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  4. yo, YOU lighten up. YOU THINK THIS JAYDIOHEAD ISH IS A GAME??!!!??


    xo

    ReplyDelete
  5. haha, that's why you're the critic tan. I've heard a few tracks (dirt off your android, no karma, 99 anthems) but didn't listen closely enough. Now I'll have to do just that to draw my own conclusions, or just be further influenced by yours, hehe... it's all good, though.

    ReplyDelete

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