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Deadmau5 often likes to set himself apart from the crowd, but today, he's a joiner: the producer is stepping in line with the ranks of Weezy and Yeezy as the latest artist with his own skate-and-snow-branded clothing line, teaming up with skate hatter/clothier Neff to create Neffmau5, a collection of hats, shirts and hoodies that "marks the first of a two-year collaboration" between the two parties.
"I love the street and snowboard scene," the EDM apologist said of the collaboration. "The people involved are the people I see at my shows, so it made sense to hook up with a cool company like Neff to work on a collaboration. Plus it was easy to put ears on the Neff face for an instantly legit logo, right?"
The collection arrived early last week and is available here Check it out below, then watch Deadmau5 goof off with the Neffmau5 logo pasted to his ear:
Back In March, Antwon teamed up with director Brandon Tauszik for "Helicopter." Seamlessly mixing the stalwart, dudes-hanging-out-and-drinking-40s formula, with footage from the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt, and a hilarious scene of the San Jose rapper pouring hot sauce all over his waffles, I called it an "early candidate for video of the year." And it still is, right up there with M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls," whose budget was undoubtedly hundreds of times more than "Helicopter." Antwon's video helped highlight what the website GOOD called "The Hidden Economics of Oakland's Rap Bohemia," and how, through a series of favors, goodwill, and a D.I.Y. spirit that's coursing through a lot of excellent, weird rap right now, a video of this caliber was done on the cheap and was able to find a significant audience.
For their latest collaboration, "Living Every Dream," the first single off End Of Earth, Antwon and Tauszik went down to Los Angeles over a three-day weekend to match the early'-90s house-tinged party vibe of Pictureplane's beat, which samples the DNA remix of Suzanne Vega's “Tom's Diner.” The smeary videotape quality makes "Living Every Dream" seem like some West Coast rap clip from 1993 that was submitted to The Box, but just now unearthed and shown to the world. Antwon, stoic as ever, raps about his work-a-day take on blowing money fast ("Oceanic youth, afraid to stay up late / White ladies in my nose, interracial date, Bristol / I'm ballin' with my tongue out / At Thriftown with a bill about to dumb out") and drops some style tips (“Tight pants with the boots, because I ain't playing”), as choreographed dancers get down around him. By the way, was that a double #hashtag rap? Also, look out for producer Pictureplane, carrying around a giant neon ball and sporting a refixed Disney shirt that now says, "DIE."
I've never been big on video games, but a new video for Slackk's "Blue Sleet" (Local Action) is challenging my indifference. Directed by Natalia Stuyk, a BAFTA New Talent Award winner whose credits include promos for the Mae Shi, Echo Lake and Colours, the clip positions the viewer behind a sleek, Concorde-like aircraft before whipping over snowy mountains, gleaming cities, mirrored deserts, and crystal-studded moonscapes, in an increasingly surreal succession of digitally rendered scenes.
It's proof that low-budget videos can be just as effective as big-money, high-concept extravaganzas. The smeared pixels and slightly unsettling sheen of the visuals make the perfect complement to the London bass-music producer's own retro-manic, future-philic sound, which stakes out a position midway between classic grime bangers and Oneohtrix Point Never's Freon-fueled synthesizer epics. In many ways, Stuyk's video feels like a response to OPN's own work as Sunset Corp, pasting a hyperreal sheen on the latter's technostalgia.
With Zynga's stock price plummeting, perhaps the video-game maker could hitch a ride on Stuyk and Slackk's wings and develop "Blue Sleet" into a functional flight simulator. I don't just want to play it; I want to live it.
Check out the video below, and listen to clips from Slackk's buzzing, fluoro-soaked Raw Missions EP, out now on Local Action.
Kane Mayfield was one of the many rappers I lumped into the "Guys Who Think It's 1993" category in SPIN's "Hip-Hop Issue" infographic from December of last year. He's from Long Island and he sounds like he's from Long Island, and over the past few years, he's built a reputation that has gotten him some love on, well, the kinds of sites that are mad at a jokes like, "Guys Who Think It's 1993."
The first track on Rhymes By Kane is a burst of expertly-rapped, hot-sounding, lyrically-lyrical nonsense; and in lieu of a hook, there's a cool, calm, and collected speech from a kung-fu movie. Pretty typical stuff, except that over the aphorism-spewing sensei, Mayfield provides running Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary:
"Victory and defeat are the same.”
"I have no idea what the hook is saying; he's like a yoga master and he's saying stuff..."
"Seek detachment. Fight without desire."
"Fight without desire? You'll get beat up. Where you from? Like, Tibet and shit?”
He cleverly begins the second verse by riffing on that useless advice, "Okay, so don't fight without desire / My psychic's retired, so when meanings aren't clear, I ain't the type to be quiet," and continues rapping his ass off. Kane's third verse is particularly verbose and Canibus-like ("I'm wordplay on a work day / My workplace is the world weight, worst way…"), and then, he abruptly ends the song with, "Okay, that's enough rappity raps." Apparently, he's as sick of MCs spittin' heat rocks as we are. The song's title? "Rappity Raps." Kane is a knowing nostalgist.
That tendency to gently subvert '90s-indebted hip-hop is most apparent on Rhymes By Kane's production. All of the beats are based on samples of Thievery Corporation songs. The chilled-out downtempo Washington, D.C. DJ duo are actually the ideal group to use in this fashion. They're neither cool or cutting-edge enough for the project to seem like a cheap grab at hype (they're the kind of group your friend's nice-enough roommate loves), and though it's quite possible that some Thievery Corporation fans will pick this up and dig it, chances are they will not. There's a weird vacuum of context here, which allows Kane to do whatever he wants over these appropriated tracks.
Often, he's riffing on a Thievery song title like "Beautiful Drug," or a single sonic detail, like the group's Middle Eastern jangle, which here, inspires "Patriot," a track that takes that loaded word back from stuffy neo-cons and gives it to the working-class victims of police brutality, and a friend of Kane's who refuses to pay taxes because he doesn't think his vote even gets counted. On "Vampire," he raps over Thievery Corporation's Femi Kuti-assisted song of the same name, pinning his outrage to the Kuti family's tradition of protest. "I see a man, they see a nigger / Life ain't sweet, he had Skittles / Thought it was a gun, it was an Iced Tea / Riddled with slugs, no surprise," Kane raps, shifting into a sing-song rhyme that, like Fela (when he crooned about the death of his mother or systematic corruption), finds some semblance of joy by turning horrors into a catchy, shuffling melody.
"Ghetto Almanac" glides with the chintzy bittersweet sincerity of Tupac's "Changes," turning early Kanye ("Black man buy Jordans / Crackhead buy crack, and the white man get paid off of all of that") into a defeated howl of a hook, mocking crack rap ("If everybody's a dealer / Why everybody broke?") and deconstructing the rhetorical trick of accusing someone of "playing the race card": "This is not racist / Race cards were played in this game long before I sat at the table." Then he takes his own conscious-rapper hubris down a few notches, adding, "I don't wanna preach because I got a lot of flaws / If I had a 100 Gs, you think I wouldn't ball?"
Although Kane isn't connected to the forward-thinking, backward-sounding NYC rap scene that's varied enough to include both Action Bronson and Himanshu from Das Racist, he might as well be. All that's stopping him, it seems, is the right publicist, because Rhymes By Kane: Thievery Corporation Edition, a mixtape from a self-aware throwback rapper riffing on post-racial hypocrisy over chilled-out beats, is as witty and inspired as any of this year's more high-profile New York-not-New York rap releases.
Caribou's Dan Snaith has spent the past year and a half indulging his clubbier tendencies under a new alias, Daphni, and it looks like he's setting up his Jiaolong label as a platform for likeminded musicians to do the same. The label's last release had the Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan doing his best Carl Craig impersonation with two tracks of throbbing analog techno; Jiaolong number four will come from Les Sins, better known as Toro Y Moi's Chaz Bundick.
Bundick first stretched his dancing legs on 2010's "Lina"/"Youth Gone" (Carpark), his only other Les Sins release to date; far from the languorous, lysergic electro-pop of his main project, the songs dove with gusto into four-to-the-floor kicks and filtered disco licks, sounding like a hazier Daft Punk or Smith & Hack.
The two songs on his upcoming Jiaolong single take an even more direct path to the dance floor. "Fetch," employing the micro-sampling technique pioneered by Todd Edwards, dices up heavy-lidded R&B crooning over a slow, swinging house beat reminiscent of Julio Bashmore's lusty floor-fillers. As homages go, though, it takes more liberties than usual, availing itself of a gnarly bass sweep that wouldn't sound out of place in a bro-step banger; there's something cheerfully incoherent about its sound palette, which draws from dinky DX7 chimes, Neptunes finger snaps, jazz fills, and even rickety trap hi-hats. "Taken" is more oblique, and possibly better for it, rolling out a meandering synthesizer melody over a slightly shaky house groove before blossoming into a harmonically supersaturated jam in the fashion of Recloose or Floating Points.
In other Jiaolong news, Snaith will release a full album under his Daphni alias on Merge. Also titled Jiaolong, the album will include a few previously vinyl-only songs — "Ahora" (Amazing Sounds), "Ye Ye" (released last year on Four Tet's Text Records), and Daphni's remix of Cos-Ber-Zam's 1973 Afrobeat song "Ne Nyoa" — along with a half dozen new tracks made principally on Snaith's modular system. The album, Snaith says, is intended as his contribution to "a small world where dance music lives up to its potential to liberate, surprise, and innovate."
Matmos, the Baltimore-based duo of brainiac multi-taskers Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt, are planning to release a new EP, The Ganzfeld, on a new label, Thrill Jockey, in October. And in typically high-minded Matmos fashion, the pair will base the music on experiments in psychic research and feature a remix from the mysterious Bay Area techno producer Rrose; an album, The Marriage of True Minds, will follow in early 2013.
Their new home at Thrill Jockey, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, coincidentally marks a new chapter in the 20-year partnership of Daniel and Schmidt. Four years have passed since their last major album; in the intervening years, they have turned their efforts largely towards academic and art-world pursuits, and the new EP suggests an interest in wrapping up all of their disparate interests into sprawling, but pleasure-filled, art pop.
In case you need a refresher, Schmidt and Daniel's combined exploits include sampling the sounds of plastic surgery; collaborations with Björk, So Percussion, People Like Us, and Dan Deacon; orchestra-pit duty in Robert Wilson's The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic (an opera starring Abramovic and Willem Dafoe); advanced degrees, professorships, and published writing ranging from Daniel's 33 1/3 book on Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats to his forthcoming tome, The Melancholy Assemblage: Affect and Epistemology in the English Renaissance. All that, and they also happen to be one of underground music's most inspiring romantic/artistic unions. (In a world without Kim and Thurston, ambitious romantics can rest easier knowing that we still have Drew and Martin.)
The news of Matmos' signing to Thrill Jockey actually caught me off-guard: If I'd had to guess, I would've said that they were already recording for the Chicago indie. No offense to Matador, for whom Matmos recorded five fine albums, beginning with 2001's A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure and ending with 2008's Supreme Balloon. But Matador's interests have shifted over the past few years; they've doubled down on rock music from the likes of Ceremony and Fucked Up and Girls. They're a very different label from the one that served, around the turn of the millennium, as a domestic pipeline for European acts like Burger/Ink, Pole, and Boards of Canada.
Thrill Jockey, on the other hand, has dedicated itself, with little fanfare, to the fringes of the American electronic-music underground, supporting the kinds of sounds more often associated with labels like Kranky and Root Strata. Recent Thrill Jockey releases include Golden Retriever's fantasias for modular synthesizer and clarinet; Dustin Wong's homespun guitar collages in the spirit of Durutti Column; lysergic, oceanic drone-songs from Barn Owl's Evan Caminiti; Krautrock investigations from David Daniell and Douglas McCombs; and even an album that finds the Sea and Cake's Sam Prekop swapping his lounge-music leanings for head-scratchingly abstruse (and still totally awesome) computer music.
Given that, Thrill Jockey feels like a natural home for Matmos, who built the music on their new EP out of recordings of telepathy experiments in which subjects were asked to visualize "the concept of the new Matmos record." On "Just Waves," that research translates to a voice intoning, "I can see just one tone coming towards me; it looks like a spiral, it might be cylindrical, though, so it's starting from really far away," and gradually merging with a chorus of similar Sprechstimme descriptions. Despite the latent hokeyness of the project — and I have no doubt that Matmos' occult interests are at least partly tongue-in-cheek — they manage to evoke something unusually touching from their psychic lab rats. As it swells, "Just Waves" takes on the unlikely grandeur of Meredith Monk's operatic minimalism. It's Matmos doing what they do best, pulling together theory, humor, and killer compositional chops into music at once intense, playful, and uncannily coherent. You might as well have encountered it first in a dream — mission accomplished, then.
It's already late July, and if you live in the Northeast like me, you've been doing all you can to keep from melting in the 100-plus degree weather. Thankfully, that also means we are ankle deep in the Spring/Summer sale season, so take the time to upgrade your neon plastic rest-stop cheapie shades to a new pair of high-quality eyewear. There are excellent sunglasses out there for any face shape, with all sorts of ideas and aesthetics being explored — anyone still walking around squinting has no excuse for such behavior.
The style of Raf Simons has always burst with youthful innovation, so why not go to him when looking to update your style, not just to 2012's standards, but into the future as well? These aviators are anything but old-fashioned, taking a classic idea and twisting it, with certain details obscured and others on full display. Pair these with a leather jacket and you'll look like an experimental architect with a mean streak, or keep it simple with a crisp white tee and have an easy time convincing strangers you're the next up-and-coming tapas chef.
If you're feeling particularly bold, it's imperative to check out the work of Takahiro Miyashita's the Soloist collection by Oliver Peoples. All of the Soloist is kind of great — it's like you made an intricate collage of your favorite grunge icons and blasted it off into outer space. Miyashita's sunglasses follow suit with a high level of detail and careful design. These shades are tinted with a fade for that "high level gambler" look, and come with temple holes, allowing you to run a gnarly chain through them, ensuring that they don't fall off your person if someone chases you. The height of cool!
Actually, screw that… you thought the Soloist was warped? These Grey Ant sunglasses practically turn your face into an M.C. Escher piece. The design is simple and understated, except for the fact that the bottom appears to have been sawed off, resulting in the appearance that your face is slowly swallowing them. It's a guarantee that at least some of your friends will hate them, but what's the fun in unanimous approval? I bet if I wore those Grey Ants while typing this article it'd become 10 percent cooler.
Finally, returning back to Planet Earth, here are some attractive Illesteva frames. Illesteva always does a mean oval, and I've been a reluctant fan of clear frames for a while now, which are nicely balanced here with the tortoise shell temples. Certainly summer appropriate. They're weird enough that you'll get a second glance or two from all the right people, but not so wacky that your date will refuse to believe you graduated from college.
If you've been reading the latest in the endless cycle of complaints about rap music's pernicious influence — Google's colossal waste of time, "Hip-Hop On Trial," from last month; or Touré's Washington Post editorial, "How America and Hip-Hop Failed Each Other," from earlier this month — you would think it was still the late '90s, when shiny, amoral street rap reigned supreme. No matter that the average music listener doesn't associate ambitious superstars like Jay-Z and Kanye West, or walking cartoon characters like Snoop Dogg, or pop panderers like B.o.B. and Flo Rida, with any sort of seriously destructive or reprehensible behavior. The story continues to be that rap music today is a violent, negative scourge tearing apart a once-positive art form. The sad thing about mainstream rap music in 2012, though, is that it would be a breath of fresh air to hear some mean-mugging thugs. We need those guys, now, more than ever.
Here's the "rap is bad now" party line: The music went from commentary on the devastating crack epidemic of the '80s to an embrace of the prison culture brought on by mass incarceration (thanks to Reagan and mandatory minimum drug laws), and has pretty much stayed there since. What's really happening is that since the late-2000s, there has been a dearth of street rap: Here is a list of performers who are ostensibly "hip-hop" from the No. 1-50 spots on Billboard's Hot 100 this week: Wiz Khalifa (on a song with Maroon 5), Flo-Rida, Nicki Minaj, Flo Rida again, Kanye West, 2 Chainz, Gym Class Heroes, Wiz again, Pitbull, Ca$h Out, Drake, Rick Ross (on an Usher song), and B.o.B.
This is not a moral victory for hip-hop. It is, to paraphrase Touré, a failing that reflects America's failing. Mainstream rap music has been cleaned-up and smoothed over. And just as the '80s and '90s represented the crack era and its vicious fall-out, the lack of street rap in recent years reflects the current attitude toward the American war on drugs: Pushed to the side and ignored. There are clear shifts in taste and a few game-changers, like the proudly middle-class Kanye West, who helped birth this dearth, but street rap became unsustainable very quickly.
The arrests of Lil Wayne, T.I., and Gucci Mane, proved to labels that marketing realness was, literally, a poor investment. If these rappers were stuck in jail or on house arrest, it significantly lowered their profile. For awhile, presumably as one more way to falsely conflate hip-hop culture with prison culture, it was asserted that rap's values were so twisted-up that it was considered a good look for a rapper to go to jail. But the careers of the rappers listed above were irreparably damaged by their prison time.
These arrests also help explain the appeal of Rick Ross and the reason he's become the only street rapper allowed to eat. He's a guy who talks the talk unabashedly, with no pretense to being "for real." He won't be caught buying an arsenal in a parking lot and he has no "streets" to cater to, so you can bend him whichever way you want. Once hip-hop began dominating the charts in the late '90s, there seemed to be an implicit contract made between the music industry and rappers: We will make you lots of money and make even more money off of you, so you can go around relatively ungoverned, sliding credit cards between women's butt cheeks in your videos, and also speaking truth to power — well-wrought or fraught with hustlin' platitudes, you decide, as long as it's catchy — on songs selling in the millions. But that's no longer the case.
All of the big up-and-comers right now are safe, pleasant guys like Drake, J. Cole, and Tyga, or worn-out veterans like 2 Chainz and Wale, who have been kicking around for so long that they're ready to do whatever a label instructs, as long as it means making some dough. The side effect of this soul-crushing major-label system is that many rappers who once would have tried to sign with a major and reach the radio have retreated to the Internet and the low-stakes world of tour money. In 2012, groups like G-Side, Main Attrakionz, or guys like Big K.R.I.T. and ScHoolBoy Q, have no interest in pursuing the radio route. If they land there, good, but they won't make a pop-rap run because it's not worth the compromise. Chicago shouter Chief Keef signing to Interscope was met with as much apprehension as excitement. Street rap running from the radio is great for hip-hop fans. It has formed a multitude-filled underground scene. But it has decreased the already small chance of anything interesting being smuggled onto radio playlists.
The real narrative in 2012 is that street rap has been eliminated from the mainstream. It's only high-profile purveyor is a cartoonish buffoon who deals with none of the consequences or even gritty details — it's all about wealth, and how he supposedly accrued it (via cocaine sales) is only implied. Coupled with rap personalities getting replaced by ciphers like Tyga (so that performers like Justin Bieber can more easily co-opt their style), and repeated attempts at hip-hop segregation ("white girl rapper" is a formula being perfected; Mac Miller doesn't get play on "urban radio” and doesn't need to), rap has never been so harmless. That's what we should be complaining about.
2 Chainz is nowhere near as impressive as Lil Wayne or Gucci Mane were at their ubiquitous heights, but what he shares with those hyper-prolific oddball street MCs is an inability to translate their goofy, mixtape power to the radio. On "No Lie" and now, "The Birthday Song" (featuring Kanye West), the first two singles from Based on a TRU Story ("Riot," started out as a mixtape track), 2 Chainz swings and misses. And you can't chalk up these less-than-compelling appearances to “dumbing down,” as was often the case with Wayne and Gucci, who were, at heart, knotty lyricists trying to accommodate a format allergic to knotty lyricists. 2 Chainz's whole appeal is that he's gleefully thoughtless. This is the guy who turned Erykah Badu's "Tyrone" into "Call Teisha" and gave it the hook "bitch, bitch bitch, bitch, bitch / Shorty, you ain't acting right you need to pack your shit / Talking about 'call Tyrone,' you need to call Teisha"; who called his expensive car "a doo-hickey"; whose quotable on "Mercy" is calling his trashy, though very expensive True Religion jeans, "trousers." The best you get on "Birthday Song" is the opening line: "She got a big booty so I call her 'Big Booty.'"
The "Birthday" beat, produced by Kanye and Sonny Digital (best known for YC's "Racks)," is similarly hedged. Way too long and filled out with Wagnerian synthesizers, like other recent Kanye productions, it never takes off, always roped in by Sonny Digital's strip-club pragmatism. Kanye's trying to meet the beat halfway and he does better when he simply condescends to rinky-dinky radio rap, and puffs it up into the portentous Christopher Nolan version of trap music. This side of Kanye's production personality, the one in love with Giorgio Moroder's bombastic, chintzy "Scarface Theme" — who evokes an obnoxious decadence that seems to be crying out "Help, I'm existentially lonely!" — simply needs to take over here, but it never does.
It's Kanye, though, who goes dumb good and proper, making up for 2 Chainz's tedium by creating a clever, Chris Rock-like premise out of this crappy b-day song conceit: He's the bitter guy, 10 years into a relationship, keeping count of how much money's being spent and whether or not he's owed something or other by his girl. In this case, it's some birthday sex, quite possibly the most bizarre and pathological expectation in modern relationships. Kanye seems to acknowledge the ridiculousness of what's being asked (even if there is a little bit of Drake's "Bitch, you wasn't with me shooting in the gym" misogyny). Consider this verse a prequel; the joke is on the narrator. "Weren't you at niece's graduation? Man, I hate those kids," is hilarious, and towards the end, Kanye nods to Juelz Santana's surprisingly influential "Don't touch nothin', sit in the car" verse from "Hey Ma" ("Don't be reachin', don't be touchin' shit") and follows it up with a half-a-zinger, "We in Kanye West's Benz / Because I will turn you back into a pedestrian." Here's the ballin' bougie big-name star as a bean-counting, obsessive-compulsive playa.