Brandon Soderberg



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    Free Lil Boosie's Lyrics! Rap On Trial, Again

    One of the more ridiculous critiques lobbed at hip-hop, from both outsiders dismissive of the genre and old-head traditionalists upset at where the music's ended up, is that gangsta rappers rarely tell the truth in their rhymes. Besides just being irrelevant, it's one of those zingers that sounds good, but unravels the moment it's given any thought. Mostly because there's an implicit suggestion that such grumbling would stop if rappers actually got out there and hustled or committed violence. Only a small group of street-minded knuckleheads seriously expect such authenticity, right? Apparently, a Louisiana district attorney does, as well. When not piling on the sentimentality, BoosieJustice.Com, the website for Baton Rouge rapper Lil Boosie, who currently faces a first-degree murder charge, attempts to examine the injustices in his case.

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    Behind the Two Faces of the White Rapper

    In the video for his song "Donald Trump," Mac Miller, a scruffy 19-year-old white kid from Pittsburgh who looks more like Agent Cody Banks than hip-hop's next big thing, bounces up and down, spitting well-worn boasts about bitches, partying, and his future success. Yet, people are actually listening to this guy. "Donald Trump" has more than one million views on YouTube. Miller's on the cover of this month's XXL as one of hip-hop's promising "freshman." Gadsden, Alabama's Yelawolf, a 31-year-old skate-punk, redneck rapper with a nimble flow and talent for novelistic detail, is part of this year's "freshman" group, as well. Yelawolf was also on last month's cover of XXL, along with hard-head, traditionalist supergroup Slaughterhouse, and Eminem (both Yela and Slaughterhouse are recent signees to Shady Records).

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    When Rap Rock Didn't Suck: Lil Jon's Crunk Rebellion

    For the first half of the 2000s, crunk music was rap music. The production of Lil Jon -- the fight songs of Memphis' Three 6 Mafia by way of shiny, Atlanta pop-rap -- was a hybrid style technically "from Atlanta," but with roots extending across the South (some Miami Bass and a distinct, New Orleans-based Cash-Money/No Limit influence too), but it was never beholden to area code or region.

  • Lupe Fiasco, 'Lasers' (1st & 15th/Atlantic)

    Lupe Fiasco, 'Lasers' (1st & 15th/Atlantic)

    Lupe Fiasco's oft-delayed, way too overthought third album fuses the seething, political rap of the underground with the motivational, occasionally emo fist-pumping that's been at the top of the charts in the past year. "Words I Never Said" is like B.o.B's "Airplanes" or Eminem's "Love the Way You Lie" with a dash of early-'90s Ice Cube and a whole bunch of Evanescence angst. Armed with that wonky combination, Fiasco smuggles 9/11 conspiracies and a fairly sophisticated take on the Middle East into a pop-rap anthem. Compared to Lasers' other confrontational crossover songs (the flimsy "State Run Radio," the nearly clever "All Black Everything"), "Words" is an effective attempt at culture-jamming the Billboard charts. Lasers works best, however, when the grabby hooks, electro beats, and conscious rap rants are all turned down a notch.

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    The Rise of Rap's Regular Guys

    A rapper's narrative is pretty much always the same: Enter the young, hungry wordsmith who has finally, gloriously, made it. Lately though, thanks to the Internet, which makes it easy to bypass labels and normal promotional routes, as well as a messy, confused industry that often protracts buzz, the next big thing remains on the come-up for far too long, eventually staring down their official debut with a well-defined, often self-satisfied persona. On last year's Thank Me Later, Drake skipped the hungry, earnest rapper stage and proceeded directly to the "I'm famous, now what?" point in his career, and producer-rappers like J. Cole and Big K.R.I.T saddled their striving-for-classic mixtapes with a "small town on my shoulders" martyr complex that demanded fame they'd not yet earned and had them questioning whether that fame was even worth it in the first place.

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    Lupe Fiasco Unveils the Rocker Within

    For most of Lupe Fiasco's free show at the Williamsburg Music Hall in Brooklyn Sunday night (officially the Walmart Soundcheck presented by Axe Body Spray), the confrontational rapper didn't say much. Now that he's fronting a hard rock band, he was more concerned with headbanging and fitting his rhymes between the nearly nu-metal riffs than getting the crowd hyped in any conventionally hip-hop, party-rocking, audience-participationway. In fact, the first time Fiasco acknowledged the crowd was about halfway through the show, and hesimply plugged his new album. "Lasers, in stores March 8," he said, in his best disaffected rock star mumble. That plug, though, was actually a prideful announcement to fans who have waited nearly three years for Fiasco's third album to arrive.

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    Children of the Grave: Rap Has Its Metal Moment

    Last Thursday, skate-prick rap collective Odd Future signed off Tumblr and appeared on national television. Sporting ski masks with inverted crosses scrawled on them, and bouncing across a smoke-filled stage, Tyler, the Creator, the crew's charismatic frontman, along with Odd Future point guard Hodgy Beats, performed their 2010 single "Sandwitches" on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. The morning after, the Internet -- which basically birthed Odd Future as well as most interesting rap these days -- celebrated the group's bizarro entrance into the mainstream. Many of the same people losing their shit over Odd Future on Fallon were also busy downloading Salute Me Or Shoot Me 3, a victory-lap mixtape from Waka Flocka Flame, which featured the same sort of headbanging, fuck-you-up rap that made his debut album Flockaveli a success last year.

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    Grammy Reflections: The Great White Wash

    Country music, and yes, indie rock, were the big winners at this past Sunday's 53rd Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. But you know what lost? Black music. The slight wasn't much of a surprise, really; the Grammys are notoriously out of touch. But this year's ceremony felt actively dismissive, with hip-hop and R&B, inarguably African-American strains of music, getting pointedly whitewashed. The subtle digs at hip-hop started early. As is often the case, awards for "urban music" categories were handed out before the show. Legendary rapper Guru was left out of the people-that-died-last-year montage; Kanye West immediately noticed (he tweeted "R.I.P to GURU!!!"), as did thousands of others. When recording engineers, agents, managers, etc., are summarily eulogized, the rapping half of an incredibly influential and fairly mainstream '90s rap duo should at least get a mention.

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    Assessing Lil Wayne's Post-Prison Comeback

    Though psychologically damaging and probably not all that reformative, prison isn't a bad career move for a rapper. It feeds the hype machine, can help with street cred (which does still matter, even in this Officer Rick Ross era), and preps everybody for a big, got-through-it-all comeback. See: Gucci Mane, at least until time in jail outweighed time spent in the recording studio. Also, T.I. on "I'm Back," but less so on No Mercy, the rapper's triumphant return that never was because dude got busted for smoking weed in broad daylight and went right back to jail (No Mercy was originally titled King Uncaged). Okay, so doing time is good for rappers who can stay on the straight and narrow once they get out, and make some good songs.

  • Ghostface Killah, 'Apollo Kids' (Def Jam)

    Ghostface Killah, 'Apollo Kids' (Def Jam)

    After last year's R&B-friendly Ghostdini: Wizard Of Poetry, Ghostface Killah's ninth album consoles his hardcore constituency: Forty-plus minutes of gritty, soul-sampling beats soundtracking bizarro street tales ("Starkology," "Ghetto"), with lyrical tough-guys Busta Rhymes, Redman, and more than half the Wu Tang Clan tagging along. On previous albums, Ghost found ways to casually reinvent himself (Supreme Clientele's avant-garde wordplay, Fishscale's twisted take on coke rap), but other than some of the beats' psychedelic tinge ("Black Tequila," "Handcuffin' Them Hoes"), this one feels strangely on-the-nose. Then again, traditionalist rap hard-heads need their comfort food too.

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