Brandon Soderberg

writer

Biography

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    SPIN's Track-by-Track Take on 'Watch the Throne'

    Jay-Z and Kanye West's collaborative album Watch The Throne is finally in stores. August 12 also marks the day that the painter Jean Michael Basquiat died, 23 years ago. It's an oddly appropriate time for a money-grubbing, deeply considered, pop-art rap album full of shiny, expensive message-music to drop. When it was released on iTunes Monday, with the reality of the United States' lowered credit rating sinking in, plus the riots in England, Watch The Throne was criticized by many for being tone-deaf and out-of-step. But despite Jay and Kanye's wealth-signifying shout-outs, their swaggering, money-burning attitude is delicately woven into an affecting, pointed exploration of success that's freaking massive and also a lot of fun to listen to. This week and next, I'll explain why, track by track. 1. No Church in the Wild (feat. Frank Ocean) 2. Lift Off (feat.

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    Kreayshawn's White Girl Mob & The N-Word

    Rule number one for white rappers, and shit, man, white people in general: Don't say the n-word! Just don't. Not exactly sure where this white-rapper compulsion to utter "nigga" comes from, but the latest violator of what should be a pretty obvious rule is V-Nasty. She's a member of the White Girl Mob -- a group that revolves around Oakland MC Kreayshawn, who's responsible for the viral hit "Gucci Gucci," which is nearing nine million views on YouTube. Kreayshawn has stated that she doesn't use the n-word in her raps (although she did tweet it), and according to a rant on her Tumblr, intends to separate herself from V-Nasty: "[V-Nasty's use of the n-word] has taken a huge toll on what I been trying to do and what I been trying to push.

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    Kanye and Jay-Z Debut Epic, Reflective Album

    There was a mysterious Eyes Wide Shut feeling to Monday night's listening party for Kanye West and Jay-Z's much-anticipated Watch the Throne collaborative album. After handing over any and every device that could possibly record audio or video, an excited clump of writers, rappers, models, and nebulous industry types filed into the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York's Museum of Natural History for an hour and a half of sipping champagne, waiting, noshing (shouts to that potato-pancake thing with maple syrup or something on it), and more waiting. Then suddenly, everyone began climbing a staircase and moving towards an elevator, which took us to a dimly lit museum floor (illuminated only by TVs showing a Watch The Throne documentary).

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    The Rap on Kurt: Hood Pass 4 Life

    In April, prankishCanadian video interviewer Nardwuar the Human Serviette handed Lil Wayne a copy of the book Taking Punk to the Masses: From Nowhere to Nevermind and asked about Nirvana's influence on the rapper. "When I was young, they had a television station called the Box," Wayne recalled. "And you used to call the station and order a video, and 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' used to always be on, and you had no choice but to get into it from there." As Nevermind became an undeniable phenomenon and Cobain a reluctant grunge poster child, the rapper born Dwayne Carter was in elementary school, pondering Nirvana's cryptic, mumbled songs and developing his own oblique, free-associative style. But this type of '90s genre crossing wasn't odd; it was the experience of an entire generation.

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    The Best Rap Songs of the Year... So Far

    Cities Aviv, a Memphis rapper pretty much ignored by the blogosphere, called his debut album Digital Lows (available for free on Bandcamp). That phrase, "digital lows," sounds like a pop medical term for the feeling one gets during hour three of Tumblr page-downs or the 416th Facebook photo of an ex you've stared at instead of closing the laptop and going to sleep. Or maybe it's the overwhelming feeling that happens after you've thought long and hard about hip-hop and the Internet and tried to break down a hype machine that bounces from Odd Future (are they still cool?) to Kreayshawn, briefly pauses to celebrate the release of a Big Sean album, and then claims that someone named SpaceGhostPurrp is the dude about to blow. Tuesday night, I got an email from a guy who claims the beat for Lil Wayne's "How To Love" was stolen from him. First of all, dude's beat was not jacked.

  • Curren$y, 'Weekend at Burnie's' (Warner Bros.)

    Curren$y, 'Weekend at Burnie's' (Warner Bros.)

    The third sturdy release in six months from this weeded-out New Orleans wordsmith is simply more casually compelling hip-hop from the dude who does stoner rap better than everyone else. Further separating Curren$y from similarly hazy underground types, though, is his impeccable taste in beats ("Televised," "Still") plus a slow-burning intensity. "I could kill a man, but I'd rather kill a bass line," he half-threatens on "This Is the Life." Even for-the-ladies track "She Don't Want a Man," with its noirish story-tellingand near-New Age beat,is far from crossover.

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    Inside the Mind of the Dirty South

    Ben Westhoff's Dirty South: OutKast, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, and the Southern Rappers Who Reinvented Hip-Hop is the kind of patient, considered music book that rap fans are rarely blessed with. In a series of profiles, Westhoff hangs out and gets behind the scenes with a select group of Southern rap heavy-hitters -- 2 Live Crew's Luke, in a strip club; Houston legend Trae the Truth, navigating his hometown in an "inferior" Hyundai -- rather than attempt a hedged, pseudo- comprehensive overview of the scene. For guys like me who spend their days thinking stuff like, "Hey, that third Nappy Roots album was kinda slept-on," the book's a great reminder of the artists who actually matter. And for people unaware of the music, it's an excellent, accessible, introduction to Southern rap.

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    In Defense Of Kanye West's "Monster"

    In the video for Kanye West's "Monster," Kanye, Rick Ross, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj (no Justin Vernon to be found, unfortunately) are holed up in a fancy chateau Salo-style, surrounded by murdered and murderous models. At one point, Kanye casually rhymes while holding a woman's severed head. When the video first leaked in January, it understandably generated controversy. Two pieces from Racialicious' Latoya Peterson titled "Black Women/White Corpses: Kanye's Racialized Gender Politics," and "The Ghost Of Bigger Thomas Surfaces In Kanye West's 'Monster,'" give you a sense of what's problematic about the video.

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    The Death and Resurrection of Conscious Rap, Pt. 3

    If Kanye West's binary-breaking rise to superstardom didn't kill off what was left of conscious rap, then the cratering of record sales, which led to a mass rapper exodus to the Internet (and the creation of a new "underground") most certainly did. Though there's not much money to go around these days, there's almost an overabundance of smart, sensitive hip-hop right now and it has led to a sprawling, multitude-filled rap scene separate from the mainstream. Here's the place where I should list a bunch of current rappers who are carrying on the conscious rap tradition. But that's not really for me or anybody else to declare, at least not yet.

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    Lil B: The Human Meme

    He's provocative, prolific, and boasts a following a cult leader would envy -- no rapper's success is more distinctly 2011 than this guy's. "He can't rap for shit," scoffs a white girl seemingly dressed head to toe in Urban Outfitters, standing in front of Philadelphia's Theater of the Living Arts. A performance inside by rapper Lil B is well underway, but outside there's an active, opportunistic scene. Members of a local rap crew wander around with cameras, passing out T-shirts and CDs. Another Urban Outfitted girl dispenses flyers for an "after-party" down the block. A dreadlocked dude later informs the exiting masses that Lil B will attend the after-party. This turns out to be untrue. Everybody here wants something from Lil B, now one of hip-hop's best-known figures, thanks almost entirely to the Internet.

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