Jay-Z & Kanye West- “Otis”
From their upcoming album Watch the Throne
I like this. I don’t love it, but I like it. I like the way the Otis Redding sample bends into a makeshift bridge. I like the sense of Golden Age whimsy that results from the boys tossing verses back and forth. I like that it’s skeletal and chorus-less for the same reason. I like that it’s much more of the shit-talking brand of Jay than the trying-to-do-anything-else brand of Jay (“Political refugee: asylum can be purchased”?). I like that Jay can still be present enough to distort the mic and that no one bothered to correct it.
I don’t like that the tracklist for Watch the Throne says this song is “featuring” Otis Redding, as if he had a choice in the matter. I don’t like that neither guy says anything consequential or original beyond “I invented swag.” I don’t like that they seem bent on making me feel bad for not being rich.
More importantly, I don’t like how I feel about presenting this song because it’s the first time I’ve seen downloading and uploading a file as laborious. Now that I have Spotify, this process I’ve done thousands of times seems clunky. We live in a post-ownership age, and that means as much as it implies.
I’ve been using Spotify, which I like, for about a week. In the mean time, I’ve barely downloaded anything. Owning any records at all will now—or soon be—useless. So far, the charm of the all-stream-everything service has been finding Cam’ron features I didn’t know about on major label deep cuts. But I can tell that I’ll eventually transition from my mammoth iTunes library to the cavernous Spotify resources. That’s fine. Things change. I used WinAmp before iTunes, I used CDs before that, and I used cassettes before that.
What I don’t like is that Spotify might not only change how I listen, it might also change what I listen to. In the past, switching listening mediums might have altered my habits. For example, with CDs I focused on songs I liked repeatedly, rather than just letting a tape play all the way through. With iTunes, I moved through music so fast that little of it impacted me the way it would have if I had dedicated myself to driving around with it for a month at a time. Music used to grow on me, and my immediate reaction wasn’t as important. Still, the artists I decided to listen to were the same, whether I was using vinyl or my phone to listen to them.
That might not be the case with Spotify. Now that I can instantly call up almost any artist I want, the performer I’ve streamed the most is…ever-goofy swag-rapper Big Sean? If I saw his junk food play-count getting too high in my iTunes, I might guilt myself into playing Merzbow or something. But when faced with endless possibilities, you can get overwhelmed. The interface of Spotify, which stresses the new, the popular, and the sponsored, doesn’t help matters. Unless I open the program with a purpose in mind, it’s too easy to click the big face on the front page.
This critique isn’t just coming from the elitist side of me, though I am afraid this system will promote a musical landscape of haves and have-nots. I’m also wary of a culture of instant-gratification that extends beyond what we technically possess. In the first paragraph of this column, I alluded to hip-hop’s Golden Age. I only know what that is because of the record guides and magazines I read in middle school and high school, as well as the leg-work they inspired. Having to actively learn about and track down Paid in Full or Raising Hell or It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back endeared them to me before my first listen. Educating myself about music—literally finding it—necessitated a dedication that no longer exists. It’s true that any kid can now pull up “The Bridge Is Over” and know just as much about it as I do, but it won’t mean the same thing to him. From a technical standpoint, it’s hard to deny the economics and efficiency of Spotify. But we might have lost something special in the process.
No Cutting: A Black Friday Playlist
Thursday is Thanksgiving, which is a holiday that most people, including myself, generally enjoy. But I find the day after, Black Friday, to be much more interesting because of its polarization. Some people devote all of their savings and capitalist energy to it; some people fear it’s the pathetic downfall of civilization; and some people ridicule the misers camped out in tents, only to join them just before the stores open.
This playlist, full of high-energy cheeky anti-consumerist rants, aligns most closely with the last group, but it’s a Spotify collaborative joint, so feel free to add anything you think it’s missing. Have fun with it. Happy shopping.
In, more or less, the order that I got around to listening to the music. Sorry there are so many songs that aren’t in the Spotify library yet. As far as full-length albums go, the new Islands and Perfume Genius were definitely my favorites.
Sorry there are so many tracks that you can’t play in Spotify yet. This method is kind of flawed, but I prefer it to sitting around waiting for a zip file.
Action Bronson’s Blue Chips is my favorite album of the month and year, and it isn’t even really close. Most reviews of the album are just giddy quotes of the critic’s favorite lines, and my review wouldn’t be any different. Over reheated breakbeats, Action Bronson blesses us with a bewildering forty-five-minute litany to women, food, weed, and professional wrestling with an exclamation point every two words. There’s such an urgent, immediate quality to his voice, but he’s able to balance it with the spontaneity of shaggy, circular rhyme schemes that keep it one step from intimidating. There are certain lines that I can’t even recite flatly in my normal voice without stumbling, and he can bark them in real-time as he’s dreaming them up. It’s not fair.
Best of April 2012 Spotify Playlist
Some of this stuff—the Big K.R.I.T. mixtape, for example—came out way before April, but I put it on here anyway. And keep in mind that I haven’t listened to Jim Jones’ Vampire Life 2 mixtape…yet. So all of this could easily be replaced.
Jai Paul’s hesitant but controlled coo “Jasmine” was my favorite song of the month. Because he whispers or intones the lyrics, it’s easy to pigeonhole it as a soft song, but that would be forgetting the lush hum of its bottom end. It actually sounds more dynamic with each listen.
I loved the Lotus Plaza and Suckers albums, but I probably became more obsessed with Future’s Pluto. I didn’t even like it the first time I heard it, but I’ve since become fascinated by his ability to tightrope around five or six melodies within one song. When he falls, it’s even more captivating than when he makes it all the way across. Each song is fueled by a sort of danger that the whole thing is going to unravel in front of you. On one hand, he can conjure the emotion of something like “Turn on the Lights”, using autotune to increase the raw and lost quality of the song instead of using it to distance himself from it. But elsewhere on the record, he can master a more bullheaded (but still accomplished) street song like “Same Damn Time”, and that versatility makes him even more impressive.
A few critics have pointed out that Pluto seems indebted to Lil’ Wayne’s 2008-era Luv Sawwngs experiments, and I have to agree that something like “I’m Single” or “Prostitute Flange” is a reference point for Future. Along with the Chief Keef mixtape, which takes Waka Flocka Flame and adds even more clenched-teeth menace, it goes to show that hip-hop’s web of influences is starting to move very fast.