Monday, January 10, 2011

Pseudocoded

human.Author I = "Mookie";


human.EveryoneElse you; //will be defined at runtime

if (You.break(myHeadphone)){
    I.Voice.Yell.ToMouth() = "You will pay for this!";

I.Hit(you, Rock);

return;
}


Happy New Years peeps! I hope you are all well. I am renewed and ready for another year of music posts for you. I can't wait to read your comments and emails! Our fans are the best in the world! Let's get it on then?


...


Sean "Jay-Z" Carter
To start off the year I am doing a book review of sorts. The book is Jay-Z's book Decoded which was available for sale November 16th, 2010. I received the book as a xmas present from The Little One. She knows a music book will always make me happy!


Jay-Z (also known as Sean Carter, Jigga, or Hova), for those of you that don't know, is a successful hip-hop artist and entrepreneur. He had a net worth over $450 million in 2010, has sold 50 million albums worldwide, co-owns a chain of sports bars and lounges called The 40/40 club, and is part owner of the New Jersey Nets. He was once the CEO of Def Jam, founded the record label Roc-A-Fella Records, and is the creator of the wildly successful clothing line Rocawear.


That's some resumé...


Like Jay-Z, his new book is also many things. It's a lyrical anthology, a biography, and a coffee table art book all wrapped into a beautiful hardcover package. The book covers 36 of Jay-Z's songs, which he "decodes" for the reader. Jigga provides perspective and insight on the lyrics and the stories behind them.


Hova says this about the vision for his book:


The cover of Decoded is based on
Andy Warhol's 1984 "Rorschach" paintings.
When I first started working on this book, I told my editor that I wanted it to do three important things. The first was to make the case that hip-hop lyrics—not just my lyrics, but those of every great MC—are poetry if you look at them closely enough.

The second was I wanted the book to tell a little bit of the story of my generation, to show the context for the choices we made at a violent and chaotic crossroads in recent history. And the third piece was that I wanted the book to show how hip-hop created a way to take a very specific and powerful experience and turn it into a story that everyone in the world could feel and relate to.


I've talked to a few people about the book that I know are fans of Jay-Z. None of them had yet read, or even cracked open the book, but had heard that there wasn't anything "new" in the book. Specifically, that the stories articulated in its pages were "known" by the "real" fans for some time. 


While that's probably true, they are missing out on the clear specific breakdown of the songs. Jay-Z annotates the lines of the songs, dropping knowledge on the story being told. Sometimes the breakdown of the lyrics relates to the hip-hop culture, politics, or specifically to Jigga himself. The breakdown often highlights the architecture of the rap. In the track "My 1st Song" Jay-Z points out "that the pace is double-time and the lines are all stuffed with internal rhymes which gives the song the breathless rhythm of my earliest songs, which when I was essentially a speed rapper." 

Click to play Jay-Z - My 1st Song

Marvin Gaye
The lyrics are broken down to explain the culture of the hustler and the music is explained to help you understand the mood and frame of the story. For example, in the song "American Dreamin'" Jay-Z points out the the song samples Marvin Gaye's "Soon I'll Be Loving You Again" and that "the sample transports you to a blue-lit room in the seventies; you can practically smell the smoke from a joint coming out of the speakers." Even if that's not what you get from hearing the track, it's fascinating to hear an artist break down this level of minutiae to their work. It's not something we often get to see and understand when we enjoy the final product on the album.


Click to play Jay-Z - American Dreamin'

This song was featured early in the book, the second song broken down. It was at this point that I decided to create a playlist of all the songs in the book. I wanted to hear the songs while I read about them. If you get the opportunity to read the book, I suggest you do the same. If you don't have access to all of the 36 songs mentioned, you can maybe rectify that here.


One of the revelations in the book that strikes a chord in me was on why hip-hop is controversial and often misread. It's something I've often struggled with when trying to explain rap music to people. There are people who just don't get, or even HATE, hip-hop. I try and stress upon what they are really missing out on. That the song is not all about bitches, drugs, and violence--but that there are great stories being told with an amazing flow. These excerpts from Decoded really break it down beautifully. I want to end my post with these excerpts from the book. I hope that it hits you in the same way that it hits me. Maybe if you are not a fan of hip-hop, it can give you the perspective and context to listen again.



Hip-hop has always been controversial, and for good reason. ... It leaves shit rattling around in your head that won't make sense till the fifth or sixth time through. It challenges you. Which is the other reason hip-hop is controversial: People don't bother trying to get it. The problem isn't in the rap or the rapper or the culture. The problem is that so many people don't even know how to listen to the music.

The art of rap is deceptive. It seems so straightforward and personal and real that people read it completely literally, as raw testimony or autobiography. And sometimes the words we use, nigga, bitch, motherfucker, and the violence of the images overwhelms some listeners. It's all white noise to them till they hear a bitch or a nigga and then they run off yelling "See!" and feel vindicated in their narrow conception of what the music is about.

But that would be like listening to Maya Angelou and ignoring everything until you hear her drop a line about drinking or sleeping with someone's husband and then dismissing her as an alcoholic adulterer. But I can't say I've ever given much of a fuck about people who hear a curse word and start foaming at the mouth. The Fox News dummies. They wouldn't know art if it fell on them. 


  

No comments: