Sunday, September 30, 2007

M.O.P. vs. Scarface: Who Flipped It Better?
posted by O.W.

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway: Be Real Black For Me
From S/T (Atlantic, 1972)

M.O.P.: World Famous
From Firing Squad (Relativity, 1996)

Scarface: On My Block
From The Fix (Def Jam, 2002)

Like our last face-off, what's striking here is that the beats are, for all expressed purposes, identical. You might be able to quibble with the engineering differences but really, this comes down to which MC sounds better over this beautiful little loop from Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway's anthem of self-love and pride.

I'll say this much: if it was a video showdown, advantage: 'Face.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Premier vs. Beatminerz: Who Flipped It Better?
posted by O.W.

The Blackbyrds:
From Cornbread, Earl and Me Soundtrack (Fantasy, 1975). Also on Lovebyrds.

Gang Starr: Say Your Prayers
From Step Into the Arena (Chrysalis, 1991)

The Roots: Silent Treatment (Beatminerz Remix)
From "Silent Treatment" 12" (Geffen, 1995)

I've had this idea for a long time but had forgotten about it until I had cause to listen to Gang Starr's Step Into the Arena the other day. I had always remembered "Say Your Prayers" back in the day mostly because I loved the sample but it was also a short song and left me wanting more. I was pleasantly surprised a few years later when the Beatminerz remixed "Silent Treatment" by The Roots and used the same loop: the moody, mellow "Wilford's Gone" by the Blackbyrds.

Normally, in these situations, I felt like the nod goes to the originator but that rule of thumb has so many exceptions to it (see the uses of "Hydra" by Grover Washington or "Nautilus" by Bob James for excellent examples of how later uses improved upon earlier attempts) that it deserved a re-evaluation. So here you go: part one in a series of side by side comparisons, beginning with a heavyweight face-off between Primo and Mr. Walt/Evil Dee.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

When In Doubt, Post a Video
posted by O.W.

Ok, I admit, this is merely a stop-gap measure to fill space while I'm trying to juggle all my other s---. But you have to admit, there are worst ways to distract your readers than enjoying these rap vids. What's crazy is that I didn't even realize most of these songs had videos. Thanks Strut!

Showbiz and A.G.: Party Groove/Soul Clap

The Coup: Dig It

Ice Cube: Jackin For Beats

Monday, September 24, 2007

Community Bulletin Board
posted by O.W.

For those in Los Angeles:

September 24, 2007 (that's today!)

The Popular Music Project presents Community Music Now
Bovard Auditorium, 7:30 p.m.

Visions & Voices and the Norman Lear Center's Popular Music Project, led by communication professor Josh Kun, present a discussion on the role of music in building and nourishing community in Los Angeles. Special guests include Build An Ark arkestra, the Dublab Soundsystem, and communication professor Herman Gray. The program will also feature jazz greats Dwight Trible, Phil Ranelin and Nate Morgan along with hip-hop producer and Temple Bar Records chief Carlos Niño.

Parking information and directions to campus »

Also, has come up with a very cool idea that I might have to bite at some point: anatomy of a sample.

Gilles Peterson: Still Digging America
posted by O.W.

Lorez Alexandria: I'm Wishin'
From Didn't We (Pzazz, 1968)

R.A.M.P.: The Old One, Two
From 12" (previously unreleased) (Ubiquity, 2007)

Both from: Gilles Peterson Digs America 2 (Luv N' Haight, 2007)

Bonus: Lorez Alexandria: Talk About Cozy
From Didn't We (Pzazz, 1968)

The inaugural volume of the Digs America series was one of our favorite comps of 2005 and now Gilles is back again with another romp through the rarities of musical Americana. To call his tastes "eclectic" is quite the understatement...Peterson has some obvious likes - vocal jazz dominates this volume, even more than last time - but he'll throw all kinds of curves, from the teeny, wispy voice of R&B singer Carrie Cleveland on the Bay Area ballad, "Make Love to Me" to the brassy jazz noodlings of Gap Mangione on "Boys With Toys" to rip-roaring femme funk of Detroit's Dee Edwards and her "Why Can't There Be Love" (btw, I really need that single). It's all good, good stuff.

I'll say this much too: he always knows how to pick his first songs to lead the comp. The last volume kicked off with Darondo's "Didn't I" (mmmmmmmmmm) and this one leads with Lorez Alexandria's sultry "I'm Wishin'." Why can't whole albums sound like this and not just one, errant track (see below though)? So smoky I'm catching lung cancer off the vibes.

With the R.A.M.P. (Roy Ayers Music Project) track, this is a previously unreleased song from the vaults that Ubiquity recently put out on 12" (and it's sold out already!) I'll be honest...I initially wasn't really feeling this, mostly because I was expecting "Daylight" vs. a more disco-fied track but when I got Gilles' comp in and was listening to it, I found myself drawn into the mezmerizing loop of the tune and realized: hey, this is actually much better than I initially gave it credit for. Try it, you might like it too.

For a bonus, I threw on an extra cut from the Alexandria LP (which has, by the one, one of the coolest covers I've seen for a vocal jazz album). It's not at the level of marvel that "I'm Wishin'" inspires but Lorez still sounds great on this; makes me yearn for the days of hanging out in jazz lounges that never happened. Cozy indeed.


Ubiquity Records has three copies of the Gilles Peterson CD to give away to Soul Sides readers. You know the deal...I ask a question, you send the correct answer to me. I pick winners out of the correct answers.

1) Please make your subject line: "Gilles Peterson giveaway"
2) Please answer the following question: On Volume 1 of Digs America, two of the songs featured were from local Bay Area labels. Name the artists, songs and labels that they originally appeared on.

Good luck! Folks have until week's end to get their answers in.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

6th Sense: Where It's Going Now?
posted by O.W.

6th Sense: Frenzy (prod. by Frequency)
From It's Coming Soon (forthcoming, Rawkus, 2007)

Another hit and run post (but at least you can download it, ha!). Frequency, producer behind Snoop's "Think About It," hit me with a taste of the new album he produced by the Bronx's 6th Sense. The album should be dropping on Rawkus in the next few weeks and while I'm still marinating on the CD as a whole, I'm loving this track, "Frenzy."

Here's another one of the better songs off the album:


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hey Joe vs. Down By The River: Showdown!
posted by O.W.

I'm in another period where I'm intensely busy at work so I may not get too many posts out this week. I wanted to try to get at least one thing out there for public consumption before the week passes though...

When I was listening to "Hey Joe" by Lee Moses, I was struck at how much it reminded me "Down By the River" (Neil Young but I've always been partial to Buddy Miles' cover)'s almost as if "Hey Joe" precedes "Down By The River," - the former where the cuckold decides to murder his lover...the latter finds him after he's done the deed, deep in his thoughts. Both songs are heavy in mood and feel; sonic anchors that plummet in the murk. You decide which is better:

Lee Moses: Hey Joe
From Time and Place (Maple, 1970s)

Buddy Miles: Down By the River
From Them Changes (Mercury, 1970)

Meanwhile, congrats to the winners of the Tyrone Ashely giveaway: Sal E., David J., Adil K., Courtland F., Indie J.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Top Shelf Revisited
posted by O.W.

Remember this album we wrote about recently?

Soul Sides' hall of famer Hua Hsu just wrote about the album and its enigmatic back story, ending up with a piece that appears on the front page of the NY Times' art section (above the fold, thank you very much). Peep:

"Sure, It Sounds Old School, but When Were They in Class?"*

*Hua wrote me this morning to say: "for the record I know that Kane and Biz aren't technically "old school""

My reply: "Hey, it's all good. These days, kids think Chingy is old school."


Friday, September 14, 2007

Random Tunes
posted by O.W.

Bobby Byrd: I'm Not To Blame
From 7", B-side of "It's I Who Love You" (King, 1970)

Billy Preston: The Same Thing Again
From Encouraging Words (Apple, 1970)

It's always been a personal philosophy that the risk in getting paid to do the things you would otherwise do for free out of love isn't as win-win as it sounds. Turning a labor of love into work is a good way to lose that love.

I don't make money off of directly (but it is nice when ya'll buy my mixtapes) yet, the last few weeks, I've felt like blogging has been more like "work" insofar as I'm trying to keep up with covering reissues and comps that are out. And on some level, that makes good sense - it's always nice to have something to write about that's timely and given my professional alter ego life as a music writer, it's also nice to write about things you want to help support.

But it can make posting feel more like "work" than I want it to and it's an odd feeling when I feel compelled to apologize for writing - gasp - a personal post that's not necessarily tied to a new release (though, doubt not, there's an avalanche of those too). Note: I'm not writing any of this to fish for sympathy or be validated. I just like to kvetch once in a while and what better space to be so navel-gazingly self-indulgent than a blog? But yeah, here's some random stuff I'm listening to and want to write about.

The Bobby Byrd song is something that I had forgotten about until I was reading Just Blaze's tribute to the late star and was reminded, "oh yeah, Blaze looped this track up lovely for 'U Don't Know.'" And so I took a few minutes to really listen to Byrd here rather than sample-spotting and I was struck by how great a ballad it is - so dramatic and passionate. (I didn't want to hotlink it back to Just's site so I'm essentially reposting it from his site).

The Billy Preston...I thought I posted this song a year ago when Mark Anthony Neal wrote a memorial for Preston after he passed last June. As it turns out, I had forgotten: I've never posted this song and in fact, made mention of that very fact in my year end post. Funny too since this song has stayed on constant rotation in that intervening year, all the while I was trying to track down a copy of the original album (thank you Record Surplus).

Did I mention "The Same Thing Again" is one of the best things ever? Yup, I took it there.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bobby Byrd: We Knew He Had Soul
posted by O.W.

Bobby Byrd: I Know You Got Soul (Long Version)
From James Brown's Funky People Pt. 2 (Polydor, 1970s)

Bobby Byrd: I Found Out
From 7" (King, 1967). Also on King New Breed.

Vicki Anderson and Bobby Byrd: You're Welcome, Stop On By
From 7" (Identify, 1975). Also on James Brown's Original Funky Divas.

I take no pleasure in what seems like is a constant stream of in memoriam posts but truly, we're reaching a time when a lot of the musical giants from the last 30-40 years are passing away. Yesterday, it was Joe Zawinul, today, it's Bobby Byrd - James Brown's constant vocal stalwart and a striking soul/funk singer in his own right. I'm not going to write anything too extensive - I'm sure there will be far more eloquent and informed folks out there breaking down Byrd's legacy but I did want to at least share some music. "I Know You Got Soul" is Byrd's best known solo work (though one could argue that "Sex Machine" wouldn't be half the song it is without his exhortations), and one of the truly great, great James Brown productions of all time (and of course, given a new lease on life thanks to Eric B. and Rakim). "I Found Out" is taken from Byrd's early years with King, showcasing some of his vocal skills as a crooner and not just the illest hype man in funk history. Last, but not least, is a cover of "You're Welcome, Stop On By" sung by Byrd and his wife (who he met when she was one of Brown's key divas), Vicki Anderson.

Rest in peace Bobby. Word to the Byrd!

And speaking of funk greats, RIP to NOLA's Willie Tee.

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posted by O.W.

As some of you probably know, Joe Zawinul passed away yesterday and given my recent posting about electric piano, it seemed apt to pay a small tribute to one of the masters. Here's two songs that, for both personal and historical reasons, always stand out when I think about Zawinul and his contribution to the music world. R.I.P.

Cannonball Adderley: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
From Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (Blue Note, 1966)

In that NPR piece I linked to, Herbie Hancock pays Joe a remarkable tribute by noting that, as a White European, Zawinul managed to compose a song that spoke to an African American spiritual and musical tradition as rich as anything Hancock had heard from a Black artist. For years, I always assumed Cannonball had come up with this one and was genuinely blown away to learn that it was actually Zawinul's tune.

Weather Report: American Tango
From Mysterious Traveller (Columbia, 1974)

Jazz purists hate Weather Report and their popularization of jazz fusion. Hip-hoppers (for a time at least) loved its mix of dissonance, rhythm and more moody loops than you could shake a stick at. Just listen to the song and try to count the number of different folks who've stolen snippets off it. Blows the mind.

Also, one of my favorite record stores in the country, Village Music in Mill Valley, CA, is closing after some 60 years in business. *sniff*


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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Soul Sides returns to Funky Sole This Sat
posted by O.W.

Yes, yes - my favorite party in L.A. (besides my own, of course): Funky Sole, now having moved from Star Shoes to Jimmy's Lounge.

I'll be creating a special hour-long mix in honor of SSV2. I'll also bring copies of SSV2 (on both CD and vinyl) Incognitos and Deep Covers for sale. (See here for more info).

And as always: admission is free.

Hope to see you there!

ALSO: my man Sureshot has his new weekly night - CONNECTED - popping off at Jimmy's Lounge starting tonight.

Check it out.

Pete Jolly + Shelton Kirby: Ride the Rhodes
posted by O.W.

Pete Jolly: Leaves + Springs
From Seasons (A&M, 1970)

Leroy Vinnegar: Twila
From Glass of Water (Legend, 1973)

One of these days, I'm going to get around to writing a whole set of posts celebrating the electric piano. I actually wrote, along with Eothen Alapatt, a long feature about the history of the Rhodes and its maker back in 2000 but it no longer is available online and I'm trying to find a new home for it. Until that day...

The funny thing is...I always assumed Pete Jolly's Seasons was a Rhodes album but as it turns out, he's actually using a Wurlitzer, the main competitor of the Rhodes amongst jazz players. Ok, no big deal, either way, the electric piano sound just marinates this entire album in warm, liquid keys. "Leaves" beautifully expresses how lovely a tone you can achieve, especially with all the reverb thrown on. Makes me sad this song is less than two minutes long. I wouldn't have minded some longer noodling (and I typically am not a big fan of noodling).

"Springs" isn't as abstract, bringing aboard a solid rhythm section lead by Chuck Berghofer on bass whose presence is just as prominent as Jolly's. Ugly Duckling fans will likely recognize this cut too and I can see what drew Young Einstein's interest in terms of the striking piano melodies (again with that reverb) and Berghofer's bassline twine.

By the way, Seasons is another one of the Dusty Groove's new series of reissues and there's at least one more (their reissue of La Clave's self-titled LP) that I want to talk about. Good stuff, all around.

In any case, with the Leroy Vinnegar, I'm almost positive this is, in fact, Rhodes (the two pianos have similar but not identical sounds), with Dwight Dickerson manning the keys. Glass of Water boasts a gorgeous set of jazz tunes, including a few funkier/soulful numbers though "Twila" (which begins the LP) is a personal favorite. Very "Sunday afternoon listening" if you know what I mean.

Whenever I do get to my Rhodes Week, I'll have some other electric piano goodies to pull out the woodwork, including songs by Shelton Kilby, Romano Mussolini and, of course, the great, late Weldon Irvine.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Lee Moses: Hey Lee
posted by O.W.

Lee Moses: Time and Place (LP Version) + Hey Joe
From Time and Place (Maple, 1970s)

The Lee Moses LP on Maple was one of the first "holy grail" soul albums I learned about. I knew about the single, "Time and Place" already (thanks Positive K!) and I'm not exactly sure, but soon thereafter, heard about the LP it came off but understood that it was a tough LP to track down, especially if I didn't feel like paying $100 for it (this was the days when I actually would have hesitated to spend that much).

As it was though, I actually held a copy of the LP for a few days, back in the late '90s. I was visiting a friend in Brooklyn who asked if I'd be willing to bring a copy of the album back to a mutual acquaintance of ours in the Bay Area. Of course, it did cross my mind to claim that the LP got "lost" during the way but I didn't think it'd be a very convincing story. I did, however, take the time to digitize the album before handing it over and it's a good thing too: it's taken years for it to finally make it to CD but I have to say: Sanctuary (the reissue label) did a bang up job with this CD. Not only does it include the original Maple album but it comes with practically another CD's worth of bonus tracks, mostly singles by Moses that pre-date the album, including a raw, funky soul version of "Daytripper" and the 45 version of "Time and Place" that ended up gracing Soul Sides Vol. 1.

It can be confusing to place Moses - he sure sounds like a Southern artist yet Maple was a New Jersey imprint while Front Page (where "Time and Place," the single, came from) was from New York. Moses himself hailed from Atlanta though, thus helping to explain the ragged gospel edge to his singing style. Check out In Dangerous Rhythm's far more extensive biography of him.

The album version of "Time and Place" is very similar to the 45 version but I noticed some slight differences in the percussion (or maybe it's just the mix) and thought, given some listener familiarity with the song (assuming you *cough cough* copped SSV1), it'd be worth posting so folks can listen for themselves.

"Hey Joe" is arguably reason alone to track down the LP. Moses pulls off a fantastic, gritty cover of this Billy Roberts' classic and while it won't necessarily make people forget what the Jimi Hendrix version is like, Moses' take is compelling and passionate (not to mention a rock solid psych/funk/blues smash up).

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Monday, September 03, 2007

East of Underground: Not Your Average Military Band
posted by O.W.

East of Underground: Popcorn/Oye Como Va + I Love You For All Seasons
From S/T (U.S. Army/Wax Poetics, 1971)

Bonus: Black Seeds: In the Rain + Ain't No Sunshine
From S/T (U.S. Army, 1972)

Here's what a thousand dollar soul album sounds like. (No doubt, at least a few people are scratching their heads thinking, "this is good but one grand good? Word?)

Here's the backstory from what I've pieced together from the liner notes as well as other research:

Back in the early 1970s, the U.S. Army sponsored a talent contest for servicemen stationed overseas in Germany, the "Original Magnificent Special Services Entertainment Showband Contest."

The winner and runner-up during the first year, in 1971, ended up recording an album in Frankfurt, using some exceptionally good studio equipment since this album has surprisingly great fidelity (the reissue was mastered off of vinyl, not master tapes). Then it promptly vanished from popular consciousness for the next three or so decades until Dante Carfagna dug up a copy and made its existence known in high-end collector circles. I'm not exactly sure how many copies of this are "known" to exist at this point (at least a few) but it's the type of LP whose obscurity explains why it commands so high a price.

Tthe EoU album is all covers so in essence, the band was one really, really impressive tribute band in a sense but for a bunch of amateur musicians, recording away from the States, the quality of the arrangements and production is truly awesome. It'd be like a bunch of Marines in Iraq getting together in the Green Zone and whipping out something that sounded as good as the recent UGK album. It's just not what you'd expect and it's so much better than what anyone would anticipate given the circumstances.

If this could be considered a "stage band" album, it'd rival most of what I've heard out there, including the almighty Kashmere Stage Band. Heck, the price of admission might be worth it for the group's ultra-funky medley of James Brown's "Poppin' Popcorn" and Santana's "Oye Come Ve" alone but if that wasn't enough, the group also covers early '70s soul classics like Undisputed Truth's "Smiling Faces," the Impression's "People Get Ready," Dionne Warwick's "Walk on By," and I was especially impressed to see them covering "I Love You For All Seasons" by The Fuzz, a personal favorite of mine. The falsetto isn't the most crystal clear but I like its fragility here.

The bonus cuts I've added are by the Black Seeds, winners of the 2nd annual Original Magnificent Special Services Entertainment Showband Contest, also recording in Frankfurt. I'm still not sure why but this album is nowhere near as obscure (though it's hardly something you'd stumble on that often) and most definitely nowhere near as expensive though the latter perhaps isn't strictly an issue of rarity. To put it mildly, the fidelity on the Black Seeds album is pretty terrible. Not only do they pipe in fake audience applause (almost always a cornball move) but in comparison to the clarity on East of Underground, The Black Seeds sound like they're recording through a tin can. The fidelity is shot, the instruments mixed way too low and the singing barely audible in parts. It's altogether a less appealing recording though I still have to give it props for interesting arrangements as you can hear on the pairing of the Dramatics' classic, "In the Rain" and the much-covered Withers' tune, "Ain't No Sunshine." Far as I know, the Black Seeds album has never been reissued but frankly, it's just not as deserving of it.

By the way, it's notable that the East of Underground CD is the first reissue (that I know of) done under the Wax Poetics banner. Hope to see more in their series ASAP.


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Sammy Campbell/Tyrone Ashley: Alter Egos
posted by O.W.

Tyrone Ashley: Come On Home + Sing a Song Sister
From Funky Music Machine (Truth and Soul, 2007)

This is that promised follow-up to the Truth & Soul post I made last week. Today, we're highlighting the latest release from T&S, Tyrone Ashely's Funky Music Machine, a compilation which brings to light not just some of Ashley's rare single sides but also never-heard-before tracks from lost tapes.

The liner notes for the album tell a fascinating tale of how Ashley was the creation of New Jersey soul journeyman Sammy Campbell. A member of the doo wop group, the Del Larks, Campbell fashioned Ashley as a way to explore other musical opportunities after knocking his head in vain to mint a hint. LIkewise, the group, the Funky Music Machine was an additional creation meant to more fully explore this alter ego and it helped Campbell land a deal with Philly's Phil-L.A.-of Soul label in the late '60s where he found some modest success with a single here and there but most of his material for the imprint ended up buried and forgotten until Truth & Soul came calling.

One of those songs, "Come On Home" definitely nods to Campbell's roots in both doo wop and gospel. This is what some folks might call "old timey" - an early '60s R&B vibe that wouldn't have been out of place in a Memphis club from the era (the "pain in my heart" line feels like a direct nod - or bite - of Otis Redding's song by the same name). I'm really feeling this even though it's an earlier aesthetic than I typically get into. The harmonies are good and I like the slow sway of the rhythm and the rich, gospel overtones.

"Sing a Song Sister" is a funky instrumental track that I would guess came from the turn of the decade since it reminds me of any number of similar styled tunes from the likes of Kool and the Gang or JBs - the prototypical funk bands of the era. This is a slick little number though imagine if it had some harder drums behind it. (Reeeeeemix!).

Leon Michels was generous enough to donate a few CDs to Soul Sides for giveaways. To qualify, answer this question:
    What barbershop did the Del Larks and fellow Plainfield, NJ band, the Parliaments (yeah, as in P-Funk, Parliament) get their start at?
Send your answer to: here. Winners will be chosen from all the correct answers.

Contest is now closed. I'll announce winners soon.

The correct answer was "Black Soap Palace." I need to get a judge's ruling on everyone who wrote in to say it was the Silk Palace.

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

No Half Steppin'
posted by O.W.

Just another reason to love Superbad.

Kanye West + M.I.A.: New and New-ish
posted by O.W.

Kanye West: Good Life + Big Brother (snippets)
From Graduation (G.O.O.D./Def Jam, 2007)

M.I.A. feat. Afrikan Boy: Hussel (snippet) + Paper Planes
From Kala (Interscope, 2007)

Bonus: M.I.A. feat. Akon: Boyz Remix

True tales: back in the days, when I was a teenager, before I had status and before I had a pageriPhone, you could find the O-Dub listening to waiting for albums to actually make their release date. (Leopold's in Berkeley, what up?!) Then, later, when I was writing professionally, I could hope to see an advance a few weeks or months before the album was supposed to drop.

These days, I just wait for stuff to hit the 'Net. Is this an evolution or devolution?

Either way, I recently reviewed M.I.A.'s album for NPR's All Things Considered and I never tried to bother Interscope for a copy since it had already leaked onto the Internet weeks before. I didn't learn this on my own...I found out because my editor hepped me to it. The game done changed.

I raise this for no particular reason except to say that it's funny that this post, far from being ahead of the curve, is more like me playing catch-up. Kanye's CD just leaked yesterday but I guarantee that by the day it actually is supposed to drop (9/11), for a segment of the population, it will feel old hat. I don't mind being slow on the draw but it's just a bizarre phenom to witness considering how things used to be. Yeah, I sound old.

So yeah...Kanye. Look, I don't care who wins the whole "50 vs. Kanye" showdown. It's such a lame beef to Ali and Frazier arguing over who had more endorsement deals. Rappers bragging about their Soundscan numbers? Straight chump. Toy status.

What I do care about is whether either man can put out a half-assed good album. The 50 is still waiting in my in-boxdownload queue but I have been listening to the new Kanye album and here's the very short review: kind of "eh." I might upgrade that to a, "better than I initially thought" later though it could just as easily go towards, "mad mediocre." If nothing else, Graduation feels half-baked and lightweight and that's a marked surprise coming after what I thought were two surprisingly ambitious albums. Ye's never going to make my top 10 list of MCs, but his previous track record has shown reserves of wit and passion that you wouldn't always assume from his public persona (or awkward Entourage cameos).

Speaking of which, I first heard "Good Life" at the end of last Sunday's episode (Sidney Pollack > Kanye as far as surprise guests go) and what instantly caught me was the "P.Y.T." loop. I'm not saying Michael Jackson is deserving of redemption but I'm not going to front: "P.Y.T." was the joint and easily one of my favorite songs off of Thriller. The problem with this song isn't that it's so pop-friendly; I'm not mad at that at all. I like some sugary sweets sometime (even if T-Pain's auto-voco-tuned vocals are far more saccharin than sucarat). But though Ye's lyrics have never been brain-meltingly dense, "Good Life" is decidedly more inane than even one's low expectations might anticipate. That goes for practically every song on the album, with the possible exception of "Can't Tell Me Nothing" (which isn't a tour de force but has more edge to it) and the bizarre car wreck of "Big Brother."

Maybe it's fitting that the song is all about Kanye's relationship with Jay Z since Jay elevated the whole confessional rap schtick to heretofore unseen levels of navel-gazing but "Big Brother" is more than a little uncomfortable to listen to. It's like sneaking a peak into someone's diary and instantly regretting it because it's TMI. The song isn't intrinsically great on its own - I read someone comparing the track to something you'd hear at the end of a Japanese video game and that's pretty dead on with those corny synths - but there's something fascinating about Kanye's baring-all love letter/passive aggressive slap at Jay. Dude is making Eminem look like an impassive statue in comparison and as a listener, it's hard to tear yourself away even when you feel like you really should. You think Jay is listening to this somewhere, sunning himself next to Beyonce, wondering, "man, Ye caught some feelings. I might have to hug it out with him."?

Back to M.I.A.: I know it may seem like I'm clowning her in my review but my point with Kala (as with Arular) is that, as an artist, I think she's brilliantly creative and compelling. As a demagogue - whether she means to be one or not - I can't take her sloganeering very seriously. I don't, per se, disagree with her politics in the abstract, but I find the ways she works in these signifiers of revolution to be a bit cloying. Gunshots work as a sonic effect but as a gesture towards...what? Freedom fighting? Viva la resistance? Most popular culture isn't capable of sustaining a dialogue about something as complex as violence and global struggle, let alone electronic dance music. I'm only saying.

But that said - cotdamn, I love the sound of this album, especially on a cut as propulsive and infectious as "Paper Planes" (yes, the very song whose chorus I highlight in my review). I find it sonically irresistible, so much so that, if I actually did have guns, I might consider putting them out with my hands up.

Likewise, "Hussel" features one of the best single minutes on the entire album, during the cameo of Afrikan Boy, both because that synth chord that drops in the middle of his intro is on some THX Deep Note immensity plus Afrika Boy's clipped verses have an intriguing vocal quality to them that constasts with the shrillness of M.I.A.'s own voice.

I also threw on the new remix of "Boyz" feat. Akon. What, T-Pain wasn't available?