Wednesday, May 30, 2007

sex planet (what is it?)

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I openly and unironically enjoy Cam'ron and Juelz Santana. I believe about 99% that they are both incredibly talented artists who are fully aware of how absurd they can be. I don't doubt for a second that Cam knew exactly how wild he looked wearing a pink mink, and as every hipster I know (myself included) owns a purple hoodie, I'm pretty sure his change in favorite color cirica 2004 was just another example of him being ahead of the curve. I think the dumb grin on Juelz's face during the "Santana's Town" video is due at least in some part not only to how awesome the track is, but also how he made it awesome by/despite rhyming the same word a hundred times. It's not a dumb grin, dude got away with murder and then made it trendy.

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I don't listen with bemused "oh you silly rappers" chuckles, and I'm not sure there will be many rap songs better than "Down And Out" in this decade. Or hip-hop songs.

The same goes for Kool Keith, as Dipset is sort of this generation's version of Keith Turbo, and Purple Haze is Dr. Octagonecologyst for the new millenium. There was some serious apprehension about rap ten years ago, and not just because it was scary and had bad words in it. It was also hard to know where to start and where to go from there, even if you weren't shook. What better place to start than an insane space-rap album by a hip-hop legend with lots of turntablism built in? But as the album became hot and Keith got a following, many didn't really get it. Space doo-doo pistols? How could he be serious?

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I personally didn't really understand dude was serious until me and Burnso saw Keith on the Matthew tour. Burnso brought a tub of vaseline to give to dude, I guess to have him sign or something. It made some kind of crazy sense at the time, he kind of expected Dr. Octagon would need lube as girls opened legs for beer kegs, and thus would welcome it, or at least sign it. Instead I think he called Burnso a faggot. Thus I understood that Keith doesn't think the whole Dr. Octagon schtick is that funny. Dr. Octagon was just another facet in Keith's already-meandering career which started by throwing the nascent rap rules out the window with Ultramagnetic. And if you listen to Critical Beatdown and The Cenubites back to back, you realize that there is a unique but acceptable method to his madness. Given that, showing up to a Kool Keith show with vaseline was kind of like showing up to a Jay-Z show with crack vials.

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Most innovations--rapping, sampling, "reality rap"--in rap provoked questions like "are you fucking kidding me"? Keith and Cam are just the latest steps forward, and you only expressed such shock because you weren't ready. Judging from this pattern, it would unfortunately seem that Robert Kelly has next. Is this really the case? That is, what are we to make of "Sex Planet"?

Let me start by saying the Chicago Watersports Championship was not that big a deal. Famous people break off groupies of all ages in the freakiest ways imaginable on a regular basis. It's safe to say Robert Kelly has probably done everything one can fathom doing to a girl, and nobody should be the least bit shocked. I'm honestly amazed dude isn't totally jaded, and I wouldn't be surprised if the follow-up to Double Up is all about video games or some shit. The hit single will be called "Bonin My Friends" and will consist of Kells singing the answers to the crossword puzzle he is doing while his boys run a train.

But consider Trapped In The Closet. Taking your hit song, repeating it for forty minutes and adding new lyrics each time about an increasingly convoluted love polygon is pretty funny. Making a movie starring Omar from The Wire makes it even better. But nothing about Trapped feels ironic, or even campy because Kells has so much hubris. He makes masterpieces, ones that are worthy of repetition and low-budget DVD's. He makes art. It is this self-seriousness--hubris, even, if one can have r&b hubris--that separates Kells from the bottomless pit of cut black men who make terrible sex jams. He's not the first one to make a smooth song about something nasty, but he is the first to demand we take him seriously while releasing albums named after websites.

The problem with "Sex Planet" is that as soon as you heard that R. Kelly had a song about space, you shuddered in fear and braced yourself for the worst fucking joke conceivable. And there it is, in the second verse, like a piece of glass in a slice of pizza:

Girl I promise this will be painless / we'll take a trip to planet Uranus

You could stomach "don't trip, I got a giant rocket" and "let me taste your milky way", but even Beavis and Butthead may have passed on the Uranus joke. Is he some kind of idiot savant, playing flawless rondos on piano one moment, but unable to dress himself the next? This concerns me because I once thought both Dipset and Kool Keith were utterly ridiculous. I used to listen to "Halfsharkalligator" over and over again, my mind blown wide open each time. I used to laugh out loud at the line "I'm a baller baller / you not at all a baller". Shit was mad silly. But now its brilliance is clear as day. I sincerely hope I don't look back on these days wondering how I mised it.

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And it scares me too, because I'm clearly drinking the kool-aid on some level. The line "I been drillin these hoes like Major Payne" sounds, to me, like an expression of some importance and frustration. Kells is telling you how hard he's been drillin these hoes because it frustrates him to no end that he just cannot make these hoes understand the extent to which he is the mack. The verse isn't braggadocio, it's bizarro world player blues. He is lamenting to Fat Joe and his comrades on the remix, that when he makes it rain, they just want him to continue making it rain. "Do it again!" they say, for the gesture has lost its meaning.

If anybody deserves to be complaining about such things, it would be the veteran who started out aiming squarely for the lowest common denominator and saw the entire industry fall to his sleazy level within a little more than a decade. But even if the ballerific lifestyle has melted into a Salingerian search for identity, it is imposssible to excuse some things.

Just sayin.

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