Roasted Turkey With Bacon & Cheese
Pretzel Bread Sandwiches (Lean Pockets/Nestlé)
I dunno, did anyone else find Decoded to be a little self-aggrandizing? Now, this is the point where you’ll probably tell me that that I was let down because I expected too much, but fuck outta here: do I look like a member of the Gin Blossoms? Out of respect for fallen soldier Doug Hopkins’ debilitating alcohol problems and mental illness, I’m going to avoid saying “pour one out,” but at least acknowledge his Wikipedia page is relatively more action-packed than Congratulations, I’m Sorry.
You must understand that I’m pretty much the target demographic for rapper books: the rare breed who mostly make it out to Barnes & Noble in order to drop $25 and better on something that I will almost certainly read almost entirely on the can. That’s the sort of literary commitment I can muster at this point. Fuck, I’m probably going to buy that Styles P book he apparently wrote on his BlackBerry as if he was Pitchforkreviewsreviews or some shit despite never having paid money for an actual LOX record. Not even We Are The Streets, which is the only major-label hip-hop record I didn’t buy in 1999. I guess I only have myself to blame for not recognize how “Wild Out” would age into something I need now more than ever.
But from the small sample size currently available to me, I’ll almost always feel vaguely disappointed with what are turning out to be the most expensive volumes I have on my shelf. Rap books of this nature always suffer from a numbing repetition when it becomes obvious their author isn’t particularly interested in telling really awesome stories about being a rapper, which is really what these should aspire to. Hell, an eight-volume series of A Verbal History of The Roc The Mic Tour would urrsher in an Age of Enlightenment.
Everybody out at the Roc The Mic Tour. I’m back in the kitchen whippin’ that white raw
But at the very least, I go in half-expecting to learn some sort of hustling tactic that I could possibly integrate into my own life and halfway through end up hoping at the very least for the sort of unique insight one can only acquire by spending an inordinate amount of time with Tony Yayo. I would say in that regard, The 50th Law feels like the biggest waste of potential even though I still happen to leaf through it every now and again- 50 Cent has proven that his post-relevance music career is nowhere near as entertaining as his post-music relevance career, and I suppose there are substance abuse lessons to be had in watching how the rapper I trust most of all to never suffer some sort of epic drug meltdown spends his time as a very rich and very bored person who is awesome at making fun of people.
Unfortunately, the book itself was a masterwork of self-legitimization: the basic thrust of it was utilizing one’s hustle and inner fortitude to make something out of nothing, and the The 50th Law is basically an illustration of that very mindset, somehow figuring out a way to tell the same “he sold drugs, got shot, made mixtapes, became a rapper” narrative about 20 times with just enough variation to make you didn’t just read the same exact thing no more than ten minutes prior. Not even his albums accomplish the same goal so thoroughly. But once again, the connection of how you need to use corporate America for all it’s worth doesn’t quite hit me like it should: maybe I misinterpreted The 50th Law, but I could swear that at times, it reads like a longform treatise based around the justification of stealing office supplies.
I mean, I suppose I can somehow try to relate, but I’m not sure what situation I’ll find myself in where trashing an Interscope office as a promotional coup for Curtis will serve as sound advice; best part part is that Kanye West doesn’t get mentioned once in the entire book, and yet he does something very close to admitting how The Game outmaneuvered him. I expected chapters dedicated to laughing at Young Buck’s crippling drug addiction, the latest on the whereabouts of Hot Rod and at least a couple of “The Game is gay” rumors just to tie things together, but not that. It’s a shocking bit of self-reflection from a guy who will acknowledge my Twitter account the very moment I send him fake nude pics.
That said, I’m not sure I’ve gone for more than two months without flipping through The Wu-Tang Manual, and rightfully so- if you want any sort of deep understanding of what the fuck these guys are actually talking about half the time, it’s as required a purchase as Enter The 36 Chambers and every Cappadonna album. You gotta hand it to RZA for what’s actually a very artful explanation of 5 Percenter Islam, or at least one that causes you to say, “okay, so the white man was invented by a mad scientist named Yakub, no please…do go on. I’m sure it’ll make sense.” Only problem is that the selection in explaining certain Wu lyrics make less sense than the actual lyrics: or maybe RZA is the type of guy who understands “just like the Germans whitewashing Roman sculptures!” as a perfectly coherent thought, but had to consult Google to find out who Rod Strickland was.
Guarantee make ‘em jump…like this guy
Unfortunately, or perhaps understandably, he squandered most of that goodwill when he could charge us more for a hardcover book. I didn’t retain much from The Tao Of Wu, and didn’t quite figuring out how playing chess with Shaolin monks at Leonard DiCaprio’s house (these may be conflated separate stories but all of that definitely happened) factored into why the fuck he hired a young sidekick to be Kato to Bobby Digital, or where the hell that kid is now- by the way, it cost a rumored $130 million to make the fucking “Green Hornet,” and RZA couldn’t even get a “Killa Season” budget? But then again “Digi” is clearly slang for angel dust, so I guess whenever I can’t quite grasp what the hell is going on in his world, I can relate back to that.
But otherwise, The Tao Of Wu holds the ignominious distinction of having the widest page margins of any book since Sein Language, and it feels like in the end, the only real moral teaching RZA seems to be interested in is pretty much the same thing The Wu-Tang Manual taught us: namely, that no one in the Clan other than RZA should be trusted with anything more taxing than following a grocery list at the nearest bodega.
Which brings us to Decoded, of which you can be best warned about its general tone with the following: he’s still talking about Oasis. You’d literally think getting one of the Gallaghers to knob off on some bullshit is some incredible cultural breakthrough even though the likes of White Lies and Editors are gods at Glastonbury and even though “Jockin’ Jay-Z” was somehow seen as not A-list enough to make the motherfucking Blueprint 3, a record that came out in 2009 and managed the impossible task of not having the Pharrell stuff be the worst shit on it.
Because let’s face it, if there’s anything we want to know about Jay-Z’s real life besides whether Memphis Bleek really is in his will somewhere or, I dunno, if Charli Baltimore is particularly fun to kick it with, it’s what exactly happened with the whole shit with Un. Now, I’ve come this far under the impression that Nas was being 100% truthful on “Ether” even if I’ve never went to Allmusicguide to see if KRS-One actually did make an album called Blueprint. It turns that Rory Gallagher and Jacques Lu Cont also did, but I would expected God’s Son to at least give a shout to L.S.G. Maybe that’s where Illuminati P fucked up in his response: dude’s been known to drop a L.S.G. rhyme, but seeing as how 112 actually appeared on Infamy in the hilarious attempt to convey Mobb Deep as sex symbols, I imagine he just didn’t want to seriously jeopardize actually getting a track with them.
This ain’t Levert, Sweat and Johnny Gill
If anything, his take on the situation reminds me that it happened at the release party for Q-Tip’s Amplified, and let’s face it: someone is getting stabbed at Q-Tip show. Now, I don’t use the term “biggest cop out in his entire career” lightly- after all, this is a dude who’s been talking that Sinatra shit since he rapped like the Fu-Schnickens, but when it finally came time for him to sample “My Way,” he moneyed up enough to get the Paul Anka version. Now, I don’t have much actual legal advice for Jay-Z, even though my name surely would have him interested in at least hearing me out. But I’m fairly certain double jeopardy or at least the settlement would insulate him if he was to snitch on himself years down the line on some G. Dep shit. Dude can go harder in the self-incriminating paint than basically thinking real deep and saying “I got so mad I basically blacked out”- I swear I heard that on some Mountain Goats song. Don’t let me find out that he’s getting his fingers dusty trying to cop a vinyl of The Sunset Tree.
Fucks with “Tallahassee”
But I guess with Jay-Z in particular, I was going to pay $35 for what is in large part a coffee table version of RapGenius regardless of what I knew beforehand, mostly because I can’t think of any musician who’s had a more quantifiable effect on my life. Which is not to say that I have an intense personal identification with “Snoopy Track” or that “Is That Yo Bitch?” helped me some through dark personal times (only just a little), just that his policy of releasing a new record every year has helped me organize and collate a span of years that pretty much blur together through a combination of Bacardi Limon and the latest version of EA NHL. If not for Jay-Z, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be able to tell 1999 and 2000 apart.
I can certainly acknowledge the import of In My Lifetime, Vol. 2 as a common denominator in my freshman dorm or for the fact that the first “Jay-Z as actual superstar” record owes its status in large part to a song that has somehow has Amil and Ja Rule on it. Or that “Ryde Or Die”/”Jigga What”/”Money Cash Hoes” triptych whose hooks have like ten words combined. Even Kool Keith put in more effort than that. But really, I can think we can remember where we all were the first time we heard “Reservoir Dogs” and were promised a decade’s worth of Beanie Sigel saying “pressure bust pipes” whenever humanly possible.
Locked up with dirty white boys and Ricans
And I suppose it’s a fairly accurate image of the music industry at the time that CDs were something I’d literally buy at any given time- like, say, at a train station. That’s where I picked up my copy of In My Lifetime, Vol. 3 to soundtrack what would end up being a night’s stay at an Alexandria, VA Holiday Inn due to a terrible miscommunication with people I am no longer friends with involving travel plans to the MicronPC.com Bowl, which Virginia would lose by about two hundred points. I suppose I could’ve rounded out the 20th century on a better note.
Then there was Roc La Familia, which was critical in determining I wouldn’t spend $18 on a Memhpis Bleek solo album, but I would spend $18 on an album that merely intentionally earmarked a lot of room for Bleek. But more importantly, the creation of the term “mental piano” would prepare me to a bold future of sharing inside jokes with the bassist of The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Of course, then you have The Blueprint, the subject of my one and only failed submissions for 33 1/3- I suppose I couldn’t come off as really invested about its connection to 9/11 considering I had already bought the thing and was at the gym tombout “hey, this Eminem song is pretty fucking tight” with a fellow Cav Daily writer before I even acknowledged the magnitude of it. I thought I was just going to get drunk that night because it was a Tuesday.
For an incredibly confused year between college and grad school that I’ll mostly recall for having bought a PlayStation 2 that served as a facilitator in my Saddle Creek/Victory Beer/Grand Theft Auto menage, Blueprint 2 made a lot of sense, or at least as much sense as a record that combined Lenny Kravitz, Cake and Heavy D on the same track as well as the best six-minute song about buying clothes ever made. Subsequently, The Black Album served as a depository for nearly every subject title I used for my earliest days of law school blogging and I tried to impress a girl by playing “Dirt Off Your Shoulders” on guitar. As I recall I think we both kinda liked it.
I hate when things are over
And yet, none of them are the recipient of my most intense personal affections. I’m talking about something that has such ludicrous and misplaced aspirations for greatness that it actually is viewed less favorably as an entry in Jay-Z’s catalog than an entire album of mashups he did with Linkin Park. Read that last sentence again. That fucking happened- at this point, it’s hard to remember a time when record buying was the norm instead of a weird pursuit of the hardcore collector and the technologically illiterate, but no more than six years ago, the music industry acted like unlimited money at all times was a fact of life. But nonetheless, Best Of Both Worlds feels like the Jay-Z record that’s more mine than any other- the one LP that I can confidently feel like the world’s foremost expert on. Nobody cares about this record more than I do, certainly not the people responsible for actually making the thing. So if the 33 1/3 peoples do happen to be reading this, holler- the world can no longer be denied my opinions about “Take You Home With Me (AKA Body).”
Granted, there’s still some things about my history with it that are a little unclear, and it’s almost certain that my undying affection for it is probably based on the fact that I hardly ever revisit it: befitting a semester that only required a competent performance in a class about Indian film music in order to graduate, I wouldn’t be surprised if I really black out for an entire month, but I always seemed to think I made a mad dash to Plan 9 to simultaneously cop Best Of Both Worlds and Source Tags & Codes on their first day of release even though they came out exactly four weeks apart. The repetition of this possible fallacy was my 2002 self thinking that made me the most well-versed and adventurous music writer in Charlottesville, which may have been true anyway since my editors were still stuck off the realness of The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, the record whose gold standard meant that Kid A and Blueprint really weren’t the A albums I tried to palm them off as.
What I do clearly remember is that unlike Trail of Dead’s 10.0, the Rolling Stone review of Best of Both Worlds was fucking hilarious and now lost to the dustbin of history. I mean, if you really want to nerd out with me, I’m fairly positive it was reviewed in an issue with Slipknot on the cover (lolz 2002, but “Wait And Bleed” is still a heater), which I feel awfully sure of, because reading a nationally circulated publication that claims Coupe’s was one of the best college bars in all of America is the sort of thing a guy such as myself remembers exactly what I was doing when that bomb was dropped on me.
I think it said something to the extent of it being “gilded by indifference,” which is a phrase I’ve spent the last near-decade of my critical career trying to top. Because I cannot think of a more accurate way to describe just how much indifference is by and large the absolute single emotion that this record manages to convey more than any other. It seethes with indifference. What Rise Above is to alcoholic torment, what Funeral is to overwhelming catharsis, what Flockaveli is to straight dumb-out aggression, Best Of Both Worlds is to indifference. In large part because I’ve never seen something so defined by it both coming and going: the sound of two men capable of going platinum in their sleep attempting to do just that and now forced to completely disavow it through sheer force of ignoring its existence.
Actually, that looks like the Best of One Hemisphere
Now, if you’re familiar with R. Kelly and Jay-Z’s work together, you might think to yourself that at best, even the laziest schematic for this thing might produce a dozen ripoffs of “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.” That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, would it? But looking at the tracklist, I barely remember half this shit- pretty sure the title track is them telling you what a groundbreaking and utterly important summit of the minds this is (pretty sure they evoked MLK), and the beat on “Take You Home With Me” reminds me of little else other than that one McDonald’s commercial back in the day that clearly was trying to rip off “Bling Bling.” R. Kelly recycles an entire verse from “Ain’t No,” and yes, just about any Virginia skill player of worth since then has been giving the nickname “AKA Body,” as if it were Michigan granted its next great receiver a #1 jersey. Of course, the obvious hilarity is in how it gave itself an alternate title even though it was mostly clear that no one was going to give a shit about the real one either, but in light of what was happening at the time, the barely perceptible, very young sounding woman answering R. Kelly’s “where’d you get that lil’ body” with “you like that?” is just one of the many instances of completely ignoring QC.
But even if “dirty little secret” had pretty much ceased to apply to anything musically related to R. Kelly by the time this record hit stores, there’s one sneaking suspicion I have about this which ultimately makes me find Best Of Both Worlds fascinating in retrospect: I think R. Kelly kinda did care. This may be due in large part because having this thing produced by Trackmasters had to be his idea; I’d say Jigga witnessed firsthand the carnage they induced on the game, wasting the prime years of NYC hip-hop by trying to convince rappers that spittin’ hot 16s over nylon guitars was a good look. But the real evidence doesn’t come until the fourth track- “It Ain’t Personal.”
See, we’re talking about a record that begins with a three song celebration of its mere existence and ends with a trio that goes by the following titles, in order- “Shorty,” “Honey,” “Pussy.” Clearly combined with the packaging and the overall PR shitshow that accompanied this, you come in with certain expectations. And then, stuck right in there is, a message song about what fame does to friendship? The fuck? Especially one where the hook goes “we even sold to the same damn fiends,” on a record where it’s assumed the two people who made it never spent a single second in the studio together?
It gets weirder- dropped dead within the middle of the record is a R. Kelly solo joint called “Naked.” Straight-up quiet storm R&B, bereft of any sort of explanation or context. And at certain points, it just becomes clear that R. Kelly had certain agendas that were beyond the pale of his solo records, and mind you, he’s had Pavarotti, Cam’ron and Celine Dion on the same one. Beefing with Sisqo, begging for Rap City to give him a chance to freestyle in Tha Bassment, clearly the kind of shit you can only vent about when you’re positive no one’s listening. It was 2002. The guy had issues to sort out with Sisqo.
Heard you callin’ me names, said I was trife
Meanwhile, Jay-Z’s verse on “Get This Money” coalesced a certain kind of indifference I exclusively associate with him and him alone and was pretty much his only mode of operation here: Slideshow Mel Jigga. Allow me to explain with this Simpsons quote from the “Malibu Lisa” episode:
Techie: Talking doll, take eight. Lisa: "When I get married, I'm keeping my own name." Oh, no, that should probably be "If I choose to get married." Techie: Uh, look, little girl, we got other talking dollies to record today. Krusty: [barging in with cue cards] All right, you poindexters, let's get this right! One: "Hey, hey, kids, I'm Talking Krusty." Two: "Hey, hey, here comes Slideshow Mel" -- again -- "Here comes Sideshow Mel". "Sideshow Mel". Three: [does a Krusty laugh] Budda-bing, budda-boom, I'm done. Learn from a professional, kid. [walks out, squeals his tires away] Techie: OK, Krusty, we are ready to roll any -- what the...?
And. in turn, Jay-Z’s verse in full from “Get This Money,” whose instrumental was hilarious used on commercials for WNRN’s fundraiser campaign despite its creator not even knowing the name of the song. Anyway, after an incredibly funny ad-lib intro that definitely never happened in real time, best rapper alive!
Pull up on the block, cran-apple Benz
White tank top, cran-apple trim
Egg-shaped watch, cran-apple gems
Dice hands ‘side both of them
Two rolls and I leave with a stack
Off to the club, G’s in in the back
V.I.P. nigga beez like that
When you gettin that money my nigga (get.. this.. mo-ney)
I spit this for my riders
Twenty-inch rims and wide body drivers
We can’t let nothin stop us (get.. this.. mo-ney)
And the boy R. Kel’, you know how we play
For that fetti, mayne, we’ll let the lead rang
You young boyz ain’t ready
You don’t know NANN a nigga to NEAR Jigga
to NEAR as well as me and the boy Kel’
Yeah it’s money, recognize the smell
And we up out this bitch, yell
Whether it’s Amil’s “4 Da Fam,” Beanie Sigel’s “Playa” or that one song he did with Silkk The Shocker, there’s a legitimate enjoyment I get out of the pull of Jay-Z being a consummate professional all while putting sort the effort that says nothing short of “get me out these 16 bars.” Which is why for a good span between 2002 and 2003, which traversed from Charlottesville to Philadelphia to New York, my friend Nick and I were not only quoting this very song, we were the only people. To this day, i still forward that verse to pretty hardcore mainstream rap fans and they wonder whether Jay-Z was speaking Esperanto for a verse on some “Gimme Gimme Gimme” shit.
God MC, me- Dave Longstreth
Needless to say, All Cran-apple Everything never really quite caught on, and the record sold well enough to merit complete exclusion from Jay-Z’s Wikipedia page. But perhaps the craziest thing about Best Of Both Worlds would come years after it was all but forgotten by everyone but me and anyone who shared a motor vehicle with in 2002. It’s a little record I like to call Unfinished Business, and yes, after everything that accompanied Best Of Both Worlds, it was decided that meetings would be held, discs would be printed for a motherfucking sequel and this time, we’re gonna put their faces on the cover. Once again, it was 2004.
Even better, this didn’t have the one thing Best Of Both Worlds could arguably claim, i.e., that at a certain point, people actually were excited about the prospect of its existence. I don’t know how Jay-Z managed to get roped into this the second time around, but I think it’s hardly a coincidence that he was rapping about his lawyers being Jewish at the time.
Truth be told, I didn’t even bother even trying to download the whole thing. ”Big Chips” was the “I think I see a dolphin” song, right? Now, if it stopped there, its import on my life may have boiled down to Tom Breihan’s review of Unfinished Business opening the door for me to review frivolous rap bullshit like Slaughterhouse and Skull Gang for Pitchfork several years later. But in a completely serendipitous excursion on Limewire, I discovered “Mo’ Money.” THE REMIX OF “GET THIS MONEY.” Hear me out.
As I’ve said before, “Get This Money” is clearly a song I can quote with one other person on this planet with any modicum of depth. It’s beyond obscure; no one even makes an argument for salvage of Best Of Both Worlds on principle, and how many people got even to the tenth song? How is it even possible for an entire song to be an inside joke on an album hundreds of people owned for maybe an hour plus?
Which is why in retrospect I am almost positive that my obsession with “Get This Money,” in some cosmic coincidence, made record execs act in accordance to get at least two guaranteed sales of Unfinished Business. And my favorite part is how they honored the original’s intent by engaging in the most blatant form of indifference possible: “hey, do you think Twista’s down for a guest verse?”
Gold gleamin’ like the dome on Keenan
Mind you, Twista was at the peak of his powers at that point, having been on “Slow Jamz” and “So Sexy,” two songs that proved to MTV Nation what a lot of us diehards have known for ages: that dude is one ugly motherfucker. Nonetheless, his directive seemed fairly simple: “hey, man…know this is kinda out of character, but can you think you can do me a solid and rap real fast about cars?” Ah, but the story doesn’t end there. You remember Jay-Z verse up there? You were like, “pull up on the block, Cranapple Benz,” wow, Jay-Z really must not write shit down before he says it. And here’s an actual line from Twista’s verse: “pull up on the block in the alien gray Bentley.” IT’S A MOTHERFUCKING CALLBACK TO THE ORIGINAL JAY-Z VERSE!!! That CAN’T be a coincidence.
It wasn’t the last time my mental piano was hittin’ them high notes in the offices of Tall Israelis- if Ra Diggs didn’t go to jail for pushin’ John Forte-level cocaina, Waka Flocka and Uncle Murda may have made an entire record together. A DJ Kay Slay mixtape just came out with the following on it: “Papoose feat. Gudda Gudda,” “Maino Predictions 2011.” So when that 25-minute Prodigy remix of “Free Mason” comes out after he hits the bricks in February, you know who to thanks.
Of course, like Best Of Both Worlds, the Pretzel Bread Lean Pocket is something I got excited about in a way that felt like having a personal stake in it, which only led to bitter disappointment because I seem to have more engagement with it than the people who actually made the thing. And I should’ve saw it coming a mile away: lord knows the key to any successful engagement with a Lean Pocket involves using the oven at all costs. But as I tried to calmly busy myself with the Spanish language instructions on the box, I came face-to-face with a phrase that’s every bit as telling as that Globex Corporation album cover: “no recomendable para horno tradicional.”
Now, I suppose the whole point of pretzel bread is that it’s not supposed to be a hard pretzel, no more than potato bread is suppose to bring to mind a bun made entirely out of Ruffles. Cracker-like substances generally don’t get much burn unless we’re talking about my patented Meatloaf on Onion Matzah sandwich which is coming to a lazy Jew near you this coming Passover. Passover’s the “no bread” one, right?
And sure, I fucking loved those microwave pretzel bites filled with cheese back in the day, although I realize at this point, my mom was probably making her grocery shopping decisions to ensure I got hooked on the shit and didn’t get any dates, lest she have to come out of pocket to get your boy all splashy in the latest fashions at Structure. And that Coolwater ain’t cheap neither. That woman’s a genius.
Got all kinds of action at Camp Akiba
But that said, you think Lean Pockets is being funny on the sly and trying to rid itself of unused filling for its execrable Breakfast Pockets line, because the first bite into this thing has the exact taste and texture of an Egg McMuffin. Don’t get me wrong: I fucks with the McMuffin. It’s the bedrock of any meal that takes place in an airport before 11 AM, and tater tots on deck? Shit’s a wrap right there. I like what Egg McMuffins have done for my life. I can say with almost total certainty that I’ve never finished an Egg McMuffin and felt less happy as a result. Not having an Egg McMuffin and then unexpectedly finding yourself in possession of one would seem like a pretty fine way to start your day, although it may cripple you into the fear that your day has already peaked.
But like with all things Egg McMuffin-related, the relationship between the user and the hamwich is that it must be consensual. Never in the Lean Pocket experience should you think to yourself, “what the fuck did I just eat?” The box is long in the trash. You only have your instincts to separate fact from fiction, and you’re lucky if the next bite at the very least tastes like a soft pretzel dipped in Cheez Whiz (it will) to at least prevent you from being the latest casualty of Lean Pocket-caused mental illness.
How did we get here, though? In large part, because they did such a hack job in post-production and mastering. In the Frozen Food Loudness Wars, bacon is pretty much the equivalent of compression: it sounds like something you should want, but too much overpowers the mix and causes every element to mash together. And Roasted Turkey with Bacon and Cheese is essentially like eating Be Here Now, only without the giant eightball and completely inaudible Johnny Depp solo you need to really embody the experience. “D’You Know What I Mean” is still a fucking banger, tho.
- iancohen posted this