Friday, May 21, 2010

A Sample Kind of Life

After hearing the song "Flashing Lights" for the first time a few weeks ago, I got my hands on KANYE WEST's 2007 album, Graduation. Last week, while driving to Chapel Hill with my roommate James, I put it on and he recommended I skip to the song "Drunk and Hot Girls," which features MOS DEF. I acquiesced and found myself listening to what sounds like the two hip-hop moguls adlibbing anti-party girl diatribes along to CAN's "Sing Swan Song."

Now, I'm not one to malign a musician for reusing somebody's original melody/beat/et cetera, but I cannot figure out why these guys felt it necessary to turn a couple snippets of DAMO SUZUKI's vocals into a five-minute rant about clingy wastoids (besides the fact that one part of the original vocals does sound like the words "drunk and hot girls"). Maybe West and Def did just hear a mondegreen in "Sing Swan Song" and thought it would make for some good comic relief on Graduation, but I think this kind of cross-genre sampling (especially from such a notoriously hip band as Can) serves a different purpose for "Drunk and Hot Girls."

Kanye West is the kind of hip-hop star who grabs the attention of all kinds of music fans, not just those who consider themselves true HIP-HOP HEADS. He collaborates with musicians from ADAM LEVINE to CHRIS MARTIN to TWISTA in order to make himself relevant to listeners of all types, but to please the music fan who may not like the big names next to the track titles he has to use samples that a) have not been used in any other noteworthy hip-hop songs and b) will grab the attention of the snobbier listener. Can seem like just the group to achieve both goals as they are not the kind of band to be played on mainstream radio and knowledge of their music nowadays provides
the listener with a chunk of CULTURAL CAPITAL. The samples taken from "Sing Swan Song" are "good" precisely because they elevate (or are supposed to elevate) West's music from run-of-the-mill radio-rap to hip-hop that involves itself in a CROSS-CULTURAL DIALOGUE.

I have also noticed this picking and choosing of samples as being able to function in the opposite way. Swedish electronic musician AXEL WILLNER (no relation, pictured), better known as THE FIELD, uses a sample from LIONEL RITCHIE's "Hello" in his song "A Paw in My Face." Willner preempts accusations of musical pretentiousness when at song's end he let's the sample unfurl, revealing the source material in a kind of "gotcha" moment. Instead of trying to dress up his music with a more obscure sample, he affectionately takes one from an artist known for being a popular cheeseball.

Samples today
, then, are more than the musical interpolations that they perhaps once were; musically they are very useful, but the mere presence of samples can change the entire meaning of a song, whether intentional or not. I can't help but think of Marshall Mcluhan's "The Medium is the Message" (which I haven't read in a while, so bear with me). The presence of a sample in a pop song is a medium that requires the conscious participation of the listener. This medium, no matter what its content may be, is schism and re-presentation of a previous pop song, therefore changing what the aims of what the new song may have originally been.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Palindromic Sentence Copout No. 2

So, I saw a bottle of Niagara Drinking Water (pictured) the other day and fashioned another palindrome:

Niagara's tsar again

This one assumes that Niagara Falls, Ontario and Niagara Falls, New York share a supreme ruler, which they don't. It turns out that putting verbs into palindromic phrases is the hardest part.

In other tedious wordplay news, peep this compendium of paragraphs that only use words with common vowels (via my girlfriend): EUNOIA.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


For a long time I have wanted to make up a palindromic sentence, and I have seriously tried to create one in the last couple of weeks. These attempts have not been as fruitful as my experiment with lexical ambiguity, but after what has probably added up to hours of work, I have a passable palindrome:

No, soil of folio, son.

OK, so it lacks a key component of actual sentence structure, but let's presuppose that a child is making a diorama of a landscape for a school project and asks a parent, "Should I make the dirt for my diorama out of aluminum foil, Mom/Dad?" The parent, who would of course want his or her son to use a material that better resembles soil, would find a handy rejoinder in the above palindrome.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Shortcomings of "Trading Places"

As ANDY and I flipped through the local radio stations on the way to the grocery store the other night, we came across an USHER single that, despite its having been around for two years, neither of us had ever heard before. The name of the song is "TRADING PLACES" and it sees the R&B star serenading his lover with a proposal to perform a temporary role reversal in their relationship. Since initially hearing the song, I have listened to it repeatedly and watched its video accompaniment, in attempt to better understand what sounds like his attempt to usurp R. KELLY's position as the king of the R&B EROTIC ROLE-PLAYERS.

While looking for more information about the song, I came across an interview from September 2008 that speaks with my boy about his then-new single. When asked about it, Usher stated that "It's gonna be hot. The story is, like, wishful thinking for all men to have a woman who takes control and compliments us the way we compliment them...We wanted to do something very forward-thinking." Let us examine this statement in regards to the song's first verse:
I know what you're used to
We're gonna do something different tonight

Now we're gonna do this thing a little different tonight

You gonna come over and pick me up in your ride

You gonna knock, then you gonna wait

Ooh, you gonna take me on a date
You're gonna open my door and I'ma reach over and open yours

Usher sings these words not as suggestions, but as demands. Without regards for anything his lover may want to do, he prescribes exactly how this trading of places will occur. Despite his attempts to hand the control to the woman, Usher really maintains the upper-hand in his fantasy; he, in fact, forces her to do his every bidding.

The progressiveness of the song becomes even more questionable when one considers the gender roles he summons as what he will do for her. He proclaims that he will wake her up with breakfast in bed, walk the dog, and iron her shirt--tasks for which she will be responsible after the fantasy ends. Usher is apparently responsible for buying her things, taking out the trash, ordering Chinese food, and whispering in her ear how bad he wants to "do her." How forward-thinking can a song be when it emphasizes the ephemerality of the role-reversal and only highlights the shortcomings of their heteronormative relationship?

The most shocking part of the song is the refrain in which Usher sings "I'm always on top, tonight I'm on the bottom." This may be presumptuous, but I never expected a cat like Usher, him being a major SEX-SYMBOL, to partake only in missionary coitus.

The music video for the song only furthers all of the above points as it features a lingerie-clad woman who is putty in Usher's hands. She pseudo-actively pursues him, but is only present to make him more desirable. The beginning of the video even sees Usher watching her as she swims around in a fish tank (pictured), serving as his pet who is available when he wants to see something pretty, but unable to escape the confines of her role. The two even reenact the famous scene from BLOW UP in which the photographer straddles his subjects, pinning her down and making her into an object. Guess who plays the photographer?

While I suppose one has to admire Usher's attempt to make a progressive hit R&B single, his execution leaves a lot to be desired. He reinforces just about every idea that the song seems aimed at combating. I can totally see why this single never even cracked into the Top 40 on the BILLBOARD HOT 100. All this being said, I still think "U Don't Have to Call" is a great song.