Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hip-Hop Lessons for Renato Gómez, part one

This will probably be the post that gets me kidnapped by some record label's ninjas and shipped off to Copyright Guantanamo, but fuck it. Here we go. Renato, my friend, you cannot tell me that you do not like hip-hop and then mention the name Warren G. You must take the following introductory course and then, if you tell me again that you really didn't like any of these songs, then fine, you don't like hip-hop, and I feel very sorry for you.

I myself cannot understand how any poet could be anything other than completely obsessed with hip-hop. Most, if not all, of the best American poets of the last 25 years have been rappers. While poety-poets became more and more grammatically asinine, rappers maintained the importance of statement. As poety-poets abandoned basic things like rhythm and rhyme as impossibly corny, rappers continually found new ways to use them well. As poety-poets got all fake-Marxist-ivory-tower, rappers kept their feet on the street, usually in very expensive sneakers. The result is, or at least was, a responsive, populist, cool form based mostly on the artful use of words. Here, in no order of any kind, are some classic examples of how awesome it is, and I defy you, Renato, to dislike them all.

1. Nas, "NY State of Mind"

When I first moved to New York, I took the train out to Queens and as it came up from under the river I looked over at the Queensbridge Projects and I was so thrilled to be looking at the place where Nas grew up. It mattered more than the Empire State Building or whatever other nonsense. The intricacy of the verses in this song continues to stun me, and I've listened to it almost every week for more than ten years. Crime narrative, gangster shit, basically, but aestheticized by that DJ Premier beat until it winds up cooler than a Jean-Pierre Melville movie. I saw Nas live once and I felt like I went to Rap College.

2. Gang Starr, "You Know My Steez"

The summer this record came out I heard this song 4 or 5 times in a row at every single party I went to. Nobody could believe how great this song was. Another DJ Premier beat, the always-reliable Guru, a really weird THX-1138 video, and "the illest warlock tactics," which are so necessary. The problem with Gang Starr is that it's hard to pick a single song. The album this is from, "Moment of Truth," was the last in a string of 4 consecutive records that were simply incredible, so fuck it, here's "Soliloquy of Chaos" too.

3. Wu-Tang Clan, "Da Mystery of Chessboxin"

This record came out the summer I started smoking pot, two facts that would go a long way towards determining the unfortunate direction of my misspent youth. I would come home, eat everything in the house, think no one could tell I was high, and watch this. Every day. There's going to be a whole graduate seminar on the Wu, obviously, but this remains the best general introduction. Everyone's verse is good, beat's good, and in general this video makes them all seem like the most dangerous, grimy bunch of rap assassin motherfuckers in the history of murder. All of which is good.

4. Ghostface Killah, "Daytona 500"

Thanks to the RZA beats, the first four or five solo albums by Wu-Tang members were all really great, but over time this one by Ghostface, "Ironman," has really stood up. This song's so good even Cappadonna sounds like he speaks English. There are all these skits on this album about how Ghostface is the true and living God who creates all reality with his mind, which sounds about right to me. The man used to have a gigantic gold eagle bracelet, but then he melted it down and had other things made from it. He's also the king of dying sneakers different colors. Blue and cream.

5. Oukast, "Player's Ball"

You'll have to click the link above to see the video, but it's totally worth it to see how young they were back then. This was also in heavy rotation on Rap City when I was a young pothead, and Outkast was really, outside of the Geto Boys, the first of what would be a huge wave of Southern hip-hop. The concept here is pretty basic: everyone's a pimp and it's awesome and they love it, etc. Play on, players, play on.

6. Juvenile, "Ha"

Again, click the link. More Southern stuff, this time from New Orleans. I went there for the first time shortly after this video came out, and we promptly took a wrong turn off the highway and wound up in the neighborhood where this video was shot. Everyone had their doghouses chained to trees and fences. I was amazed at the idea that doghouse theft could be such a problem that a whole community would move against it so aggressively, but New Orleans is like that: full of civic spirit. I was at several parties where this kind of bounce, as they call it down there, was the only music played, and they were the best parties ever. Every time I saw a convertible full of girls standing up ass dancing their way down the street, this was the song they were dancing to. Again, tremendous civic spirit.

And so concludes part one. Coming up in part two, we visit the West Coast then jet back to Brooklyn to pose the question: Gangster intellectual or intellectual gangster?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Shit you can read.

I spend a fair amount of time here talking about things in Spanish that haven't been translated, and that's fine and everything, but there's a bunch of shit that has translated (or even, imagine it, written in English that are totally worth the trouble.

I am, however, feeling really fucking lazy right now, so just imagine you see images, pictures of book covers and things, weird author photos, and everything's linked and I don't expect you to just open another tab and cut/paste whatever name your curious about into a search engine.

Also, it's after 4 a.m. and I just got off work two hours ago, my mental state is about what you'd expect, so this is a totally random list.

1. Joe Ceravalo I bought a selected poems of his the other day and it kicked my ass. Joe was from Astoria (Queens get the money) and seems to get kind of written off as a "second generation New York School poet" which is your fucking loss if you care about shit like that. Most of his work was originally published on Ted Berrigan's C Press, and he took workshops with Koch and O'Hara. Much more abstract than any of those poets. Very light touch.

2. Steve Carey Another New York poet, his Selected Poems came out recently and came highly recommended. Totally awesome weird wry poems that kick up a considerable atmosphere.

3. Luis Cernuda One of my favorite poets ever. Steve Dolph brought me back a Complete Poetry of his from Spain and I'll probably have that book until I die. Cernuda was Spanish, part of "Generation of 27" with Lorca and Vicente Alexandre (who I think won a Nobel) and a bunch of other really good poets. But Luis has it over all of them, as far as I'm concerned, Lorca included. He left Spain after the Civil War there, lived is Massachusetts for a while, hated it, then went to Mexico on vacation once and then immediately moved there. That's when the poems get really good, for whatever reason. There's a lot of terribly corny poetry written about sex and related topics in the Spanish language. Cernuda's one of the only poets I can think of who writes about it well, especially totally hopeless lust. White Pine Press recently put out a collection of Cernuda's poems translated by Stephen Kessler. We had some of these in Calque, and Stephen is a good friend of mine, so I can't really claim to have no horse in this race, but I think the translations are exceptionally good.

4. Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar, translated by Gregory Rabassa I have compared this translation to the original at great length, and read both versions more times than I can count, and I am convinced this is the greatest translation ever published.

5. This goddamn Geto Boys song, which is basically just Scarface going off about how to behave when you're under indictment.