It therefore pains me to have to say that the most recent release on his usually execrable Bad Boy Records label is an out-and-out winner. That it also displays much of the verve and imagination of the artists that Diddy, Kanye, and the blowhards that recorded for Death Row have largely displaced (i.e. showmen like Ram Ell Zee and Afrika Bamabaataa) is telling. Janelle Monae (for it is she) has looked beyond the tired tropes of "The Street" and turned her eyes skywards, and the result is compelling and at times quite audacious. A concept album (a phrase which usually induces suspicion, not least in hip-hop where a "concept album" is often sub-par material linked by weak and unfunny "skits"), Archandroid is reportedly based on Fritz Lang's Metropolis, and while I occasionally lost the conceptual thread that supposedly links the work to the film that served as its inspiration, there's no doubt that Lang's masterpiece has spurred Monae to vault far ahead of her contemporaries. The film, which up until now had only given rise to a mediocre re-interpretation by Queen, has inspired her to create a dazzling melange that takes in R&B, rap, pastoral folk and psych rock, and features a guest appearance by Georgia art-rockers Of Montreal, the latter telling you all you need to know about Monae's expansive and inclusive worldview. As others have pointed out, she displays the ambition and range that Prince did in his heyday. High praise indeed. Anyway, it's well worth a listen (the tracks Sir Greendown, 57821, and Mushrooms & Roses are particularly good), as is its predecessor Metropolis: The Chase Suite, supposedly the first part of this ongoing "suite" . They're both on Spotify and available to buy (links below). BTW, I have two Spotify unlimited free invites (i.e. not the 20-hour a month ones) to give away; if anyone can make use of them, let me know in the comments and I'll pass 'em on.
Friday, July 30, 2010
Monae for nothing*
One of the bit players in the below-mentioned documentary, Biggie and Tupac, is the odious and ridiculously-monikered P Diddy, aka Sean "Puffy" Combs. Regular readers may have surmised my low opinion of this idiot from previous posts; those just joining us can probably infer it from the previous sentence. Why the dislike, you may ask? Well it isn't (just) personal, though by all accounts his personality leaves much to be desired. If anything, it's that he's brought so little to the table, artistically, and yet claimed so much, critically and commercially. While judicious sampling and appropriation are the lifeblood of hip-hop, the best use it sparingly and wittily, to complement, or contrast with the material it rubs up against. Diddy, on the other hand, like a bull in a china shop, simply licences entire (already popular) tunes (e.g. Every Breath You Take, Kashmir), adds little or nothing, and keeps most of the money. Exhibit B: his dorkish assertion (in 2002, no less!) that his record label "invented the remix". Oh really? Try telling that to Tom Moulton. In 1975. Or King Tubby, in the 1960s. Exhibit C: take a look at his album Press Play and the associated single sleeve above, then note how the typography and photography style of both is lifted lock, stock and barrel from Playgroup's LP of some 5 years earlier. The guy clearly doesn't have an original thought in his head. And yet, he's the one with the jet-ski. Where's the justice?
*I was going to title this post Monae, Manet, Tipyy-Tippy Day-Day, but realised that this was too wilfully obscure, even by my standards. Any Irk The Purists Seinfeld fans out there?