Monday, August 15, 2011

All of a Sudden...

I want a Jay-Z album. The Black Album, it's called. Remember "99 Problems"? Yeah, that's on there.

I remember stumbling through the Internet one day when I came upon a list of the top ten albums of the last decade. This list had not one, but two Dream Theater albums on it (Octavarium and Train of Thought), which I found astonishing. That someone would actually consider Dream Theater for any top ten list, much less albums of the decade. I guess my impression was that no one actually liked them enough to include them in a list counting down good things. It's not that I dislike Dream Theater, I used to love them (and still do), just that I've moved on to bigger and better things.

I wanted to find this list again to see what the author thought of the albums, but since it was likely an obscure Blogger user, I found no such article counting down the top ten albums of the decade that included two Dream Theater records. That didn't stop me from clicking on the link to the list of 100 greatest albums of the decade by Rolling Stone. My problem with Rolling Stone's lists of X number greatest anything is that they tend not only to have a bias to the 60's and 70's, but (more importantly) a bias towards albums of fame and not of quality (which is why I never expected to find a Dream Theater album on any list). It's probably considered more noble and less opinionated to create a list of bests based on definite cultural influence (which, in my humble opinion, is why The Velvet Underground can make any list), but in many ways it's just telling us things we already know, unless it's the case that you haven't listened to many of the things on the list. This is often my case, which is why I still frequent these lists.

I went to the list and, to my astonishment once again, I found not one, but two Jay-Z albums in the top 20. The higher was The Blueprint, but for some reason I found myself looking on iTunes for The Black Album, the lower of the two.

This was the first time hearing "99 Problems." I was awe-struck.

It only makes sense that I never heard the song back when it was a hit in 2003; being only eleven years old, I don't think my parents would really have appreciated it much if I had any rap album at all, much less a Jay-Z album. Back then, well, I don't even remember what I was listening to. But, being an older boy with no guilt whatsoever from listening to music, I am free to listen to whatever I want. The parental advisory sticker on the front just means it's free, too.

My next stop, for no particular reason, was "December 4th." Once again, I was awe-struck, and I knew I had to have the album. Is this rapper... experimental? Avant-garde? Artistic? Good? Lyrics about personal history interlaced with sound clips of his mother talking about him, looping synth flight interspersed with fanfare to introduce the motherly stories... and this wasn't even a single, it was just that good anyway.

I used to completely despise all rap period, brushing it off as a genre that couldn't get over its love of drugs and women to actually be creative. I know I'm not the only one that thought so either, at least for a time. That was my opinion for the longest time, until I broke the streak of hate when I first listened to a snippet of "Dark Fantasy" by Kanye West. I knew I needed this album, immediately. I didn't buy it when it came out, but screwed up the patience to wait until Christmas, when I would receive the album as a gift. I listened to it. It's still one of my favorite rap albums ever. I started to dip into the genre a little more, buying "I Need A Doctor" when I heard it at the Grammy award show and "Coming Home" when Diddy - Dirty Money performed it on SNL. Eventually I found and bought The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem, apparently regarded by many as one of the best albums of the last decade. This album taught me two things: the first is the distinction between hip-hop and rap, that rap spotlights the individual's rhyming and rhythm and hip-hop focuses on the music as a whole, namely very rhythmic beats and vocals. Artists like Eminem and Biggie Smalls are rap; artists like Jay-Z and Kanye West are hip-hop. The second is that rap music with lyrics about drugs and women shouldn't be ruled out as bad or uncreative. The Marshall Mathers LP is almost completely that, and it's amazing. Scary, yes, but amazing. Now I'm in a place where I can enjoy lots of hip-hop and rap, but that I still try to stay away from artists I think might be too drug-and-women-focused. Still, that's what I thought Jay-Z was, but I was proven wrong, wasn't I?

Actually, I used to hate pretty much everything that wasn't classic rock. Before that, even, I only listened to whatever was on Radio Disney. Yes, shame, I know, but let's listen to what Zack has to say.

My love of music began, like so many things before it, with Pokémon. Seriously, I could write an entire article of things I can do that began with Pokémon. Anyway, my first music purchases essentially came in the form of the soundtracks for the first few Pokémon movies. I got a CD player, too, which I would use later for a good deal of the Radio Disney Jams collections, an N*SYNC album, and (oddly) the Matrix Reloaded soundtrack. I quit for a couple of years after this, though, just as a result of falling out of interest of the activity of listening to music. Then I played Guitar Hero. Oh, my God, did I play Guitar Hero. Through this I developed a new-found interest in music, but sadly a new-found hatred for my previous tastes. My friend, who had already developed a much more robust music collection through his older brother's collection, pretty much convinced me of the idea that "all modern rock is terrible emo punk goth bullshit," and I would only listen to bands that existed in the 70's and 80's. Of course, his idea of modern rock were bands like Green Day and My Chemical Romance (both of whom are bands I now like), but it carried over to me as "everything after 1990 sucks."

I'm not sure how, but eventually I found myself independent of his opinions. It was probably around the time I finally broke down and bought myself an iPod (get the reference?) and started exposing myself to a much wider range of music. Rock Band and other music games helped a little bit with that a few years ago, but I consider myself independent of that, too, especially since the genre seems to have gone up in flames recently. I started to break through musical prejudices by listening to more recent rock, then metal, then pretty much everything. My most recent breakthroughs are electronica and rap. All that remains now is country. My opinion of country is that it's all the same thing, booze, broads and bullets. The southern accent isn't really helping either, which is another reason why I tend to stay away from southern rock, too, but I've always had a sort of fondness for steel guitars, and there is some country I enjoy (Johnny Cash, Faith Hill, "High Noon," "The Devil Went Down To Georgia"). Maybe someone can convince me to give it a try? Comment with your recommendations.

But anyway, that Jay-Z album will have to be bought.

A friend of mine gave me some burnt CD's of music he wanted me to try, two of which were rap albums (Wu-Tang Clan and Biggie Smalls), and neither of which have I listened to yet. Maybe I'll put one of them on tonight before I go to bed.

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