Thursday, August 11, 2011

I'm Moving

To all my dedicated readers, I'm sorry to say I'll be moving to a new blog over at Wordpress. No hard feelings, Blogger. Wordpress just has that slick look. You'll always be my first love!!! I moved the archives over there too, so for all intents and purposes, this one is dead. Here's the link for the new one

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lost Albums: Pro Tools

This is a new feature I’m thinking of starting. Basically, I’m gonna look back at albums that I really liked that didn’t seem to get as much pub as I think they did. I might just review them, I might just talk about them, it’s open ended right now. I may not even do any more of these. Let’s see how it works out. The first album I want to tackle is The GZA’s Pro Tools.

Pro Tools was the first album I ever bought with my own money, having found it in a bargain bin at Wal-Mart or Best Buy or some other big store, I can’t really remember. What I did remember was that I was struck by the cover art and track listing on the back, and since it was cheap, I bought it. Because it was the clean version, it was the first rap album I could play around my parents (yes, I know, I was lame) and I played it like hell. Considering how much I played it, I developed a real familiarity with it. As I did so, I started seeing real complexities in the lyrics. This was deeper than your average rap album.

The main criticism lobbed at Pro Tools is that of subpar production, and while it’s true that only having RZA produce one track didn’t help the album, this isn’t a CD that lives and dies by it’s sound. In fact, the beats do well to complement the lyrical content of the album, which is where the GZA shines.

Those who have listened to Liquid Swords know that the GZA is a lyrical assassin. It’s his calling card, his trademark in the rap game. Even as a full time member of the greatest group in rap history, he was considered the head, hence the nickname “Genius.” On this album, he returns to the lyrically fertile lands of his first classic. He’s got some gems on this one, from the first song after the intro, “Pencil,” featuring Masta Killa and and the RZA, to “Alphabets,” a concept song similar to “Labels” where he uses words starting with every letter of the alphabet, in order, to the vicious Ether-ing of 50 Cent on “Paper Plate.” The second half of the album drags a tad, with no real stand out verses, but with the sole production credit from the RZA and a general uptick in production quality, it’s a generally satisfying listen. The album ends on a high note with a live performance showing the GZA at his professional concert best.

In the end, this was a largely overlooked album that suffered from average (at best) production that still managed to shine thanks to a lyrical virtuoso performance from an old favorite of hip hop heads. There’s really no reason this should be one of the most played albums I have, but it is, and I’m thankful for it. If I hadn’t found it in that bargain bin, I might still be listening to old DMX singles sent to me over AIM or downloaded from Limewire. I think we can all agree that would have been a shame.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

What Could Be: NBA Fanfiction

Set the stage.

Game 7 of the NBA finals. 10 seconds left in the 4th quarter of the rubber match between the Heat and the Mavericks. The game is tied. The teams have changed much, and yet still remain the same.

Dirk inbounds the ball from the left sideline, near halfcourt. The clock starts.

Preseason. Steve Nash's year has not started auspiciously. A broken foot sidelines him for the first month of games, and the emergence of Aaron Brooks as a legitimate point guard makes it easier to trade him to a contender. And what a contender it is. Nash is sent to Dallas, the city where he first experienced real success. The cost is high. Fan favorites Roddy B and Ian Mahinmi are the centerpieces of Dallas' side. The Mavericks understand this is a last gasp for another ring.

9 seconds. Nash sets up at the top of the key, and waits for a screen from his old friend Dirk. He's matched up with Dywane Wade, who still gives Dallas fans nightmares. The screen comes.

Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Playoffs. The reunification of the Mavs and Nash has been a success, and Dallas is once again the best offensive team in the Association. They've just trounced the Suns, who, behind a backcourt of Beaubois and Brooks are unlikely playoff participants. Nash's chance for a career capping ring look as good as they have his entire career. But those Spurs still loom.

8 seconds. Dirk is shadowed by Udonis Haslem. As the screen is set, Wade and Haslem combine to play near perfect defense. Nash's alleyways to the basket are cut off.

2nd Round. Despite a valiant effort from San Antonio's Big 3, the Mavs have won in six games. After being eliminated, Tim Duncan announces his retirement. Slowly but surely, the guard is changing. Next up? The Lakers and Kobe.

7 seconds. The Heat have made a minuscule mistake. Forced to defend Nash, Haslem and Wade have switched, leaving Dirk guarded by a short, albeit athletic, 2 guard. Instantly, Steve Nash whips the ball around to Dirk at the free throw line extended.

Conference Finals. The Lakers mini-dynasty is all but over. Andrew Bynum can't stay healthy, Lamar Odom can't recapture the spark if the championship years, and Kobe has decided the fate of the team will rest on his shoulders. Still, a good regular season record and an easy postseason run has resulted in another trip to the conference finals. That's where the trip ends. This time, it's Steve Nash and not JJ Barea who destroys Los Angeles. It's on to the Finals, and Miami again.

6 seconds. As soon as the ball goes to Dirk, the double comes from Lebron in the corner. He's been guarding Terry, who's been scoreless since the 1st quarter. Now the three best players of the series are battling to see who takes home the trophy.

Game 1 of the NBA finals. Lebron begins his redemption. He drops a quadruple double: Points, boards, assists, and blocks. The Heat run away with the win, and Barea is injured. He's broken his wrist. Steve Nash is the sole point guard now. 

5 seconds. Lebron James, the most athletic player the NBA has ever seen, is bothering Dirk, as he would most players. The problem is, he's left Terry open in the corner. Mario Chalmers has been matched up with Peja Stojakovic near the sideline. He notices that Terry is open and runs over, just as Dirk swings the ball around.

Game 2. This game belongs to Nash. He plays all 48 minutes and drops a 20-20 with no turnovers, including passing to Dirk for the game winning free throws. The series seems to be just as much of a contest as it was last year. 

4 seconds. Terry holds onto the ball for a moment. This allows Chalmers enough time to get there and contest. Terry passes to Peja. Meanwhile, Haslem, who's been staying with Nash at the top of the key, rotates to Stojakovic. 

Game 3. The Heat win this one and Game 4 behind two 40 point games from Dwyane Wade. The Mavericks are once again in a hole. Nash seems exhausted. He's barely gotten any rest all series. The Mavs can't afford to let Jason Terry play point guard for very long. 

3 seconds. The ball and Udonis Haslem arrive at the elbow extended at the same time. Peja is a veteran though. He understands what to do. He swings the ball to Nash. Lebron James has been caught watching the ball movement. As the ball leaves Peja's hand, Lebron is still a good 10 feet away from Nash.

Game 5. Jason Terry gets hot from behind the line. Not even a fully focused Lebron can stop his one handed 30-footers. The Mavs avoid elimination for another game, and Nash gets some well earned rest at the end of a blowout. 

2 seconds. The ball arrives, right in Nash's shooting pocket. He sets his feet, makes sure he's got room, and readies for release. Lebron lunges at him.

Game 6. A Dirk special. He drops 30 points on 15 shots. The Mavs pull out another close one, despite a Lebron triple double. No one is blaming him anymore. 

1 second. The ball rises up, over Lebron James' outstretched fingertips, seemingly over the rafters in the arena. 

Game 7. Everyone brings their A-game. Dirk drops shots like he's playing in an empty gym. Nash is hitting everyone in the hands. Terry gets the hot hand in the first to keep Dallas in the game. Lebron is everywhere, blocking shots, dunking, dishing to Bosh, Haslem, and Joel. Wade is destroying anyone who tries to guard him one on one. Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem are providing stellar defense and midrange shooting. It comes down to one shot. 

No time left. The ball drops through the net. Steve Nash drops to his knees. Lebron James' head drops to his chest. It's over. For one more year, Lebron will remain ringless, while Steve Nash will finally get his. 

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Blossoming Fire Flower

I'm probably crazy (I definitely am), but I think Demar Derozan has a legitimate chance to lead the league in scoring within the next 7 years. 

Wow. That does sound really crazy. I wouldn't blame you if you stopped reading now. If you want to kill some time though, allow me to support my craziness. 

Last year, Derozan was, for the most part, the offensive second fiddle to one Andrea Bargnani. In that role, he still demonstrated a knack for scoring, both athletically at the rim, and through a rapidly improving midrange jumper. From December on, he didn't average less than 15.9 ppg in any month. Then, when Andrea got injured in the beginning of April, Derozan was thrust into the role of main offensive player. He performed well for someone so young and on such a flawed team. In the month of April, he averaged 23 points a night, while getting to the line nearly 8 times a night.

A small sample size, to be sure, but those who watched the games know this: Derozan has the potential to be a gifted scorer. He had absolutely no 3 point range last year, but considering the improvement in his stroke from his rookie year, I believe he can bring himself up to league average. Combine that with the driving instincts and ability to draw fouls he flashed bear the end of the season, sprinkle in lots of shots on a mediocre to average team, and you have a recipe for 27+ points a night. 

Not out of the realm of possibility, right? Please tell me I'm right. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

My Review of Transformers 3

Michael Bay has a boner. For America. 

The July 4th long weekend saw Bay release the latest Transformers monstrosity, and he didn't disappoint. This movie was bigger, more expensive, and in more dimensions than anything he's ever done. It was also kind of genius. 

There's no denying that Michael Bay knows how to direct an action scene. He may be the best explosion artisan in the industry. And he brings every ounce of his talent to the table for this one. The fight scenes between multi-ton robots are truly stunning. The explosions are eye-popping. The women (woman) are (is) attractive. And the nationalism is fierce. This was the perfect weekend for Bay to release this movie. Even I, being Canadian, was whipped into a fervor. It's probably not a coincidence that most of the good guys are American made. 

One of his other prime "AMERICA" moments lay in his portrayal of the military. The non-Josh Duhamel, non-Tyrese members of the armed forces were a much bigger part of this movie, presumably to cash in on the Independence Day sentiments. 

His true master stroke, though, may have been the movie's high body count. Bay didn't shy away from showing innocent civilians being annihilated by the Decepticons, and it provided a basis of grittiness. 

This isn't to say the movie was perfect. The dialogue was as average as average gets. Shia LeBeouf was as inconsistent as ever. The sheer spectacle of it all made you kind of uncomfortable afterwards. The new eye candy, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, actually made me pine for Megan Fox with all of her damsel in distress antics. 

All in all though, this movie was well worth the 3D admission price. It's obvious that no expense was spared, and it looks marvelous. Isn't that what America is all about?

3 out of 5 stars 

Friday, July 1, 2011

My Review of Cars

Cars 2 is the worst movie Pixar has ever made. That much is not up for debate. What is up for debate, though, is whether being the worst Pixar movie is necessarily a bad thing. 

I posit that, had this movie been made by, say, Dreamworks, it would have been hailed as a delightfully sunny children's movie that also held a certain appeal for parents. 

As it is, though, it's seen as a hackneyed attempt by Pixar to cash in on merchandising and advertising. So what is it? And why the two perceptions? WHY THE TWO ORDERS COLONEL JESSUP!? (sorry, got carried away)

The truth is, neither hypothetical review is wrong. Completely, that is. This movie will delight kids. Believe me, I watched with my little sister and cousin, and they loved it. But it's also a shallow movie that, outside of the typically excellent visuals, doesn't have much to offer grownups. And while it is wracked with merchandising and marketing opportunities, there is a certain palpable sincerity behind it. You can tell Pixar cares, at least enough to try and teach your kids something. 

The sum total of all of this is a movie that's well worth the 4$ matinee ticket I paid for it, especially considering how much the little ones enjoyed it. Your kids will have fun. If you are willing to turn your brain off for a while, you probably will too. 

2.5 out of 5 stars

The bigger question in all of this is, has Pixar raised it's expectations too high, and should they be taken to task for not meeting them? I mentioned this before, but it's worth mentioning. The vitriol being thrown at Cars 2 probably wouldn't be as severe if we were talking about Dreamworks here. That's because Dreamworks, for all its cleverness and in jokes, has become known as a cut below Pixar. So when Pixar apparently stoops to their level, we're shocked. And we shouldn't be. Just because Pixar has never made a bad movie doesn't mean they're infallible. Sometimes, they'll stumble. As long as the movie isn't Green Lantern level bad, there's no reason for panic. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

On The Fulfillment Of Musical Dreams

I've been on both sides of the Eminem debate. I've exhorted him as a champion against the rap doldrums. I've also disowned him for (gasp) selling out and becoming boring. So I feel particularly well suited to discuss the new, official, Bad Meets Evil EP. And what do I think? Well, it's complicated. 

There's no denying that Eminem is one of the most technically perfect rappers, not just of his era, but of all time. His flow, breath control, and rhyming ability is rightfully legendary. There's also no denying that he hasn't been able to recapture the wonky and more than a bit crazy magic from the turn of the millennium. So we're left with a rapper who can rap as well as anyone, ever. We're also left with a guy who's become Generic Fast Rapper 2.0. 

Royce Da 5'9" is a different beast entirely. He's interesting if only because he's so antagonistic. While Eminem is loved and revered almost universally in the rap game, Royce still has haters. That provides emotion that, while shallow, isn't as forced as Em's. Still, Royce hasn't made a good album since Death Is Certain, and in the meantime, he's been pigeonholed, perhaps deservedly so, as a mixtape rapper, someone who can spit hot fiya, but apparently can't make a cohesive album. 

So what we have on this EP is two supremely skilled rappers, who make machine-gun rap to blast your eardrums with. We also have two seemingly past their prime legends, who can't put the songs together to make a cohesive record. They do machine-gun rap exceptionally well though. This is well worth it for those of us who dreamed of a Bad Meets Evil full length. If you've never wanted to smoke til you look like a Vietnamese person, but you're a fan of quickfire rap, you should also check this out. 

3.5 out of 5