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Pazz & Jop Comments: It’s Bigger Than Hip-Hop

Popular music, at its top-dollar best, is either music to drive to or music to grill to; at its bestest best, it’s both. By my reckoning, track by track, the Carters’ Everything Is Love record is for: grilling, driving, driving, grilling, driving, grilling, grilling, driving, grilling. “Music has my kids sound asleep” might not be a lyric that will appeal to many, but it did to me as the year hit its crescendo, the hills on fire on every corner of America’s 8 1/2 by 11, the sky turning peach. “Summer’s light like summer’s night/It’s like Christ’s masterpiece” indeed.
— Daniel Brockman

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https://youtu.be/syi60tUIP48

On Room 25, Noname delivered on a sophomore album with a lot more dizzying raps than her first. It’s almost like she heard the masses talkin’ shit about her skills and went wild on this record. Who else’s pussy is writing a thesis on colonialism?
— Tirhakah Love

Not enough can be said about the weight of this genre-welding meeting of titanic Texas forces: On “Gone Away,” Bun B writes what is, in all likelihood, his final letter to UGK bandmate Pimp C, but does it in a way that’s broad enough to be applied to any lost kin; Leon Bridges delivers a somber and vulnerable hook, and Gary Clark Jr. cleans up with a solo reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Little Wing.” They’re truly the Texas triumvirate, and it’s a wonder we aren’t talking about the magnitude of this collaboration more as a culture. What’s better, it all takes place over a beat cooked up by Big K.R.I.T., whose beats have, in the wake of Pimp C’s death, given Bun’s delivery an unmatched comfort and ease. Put this one right up there with UGK’s own “One Day” in the canon of Southern rap eulogies.
Sama’an Ashrawi

Black Panther: The Album, Music From and Inspired ByNo mere album can live up to the cultural impact of this extremely ambitious comic book movie, but it’s a great companion piece nonetheless.
— Carol Cooper

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A rundown of personal and social horrors that’s less frantic but also far less calculated than the 1975’s “Love It If We Made It,” Lil Peep’s Life Is Beautiful is far more devastating. “Tryin’ to keep your cool at your grandfather’s funeral/Finding out eventually the feeling wasn’t mutual/You were not invited ’cause you’re nothing like the usual” — damn, that’s bleak. And it cuts much harder than the “My girlfriend left me so I’m depressed and I’m gonna take lots of drugs to cope” lyrics Lil Peep specialized in, as sincere as they clearly were.
— Steve Erickson

Travis Scott’s world domination is more than just a crowning achievement for an artist who’s long been a critical darling, but it’s a clear statement that the South, and especially Houston, the nation’s most diverse city, has got something to say.

Drenched in Houston’s legend’s sweat, Astroworld is a referendum on hip-hop as a genre and an art form. The album is slowed down, tripped out, and bombastic, as Scott liberally references Houston’s past as a hip-hop hotbed while pushing it past its Screwston reputation. Astroworld feels both futuristic and classic at the same time, and that’s something only Kendrick Lamar has been able to accomplish in the last half-decade.

But there will be no Nobel Prize for Astroworld. No Taylor Swift collabs, no Marvel soundtracks. It’s all just too druggy. Too street. Too Southern. Too real. 

And maybe that’s how it should be. But, one thing is for sure, Travis Scott’s moment is now, and he’s going to run with it straight to the Super Bowl halftime show, and he’s going to keep running with it till someone comes to take it from him.
— Jaime-Paul Falcon

By my count, Kids See Ghosts is the seventh time Kanye has made the best album of the year. But it’s no accident that this isn’t the 2018 record he put his name on, or that he needed a co-host to pull it off, or that it’s impossible to remember a single word he says throughout  —  which, thank God.
Nick Farruggia

Drake, “In My Feelings”: Only in 2018 Atlanta could I drive crosstown from berating a Bush speechwriter in a Roman Catholic sanctuary to Aubrey & the Three Migos at State Farm Arena preaching a center-right message of Maya Angelou vibes featuring Future, Young Jeezy, and Trey Songz. Did it for the culture. But you can imagine compassionate conservative Michael Gerson kicking himself for not writing “I wanna thank God for working way harder than Satan.” Elevate.

The next morning I returned to work, where a sickle cell anemia patient almost hemolyzed to death. 2018!
— Maureen Miller

With Cardi B’s “Bickenhead,” nasty hos from across the globe finally get the anthem they so righteously deserve.
— Jessica Hopper

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The day Pusha T’s “The Story of Adidon” dropped was unforgettable. I listened as it rolled out on Funk Flex (the first major terrestrial radio event in a while!), and he kept stopping at every new bar, overwhelmed, and then he would replay it from the beginning. I remember wanting him to get through the whole song, but this approach made sense — it’s a lot to take in. An unbelievable achievement in diss tracks, and Pusha’s best work this year.
Evan Minsker

Childish Gambino, “This Is America”: Donald Glover’s incantatory recitation would work without visuals, but Hiro Murai’s video represents America in 2018 as acutely as the newsreel footage in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman. Utterly unnerving.
— Kathy Fennessy

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I like Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” but Earl Sweatshirt’s “December 24” gets the Gil-Scott Heron “Winter in America” mood more right than anything else I came across this year. (Which, my annual disclaimer, amounts to 1 percent of 1 percent of whatever hip-hop was out there in 2018.) It must be my shortest number one ever at 1:46 — I wish it went on for another 7 or 8 minutes. At the risk of sounding white-guy stupid, where does the opening genuine-dialect quote come from? I’ve Googled it, looked up the album credits, nothing. The significance of December 24 escapes me, too, but it feels right: aspirations, a plan, something that came up just short. Quote I came across in a Goon Sax interview: “Sad music is made for a reason and maybe it’s to repurpose something you’ve gone through.”
— Phil Dellio

The Carters, “Apeshit”In perhaps pop culture’s Blackest year — Black Panther, Kendrick’s Pulitzer, and Beyoncé’s own history-making Coachella set, for starters — Black America’s reigning monarchs deliver a worthy soundtrack.
— Trevor Anderson

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

2003 Pazz & Jop: Reasons to Bother

How laughable, cracked wiseacres in re the 30th or 31st Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll, for hopefuls in this nation’s other flawed, fragmented democratic exercise to claim hip-hop — Howard Dean enlisting Wyclef Jean, Dennis Kucinich employing a campaign rap called “Go Go Dennis” (sounds great, huh?), and, drop the bomb, Wesley Clark quoting “Hey Ya!” before assuring young supporters that breakups needn’t be permanent, just look at him and Bill. But it doesn’t seem so funny to me; not much does these days. Why shouldn’t they claim hip-hop, and mean it as much as they mean anything? In 2003, hip-hop became America’s official pop music. If it’s no surprise that John Kerry’s theme remains “Born in the U.S.A.” (as classic as “Hey Ya!” plus the Vietnam thing) and King George’s “Wake Up Little Susie” (progressive as of 1957), well, tastes differ. Anyway, Wyclef Jean ain’t Lil Jon any more than OutKast are 50 Cent.

I give you our 2003 champion, and hell ya, I’m down. As in 2000, Atlanta duo-for-life OutKast swept both our competitions, with Speakerboxxx/The Love Below’s three-to-two edge matching Stankonia’s, and “Hey Ya!” ’s three-to-two dwarfing “Ms. Jackson” ’s. There’s never been a one-artist album-and-single combo like it. But though OutKast thrashed the White Stripes — aptly, given Jack White’s stated belief that rap is a low form stuck in 1986 — they were far from our biggest winner ever. Nirvana, Hole, Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft,” and, most dominant of all, Beck’s Odelay (over the Fugees’ The Score, take your pick) each won by at least 1.80-1. As I hope you noticed, these are all white artists; the strongest black finish came in 1987, when Prince’s Sign ’O’ the Times defeated Bruce Springsteen’s indelible Tunnel of Love 1.63-1. Racist? Us? Can’t be. It’s just that Euro-Americans make more aesthetically commanding popular music than African Americans, year in and year out. History shows that, right?

I’ve bewailed Pazz & Jop’s institutional racism before, and except to say that I don’t exempt myself I won’t excavate it now; should another periodical choose to devote dead trees or living megabytes to the question, I’ll sit for an interview. The numbers are always there, and in 2003 the poll put bells on them. Not that hip-hop albums finished so strong: the four in the top 15, including foreign interloper Dizzee Rascal, were tailed only by female principle Missy Elliott and white Southerner Bubba Sparxxx. Nor were the six black top-10 singles unprecedented. The difference was the commentary, where voters couldn’t stop raving about “Hey Ya!” and other beat treats but rarely waxed evangelical about albums. This undercut my custom of letting respondents speak up for their fave longforms in “Top 10 Plus,” where I settled for a meta-ironic Radiohead squib and had to solicit the arguments the Shins’ Chutes Too Narrow and the New Pornographers’ Electric Version deserved. So this year, “Plus” means singles.

As fans of the downloading wars know, this shift is poetic and hip. From utopians feeding slugs to the heavenly jukebox to suits letting the MasterCard/broadband equipped purchase music online, it is agreed that people want songs, not albums — in our archaic parlance, singles. But it’s one thing to plug in the jukebox, another to select 10 among millions of selections: BMG666, TH5446, BE45789? So though some 1,461 different singles were cited by the 508 voters (out of 732, up from 2002’s 695, hubba hubba) who listed singles, the consensus naturally favored songs that had gotten through gates narrower than Google’s or Kazaa’s. And though radio remains basic, its alternative/college/public/Internet version didn’t exert much clout on our singles chart. Beyond Johnny Cash’s video-driven “Hurt,” a sentimental favorite that came hauling a fine death album and an outtake box, these were radio/TV hits that with only two partial exceptions going down to No. 16 — focus cuts from the year’s Nos. 2 and 3 albums — got goosed on the dance-club cum singles-bar circuit. This went for white artists as well as black — Junior Senior and Electric Six are groovesters, and Justin Timberlake is a wannabe no longer.

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Although I don’t barhop like I ought to, this trend suits me fine if that’s what it is. I always hear music differently at the hop or in da club than in my lonely room — “Get Low,” hidden at the end of an album whose importance (and offensiveness) my daughter had flagged, blindsided me at a Halloween bash — and I cherish that difference. Nor is beatmastery the main reason. Our singles list is a token of sociability in a hermetic subculture, and something positive in a year when my political pessimism, which has never been deeper, has fed on my fears for the future of music, which are new — an infrastructure unlikely to strengthen in an economy based on overwork and the planned destruction of social-service jobs produced the shortest Dean’s List since 1996. A year ago the bad war I’d seen coming the minute the second plane hit made the woe-are-we at the major labels seem trivial even if it was true. But as we acclimate to long-haul horror, we look around for reasons to bother, and Tower has gotten pretty depressing. Though the death of the majors won’t equal the death of the record business, much less popular music, I’d rather they stay solvent, properly chastened. The singles that got the voters excited sounded rich-and-famous. And with Naderites, Chomskyites, and Strokes fans alike ready to vote for any ambitious glad-hander the Democratics deem electable, let me mention this — the profiteering vulgarians who run record companies are rarely Republicans.

As usual, our album chart could care less. Independent labels bankrolled some 15 of our top 40, maintaining the high level of recent years, and an unprecedented four of our top 10. But that doesn’t mean the quality album is now an indie specialty. In a revived farm-team model, the top-five White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs cracked the poll indie and then panned for gold; the Drive-By Truckers mixed it up, putting their DIY Southern Rock Opera on consignment at Universal’s Lost Highway Quilt Shoppe before bolting to Austin upstart New West for Decoration Day. But beyond Warren Zevon we register no exodus of superannuated status symbols following Tom Waits to Anti- and such. And of course, our charts aren’t Billboard’s, or even CMJ’s. Less so than ever.

Precisely two of our rock finishers went platinum. One of them, duh, is Led Zeppelin. But the other, hey, is the White Stripes, who garnered not only sales but notoriety — Jack insulted rappers, courted movie directors, and punched no-talents just like that other Detroit White. Two more broke their labels’ venal little hearts by stopping at gold: the Strokes, whose low-affect-high-IQ TRL run was clearly a misunderstanding, and Radiohead, whose hot-ticket tour failed to generate the sales levels of Kid A. If anyone might save Pazz & Jop’s prognosticating license with a late surge, it’s third-place Fountains of Wayne, who once “Stacy’s Mom” proved Collingwood & Schlesinger pop as well as “pop” were ready to surpass 1999’s 19th-place Utopia Parkway. They were up for two Grammys — including, NARAS does love a joke, best new artist — and though they got shut out, let’s hope the EMI mafia follow the sly “Mexican Wine” down the road to “Hackensack” and “Fire Island.” This is conceivable because, as our voters want to tell the world, Welcome Interstate Managers is through-crafted, one bittersweet tune after another as humane and unsappy as the rest of its vision of premarital suburbia. But FOW’s “single” was a teen novelty that downloaded up there with OutKast and Beyoncé‚ and their album never broke 115 Billboard.

Chart peaks aren’t sales totals, and by now Fountains of Wayne have surely moved more units than Grandaddy, Belle & Sebastian, or the Shins, all of whom, remarkably, did break 100 in Billboard. But with Radiohead less meaningful than rumoured, the Strokes not worth the covers they’re plastered on, Liz Phair a disgraced hussy among Adult Top 40 Recurrents, and the White Stripes getting on people’s nerves, it would help me feel better about next month if not next year were this deserving critics’ record to transcend its fluke renown and make a bunch of bizzers a load of loot. Because though 2003 was hip-hop’s year in many ways, not least how many partisans believe it’s fallen into enemy hands, I’d appreciate a market-based correlative to another story evident in comments and results, one sure to bore futurists even more than hip-hop: rock and roll revival.

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Some will scoff. Revival is so 2001 — neoclassicist Strokes/Stripes guff, swept away by the DOR swank of Interpol and the Rapture. The latter surrounded their epochal 10-word single with a literally sensational 2003 album joined on our chart by all manner of consumer electronics: the jolly Danes of Junior Senior, the tame tunes of converted selbstaendigrockers the Notwist, the multilayered, multireferential pop-funk-soul-techno post-house of Basement Jaxx, the eccentric retrotech of Four Tet, and — speaking of through-crafted — what-him-emo Ben Gibbard topping his 34th-place Death Cab for Cutie album with the Postal Service’s sweet synth-pop one-off, which floated out of the ether to finish 17th. That makes six — are you impressed yet?

These are estimable records, Europeans notwithstanding; Rapture-good Interpol-bad, Basement Jaxx and Postal Service highly kraftwerked, and I’ll take “post-rock” Four Tet over not just Sigur Rós but My Morning Jacket, the Mars Volta, Kings of Leon, and — right now, as of this possibly anomalous and certainly slight record — the bulk of the indie-rock boys-boys-boys elbowing onto our chart. But no matter what the now people dig in Ibiza and Indonesia, P&J’s self-made aesthetes still favor aggregations of misfits making physical contact with guitars. It’s a Yank thing — with a boost from Britain, home of my two favorite young bands: punk-as-a-drunk-junkie Libertines, a solid 23rd, and beat-shrieking femme-fronted Kaito, riffle-riffle-riffle, here we are, page eight, tied for 252nd. Call them pop, call them slop, call them behind the times. But from Grandaddy to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, they’re all rock and roll and you know it. And you also know they’re not going away.

Is Pazz & Jop the world? The nation? Rock criticism? Of course not. Hell, maybe we’re part of the problem by now. Maybe we’re the American arrogance that bombed Iraq, or the alt myopia that frustrates managers into mandating a makeover and leaves my paper looking like Britney Spears on her wedding night. I plead innocent, but I can see why some might make such cheap charges. Obviously the poll’s imperfect. We never get out the hip-hop press. Our rolls are larded with part-timers who buy many records and miss many more. And they’re joined annually by newbies who learned to write from literary theorists and honed their opinionizing skills in the dog-eat-dog cenacles of college radio. These latter tend to festoon their ballots with arcane faves — mostly negligible song-crafters or art bands, or so I infer from artist-title-label, hearsay, and their more familiar choices. But most voters still like songs, obscurities rarely rise to the top, and with a partial exception or three — say Postal Service, Rapture, Broken Social Scene — a decent smattering of over-40s supported even our freshest-faced finishers. Furthermore, though the boundary between rumor and fashion is never what it should be, unlikely records like Four Tet’s Rounds do emerge from the depths. No songs on that one — just instruments or their simulacra clashing and converging playfully and prettily as they shuffle tune and beat. Without Pazz & Jop, I wouldn’t have given it a chance.

If I’ve strayed from loose talk about rock and roll to articulated ambivalence about indie-rock, well, the two are obviously connected. But they aren’t identical. Not all or most indie records are indie-rock records, and some that are barely achieve the synergy/energy that for rock and rollers is manna and chocolate-chip ice cream. The synergy half is crucial, and tricky. Broken Social Scene, for instance, are a collective held together by a bass player, not a band — only that isn’t such a bad definition of a band, and you can hear how their cohesion-in-disarray might be a paradigm for a post-youth bohemia where friends are always screwing around and moving away. More typical are Belle & Sebastian, always static on principle, but with a flow, only this time Trevor Horn revved them up and they rocked even less. Similarly, Cat Power’s chart debut is merely the most interactive of Chan Marshall’s misleadingly labeled singer-with-backup albums, and Death Cab wear their origins as a solo project on their arrangements. And then there are the Pernice Brothers, who are just slow. None of these moderns rocked with nearly the commitment of putative singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, who translated roadhouse raunch from metaphor into music, or Warren Zevon, who recorded his cancer-fueled farewell in his living room so he could save what life he had left for the important things, like getting the guitar solo of the year out of Bruce Springsteen.

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In general, though, indie-rock happens in bars, and bargoers are noisy. So unless you’re Chan Marshall telling Kurt he was right to cut and run because nobody understood him, you try and drown them out — even if you’re Fountains of Wayne or the Shins, although maybe not Grandaddy. And once we get to the soi-disant pop of the New Pornographers, or the soi-disant dance music of the Rapture, we’re boogieing, one might say. Though one record is fulla songs and the other fulla synth, both bands put their backs into forward motion. Of course, so do several finishers I have doubts or worse about, from floor-dragging My Morning Jacket to leaping Ted Leo to molten Fiery Furnaces, although not certifiably Latino Mars Volta, so enamored of melodrama and its shifting rhythmic accoutrements that they could have learned clave from Kansas.

Me, I found 2003 longer on intricately propulsive song than fiercely clamorous beat: Fountains of Wayne tightening up, Yo La Tengo slacking off, Shins bearing in, Drive-By Truckers hiring Jason Isbell as if Patterson Hood wasn’t writer enough, and Wrens fusing heart, soul, tune, harmony, and artificially massed guitars in a Sisyphean labor whose near miss is poetry. (41–50, viewable online along with 1,952 other albums: endlessly circling Jayhawks, dull Thrills, refulgent Wrens, NAACP Image Award nominee R. Kelly, born vocalist Lyrics Born, Can’t-Catch-a-Break Timberlake, Joe Strummer R.I.W., Irish folksingers Ryan Adams and Damien Rice, and Electric Six, who do not exist in real life, thank God.) But born-againers aren’t raving about songs (much less singers, who beyond Rufus Wainwright and an ailing Johnny Cash got shut out). They’re raving about grooves, half a dozen strong: White Stripes and Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Libertines, Kings of Leon and the Darkness. Without these bands’ variously formalist, fecund, facile, clever, and stuck-in-the-mud songwriting, their grooves would go nowhere fast, and sometimes they do anyway; sometimes that’s the idea. Sometimes, too, they boogie only conceptually — they’re not friendly enough. But within a recognizable rubric that isn’t hip-hop, each moves in a distinct way that moves its crowd. Call them old-fashioned, but try to pin down exactly which punk or blues-rock or metal they echo and you’ll end up claiming the Strokes are Television.

For these bands, irony is a bigger nonissue than emo, which despite its three albums in Spin’s preemptive top 40 topped out at 130 Pazz & Jop (Thursday, who deeply regret to inform themselves that politics is anguish), unless you count the outrageous nu-hair-metal of the Darkness, the funniest thing-yet-not-the-thing since the Pet Shop Boys (but remember, it is the thing), or believe the Strokes are lying about their insincerity (which they never would). All these bands seem to feel whatever it is they feel, and though as with emo it’s often painful, instead of wallowing they do their best to run it over — usually, strange to tell, without benefit of much musicianship, and in two cases without a bassist. Virtuosity comes with the Darkness’s concept, and after that the best band-qua-band here is the Strokes. If the Libertines have a model it’s the Heartbreakers not the Ramones, if Kings of Leon have a forerunner it’s the Uniques not the Stones, and though Brian Chase plays a lot more drums than Meg White, the groove of each band is left to a protean guitarist — plus such old reliables as speed, swagger, abandon, and shards of noise indicating that you just don’t give a fuck. For the Stripes and Strokes to take such a groove pop is a tribute to Jack White’s talent and the Strokes’ good looks. I doubt the Yeah Yeah Yeahs will follow, and I’m certain the Libertines won’t. The Darkness are huge in England and making their stateside move as I write. Which leaves Kings of Leon, a band so ordinary I tried to ignore them.

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Kings of Leon excite fans of the Southern, the primitive, the trad, the blues-based, and their backstory, in which the home-schooled sons of an itinerant Pentecostal preacher are saved from a life of virtue by rock and roll. This is rock’s starter myth, irresistible for anyone oppressed firsthand by the culture of rectitude. But a thousand bad bands with their dicks in their hands have made millions turning it into organized irreligion, and Kings of Leon didn’t reinvent its clichés. Even early on the Drive-By Truckers delved so much further into Southern low life, and rocked harder too. Yet what hurts in a year when Pazz & Jop takes a backseat to another democratic exercise (if by some miracle the big one goes well, the music business can take care of itself) is that I need what Kings of Leon represent: the South, some effective portion of its rectitude-ridden, home-schooled-or-worse, class-consciously anti-intellectual masses-yearning-to-be-free. If they don’t speak to me, hell, I don’t speak to them either. Yet we have to get together somehow. That’s one reason John Edwards has been my glad-hander of choice.

Anyone expecting me to claim that our Georgia-based winners resolve this dilemma should get serious. But the metaphors are there. My hot year in hip-hop wasn’t like the critics’ because it was more critical. Only four of the 13 hip-hop albums on the Dean’s List are mainstream, and though both of my undie-rap top-10s are by nonblacks, all but two of the others are African American — unlike most undie-rap fans, and also unlike most name undie-rappers. Give it up to Britbeat original Dizzee Rascal, but to me it’s pathetic that voters should pump 50 Cent and Jay-Z here and Ted Leo and Grandaddy there, yet ignore the indie-rock resourcefulness of the differingly devout Lifesavas and Brother Ali, or at least bohos for life Mr. Lif and Jean Grae. It’s inconvenient for my argument that I can’t add North Carolina’s 80th-place Little Brother, Native Tongues surrogates with a bad case of Arrested Development. But I’ll shore up my pretensions to objectivity by noting that Jean Grae was the only New York rapper her homeboy A-listed this year. S. Carter took an album’s worth of guest shots (just wait) and killed with most, but compare the casual vanity of his Beyoncé to the casual avuncularity of his Missy and the casual geopolitics of his Panjabi MC and you’ll hear why the mulitplatinum Black Album seemed puffed up to me. As for the multiplatinum F. Cent, he could slur the most infectious Drebeats this side of M. Mathers and I’d still wish crime did not play. Same goes for Neptunebeats — but maybe not Timbobeats. I leave it conditional because Timbaland didn’t altogether convert me to Bubba Sparxxx, who for all his class-conscious good-heartedness declines personal responsibility for the post-racist future he’s clearly committed to — in that fatalistic Southern way, he just declares it inevitable. I don’t hold it against him, an American dilemma is an American dilemma, but his people better be talking to Russell Simmons’s people.

Timbaland was also the genius of two of my mainstream rap picks. But he was the auteur of only one, as Missy Elliott abandoned dreams of a singles threepeat to through-craft the first true album of her hitcentric career — a show of confidence whose eccentricities were so decent professional insomniacs slept on them. But though OutKast’s beats were less thrilling, which isn’t to say Prince and P-Funk won’t grace any inaugural ball I DJ, their eccentricities were impossible to miss, and sleeping on them proved impractical. OutKast’s Janus move is uneven, as I’d figured. What I didn’t figure was that Big Boi’s Clintonisms would flag a bit while Andre 3000’s skits and falsetto showpieces jawed at me all night. With all flaws and flat spots assumed, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below means to prophesy structurally: Big Boi is the self-created positivity of the gangsta culture both rappers long ago moved beyond, Andre the national aspirations they make so much more of than Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 50 Cent. They’re defiant yet reliable, rooted yet progressive, male yet female they wish, hip-hop yet pop yet something like indie-rock, for God’s sake.

As music, as good as we could have hoped, human error included. Nevertheless, what it portends about the immediate future of the South, new or dirty or pivotal or yearning to be free, isn’t what we’d wish. Lil Jon with his blindsiding single, he’s Atlanta, all the way to the back of the strip joint. OutKast are black consciousness, with prevailing influences from Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Plainfield, New Jersey — the black consciousness that almost every American institution still underrepresents, yet that itself addresses only a subset of the war on the nonrich now being waged in King George’s name by both Condoleezza Rice and Dick Cheney. They’re a reason to bother, the best music could hold out the promise of in 2003. All I can say to anyone who was hoping for more of a happy ending than that is that I’m hoping for one too.

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Top 10 Albums of 2003

1. OutKast: Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (Arista)

2. The White Stripes: Elephant (V2)

3. Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve)

4. Radiohead: Hail to the Thief (Capitol)

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell (Interscope)

6. The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow (Sub Pop)

7. New Pornographers: Electric Version (Matador)

8. Basement Jaxx: Kish Kash (Astralwerks)

9. Drive-By Truckers: Decoration Day (New West)

10. Dizzee Rascal: Boy in Da Corner (XL Import)

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Top 10 Singles of 2003

1. OutKast: “Hey Ya!” (Arista)

2. Beyoncé featuring Jay-Z: “Crazy in Love” (Columbia)

3. The White Stripes: “Seven Nation Army” (Third Man/V2)

4. Kelis: “Milkshake” (Star Trak/Arista)

5. 50 Cent: “In Da Club” (G-Unit/Shady/Aftermath/Interscope)

6. Johnny Cash: “Hurt” (American)

7. Fountains of Wayne: “Stacy’s Mom” (S-Curve/Virgin)

8. R. Kelly: “Ignition — Remix” (Jive)

9. Junior Senior: “Move Your Feet” (Atlantic)

10. Panjabi MC featuring Jay-Z: “Beware of the Boys (Mundian To Bach Ke)” (Sequence)

—From the February 11–17, 2004, issue

 

Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published last year.

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CULTURE ARCHIVES MUSIC ARCHIVES

Real Life Rock Top 10: Rebounds, Time Outs, and the Carters at the Louvre

1. Eleanor Friedberger, Rebound (Frenchkiss)

From a singer who in Fiery Furnaces could come across as someone backing you into a corner and talking a mile a minute while giving you the unsettling feeling she’s thinking over every word as she says it, music that, with no sense of hurry, wraps each song around the next. Angelo Badalamenti synths from old Julee Cruise records carry the tunes as if teaching them how to swim. It’s a report from a certain state of mind, one that’s saying, Time out. And as one number fades into another, a bigger question: And what if I said time out and froze everyone in the world in place and walked away? What would that sound like?

2. The Carters, “Apes**t” (YouTube/Tidal)  

First impressions:

There’s a lot of nice art in the Louvre.

The smugness of the poses doesn’t erase the thrill of the faster-than-sound words coming out of Beyoncé’s mouth.

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3. Neil Young, Roxy — Tonight’s the Night Live (Reprise)

His death record, and if on the original album the chant of the title song seemed almost too much to take, here the killers — and they can make you skip a breath — are “Roll Another Number” and the oh-so-casual fatal dope deal of “Tired Eyes.” There’s a lot of stage talk, particularly about the stripper Candy Barr. “We’re doing OK in the Seventies,” Young says near the end of a show recorded in late September 1973. “We really are. History’s coming back” — there’s that displacement of someone historicizing a moment as it takes place — “everything’s OK.  Spiro says it’s all right.” The vice president resigned on October 10.

4. Dana Milbank, “Finally, a president with the guts to stand up to Canada,” Washington Post (June 11)

“They inflicted Nickelback on us. We did nothing. They sent us Justin Bieber. We turned the other cheek. They were responsible for one abomination after another: Poutine. Dipthong vowels. Hawaiian pizza. Instant mashed potatoes. Ted Cruz. Still, we did not retaliate — until now.”

5. Overheard, Minneapolis (June 8)

Two young children idly singing “Nation-wide…” and you realized that this lilting, wistful insurance commercial, bathing the airwaves with Brad Paisley and Leslie Odom Jr. and Tori Kelly offering the tune as if it held more truth, more revelation, more of themselves than anything they ever recorded before, had already colonized the minds and corrupted the aesthetic sensibilities of the nation’s youth, until the kids finished the line: “…is suicide.”

6. A reader who goes by Uhuru Comix writes in (June 14)

“Tonight, there was a surreal moment on Jeopardy. The category was Combat Rock, and the $800 clue was ‘Pere Ubu: 30 Seconds Over ________.’ None of the contestants knew the answer, of course, and Trebek had to say (in a tone that made it sound as though he thought the answer was obvious), ‘What is Tokyo.’ I think there must be an Ubu fan lurking among their writers. Either that, or the apocalypse is upon us.”

7. Daniel Zakroczemski, illustration for Marc Stein, “Warriors and Cavs Star in N.B.A.’s Version of Groundhog Day,” New York Times (May 31)

“How can you root against LeBron?” a friend asked. “Because I’ve been a Warriors fan for more than forty years and I live in Oakland?” I said. “But it’s like rooting against John Henry!” he said — and the next day, taking up more than half a page, was a blazing, Cubist-like painting by an artist whose work usually appears in the Buffalo News showing just that: an embattled but indomitable giant stopping the balls of four other muscled men as if they were just so many steam drills. And then LeBron broke his hand.

8. Allen Ruppersberg, “Intellectual Property: 1968–2018,” Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (through July 28)

Born in Cleveland in 1944, working out of Los Angeles, Ruppersberg practices ideas in action, and despite the time covered in this vast but uncrowded retrospective the feeling was that anything that might catch your eye could have been made either fifty years ago or the day before yesterday. Among dozens of other works that could as easily be called phenomena as constructions, with a revisit to the 1969 Al’s Café (where among the all-non-food items on the menu the cheapest was a diner plate with a 45 of the Kingsmen’s version of “Louie Louie”) and a room devoted to blowups with cutouts of Uncle Scrooge’s battle with the Maharajah of Howduyustan over who can build the biggest statue of himself, my favorite was the 1996 installation Good Dreams, Bad Dreams — What Was Sub-Literature, with a announcement for “Lecture today at 4 PM,” which unfortunately was idea, not action, because the piece really made you want to know. There were real books in a vitrine, and rows of titles on the wall behind it: Was an 1891 cheap paper Oliver Twist sub-lit because of its format, or its writing?  What about a gorgeous edition of Evangeline? Classics Illustrated versions of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Typee? You could probably put money on Jack Hanley’s Let’s Make Mary as sub-literature, but what about Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me Deadly, which may have been a lousy book, but was made into a great movie? The titles were a riot of pure id and the actual books were the mental attic of a whole country.

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9. Here to Be Heard — The Story of the Slits, directed by William E. Badgley (Head Gear Films/Moviehouse Entertainment)

A documentary about the punk band that began in London in 1976, dissolved in 1982, put part of itself back together in 2005, and ended when singer Ari Up died in 2010 at 48. It’s workmanlike, and because of the story as it was captured then and the present-day testimony of bassist Tessa Pollitt, drummer Palmolive, and guitarist Viv Albertine, stirring. There are bits of revelation that capture the essence of both the band’s mission to confront, attack, and destroy the marginalization of women in culture and of rock ’n’ roll as such, as when Palmolive describes the Slits on the Clash’s White Riot UK tour in 1977: “Sometimes we were playing different songs. And we couldn’t even tell! Sometimes we could tell”. There is the absolute primacy given to the clothes the Slits wore, as public action, free speech, political demonstration, and pleasure (Albertine, on “feeling like myself for the first time in my life”: “They couldn’t tell if we were male or female, or even human”), and the way the end of the band felt like a death sentence. “I fell into the terrible bath of heroin,” Pollitt says; Albertine, who as a Slit was all screaming blond hair and frilly white slips, “started dressing in brown clothes. I let my hair go back to brown.”

10. Nathan Lane, acceptance speech for Best Featured Actor in a Play, 72nd Annual Tony Awards (CBS, June 10).  

https://youtu.be/OpIoO9SpPcw

For his role as the tribune of McCarthyism, mob fixer, and AIDS death Roy Cohn in Angels in America — a role that took on far more resonance in this year’s revival than it could have had when the play premiered in 1993, since in the 1970s Cohn was also a mentor to Donald Trump — Lane produced a real thrill in the way that, in under two minutes, he thanked twenty-two individuals and groups, often in detail, with nuance, without a crib sheet, without pauses or hesitations, until the end, when he thanked his husband. It felt like a kind of rounded farewell, not that he doesn’t still have work to do. “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” Donald Trump said in a moment of frustration not long ago, and you can just imagine what Lane would make of the chance to materialize in his face.

Thanks to Steve Perry and Bill Brown.

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Beyoncé and Jay-Z Work It Out in the Louvre

Pop music has long cherished collisions with the visual arts. Andy Warhol’s peelable banana cover for the Velvet Underground’s 1967 debut disk and his zipper motif for the Rolling Stones’ 1971 Sticky Fingers album both wittily played with the horndog ethos of rock ’n’ roll. In 1976, five years before the debut of MTV (and almost seven years before Michael Jackson became the first African American artist featured on the channel), David Bowie turned to a surrealist classic in lieu of a warm-up band for his Station to Station tour. Thin White Duke fans, eager for the rapturous feedback of the album’s title track to wash over them, were nonplussed when the 1929 black-and-white film Un Chien Andalou began to play. Doubtless many were only dimly aware of Salvador Dalí as a comic stereotype of the mad artist, and even fewer knew of Luis Buñuel’s artistic provocations. But when the film’s infamous eye-slashing scene lit up the various arenas on the tour schedule, groans, screams, and knowing cheers from art students in the audience mixed with the pot smoke.

In their new video, “Apeshit,” Beyoncé and Jay-Z shock in more subtle ways, not least by pulling off the shoot of their dynamic and complex music video at Paris’s Louvre Museum in total secrecy. The video opens on a young man in dreads, sneakers, and ripped jeans wearing angel wings; sirens wail in the distance and bells toll forlornly, an elegiac soundscape in a city that has seen too much terror in recent years.

But the Louvre is one of civilization’s bastions against the world’s latest wave of nihilism, and music’s supreme power couple make the most of it. Dancers do crunches on a broad staircase, and when they later gyrate in formation in front of Jacques-Louis David’s immense 1807 canvas commemorating the coronation of Napoleon, their abs are as prominent as those on the Greco-Roman statues. Throughout the video, the flesh of the performers echoes the realistic figurative representations, whether in paint or stone. The emperor himself said of David’s 20-foot-high, 32-foot-long painting, “What relief, what truthfulness! This is not a painting; one walks in this picture.”

Of course Napoleon hadn’t imagined anyone dancing into it. And, as with almost the entire canon of Western art, the assembly on David’s canvas is all white. In contrast to the song’s lyrics — “Have you ever seen a crowd goin’ apeshit?” — this is a staid bunch, in their regal and clerical robes, lit as if by a passing sunray. Throughout “Apeshit,” the choreographed moves of black performers are entwined with the eternal poses of the white figures, the two now preserved in an art form unknown to the classical masters.

Graceful arabesques for a missing head

And while Palo Veronese’s monumental The Wedding Feast of Cana (1563) depicts Christ’s miracle of converting water into wine, it also celebrates conspicuous consumption on a level any successful rapper could savor. Bey amps the mood with her blistering rap:

“Poppin’, I’m poppin’/My bitches are poppin’/We go to the dealer and cop it all/Sippin’ my favorite alcohol/Got me so lit I need Tylenol/All of my people I free ’em all.” The wealthy partied hard back in the day — Veronese transported the biblical scene from Galilee to palatial digs in Venice. So perhaps Beyoncé’s last line references the few dark-skinned figures serving food and drink at the lavish banquet, even as her flowing finery marks her as an equal with the sumptuously garbed swells in the painting.

There is precedent for this mix. The great African American painter Kerry James Marshall once wrote me in an email, “There is such scant representation of the Black body in the historical record, that I believe I have a duty to advance its presence using every means at my disposal.” Marshall has achieved this goal through compositions that thrum with a pictorial force grounded in classical figurative traditions, even as they push space into new realms of abstraction. And Kanye West took a fascinating leap into the baroque era when he donned a hoodie adorned with Caravaggio’s Deposition for his performance at the “121212” concert, re-creating on stage the chiaroscuro illumination that gave that hard-living master’s compositions such dramatic presence.  

David’s “Intervention of the Sabine Women” as showcased in “Apeshit”

Sonic rumbles drift through “Apeshit,” as if the music were being played in some far-off hall (one scene was shot in the Louvre’s basement), a bit of melancholy that chimes with most listeners’ knowledge of the marital problems the couple has experienced. (Their new album, Everything Is Love, has been released under the joint moniker the Carters, and completes a trilogy about their down-and-up relationship that began with Beyoncé’s 2016 Lemonade and has continued with last year’s 4:44 from Jay-Z.) Now, when Bey lip-synchs to Jay’s voice — “Have you ever seen a crowd goin’ apeshit?” — the high-living couple seem again to be joined as one in the spotlight.

This notion of resurfacing stronger is driven home in a number of ways. For instance, the artist who sculpted Winged Victory of Samothrace more than 2,000 years ago never expected it to be displayed without a head — as it has been since its discovery on a Greek isle, in 1863 — yet the statue now stands as a beautiful survivor of whatever troubles once buried her in the earth. Director Ricky Saiz calls back to the winged young man in the video’s opening scene while giving the ancient figure new life through the line of dancers’ heads that weave before it in graceful arabesques.

The video cuts a number of times to David’s 1799 Intervention of the Sabine Women, another tale of fraught relationships. The painting’s narrative is set after the Romans’ abduction of the women of the neighboring Sabine tribe. Time has passed, and Hersilia, the daughter of the Sabine leader, is married to the Roman leader Romulus. Hersilia is the painting’s central figure, voluptuous and regal in clinging white dress, her arms outstretched as she interposes her own body and that of her children between the two men in her life in order to convince them not to kill each other. The canvas had a personal dimension for the artist — he painted it partly in an effort to reconcile with his estranged wife, who disagreed with his vote to guillotine the king during the Revolution, and also as a symbol encouraging the French people to heal that conflict’s bloody wounds on the body politic. More drama, no doubt, than even rap’s most prominent power marriage can boast, but like the artists who have made the cut at the Louvre, Bey and Jay haven’t gotten where they are by thinking small.

So when Jay-Z raps about being dissed by the Grammys last year — eight nominations/zero wins — as he stands in front of Géricault’s gargantuan Raft of the Medusa, knowledgeable viewers might flash on a sense of disproportion. (And Pogues fans will recognize the canvas from the cover of that band’s 1985 Rum Sodomy & the Lash album.) Géricault’s 1819 painting portrays the grisly tale of a French vessel running aground, with the ship’s officers, connected politicians, and upper-class travelers escaping in lifeboats while the crew and poorer passengers were cast adrift on a makeshift raft. Murder, mayhem, and cannibalism ensued, making for a political scandal upon which Géricault heaped more controversy by placing a black man as the hero signaling the rescue ship, which also signaled the artist’s abolitionist sympathies, as France wavered on ending slavery. We are in different times, but by pulling us into this painting (and including a cut to a kneeling statue), Jay is reminding us of the blatant racism of slavery then, and of the NFL’s collusion against players who act on their conscience today. “I said no to the Super Bowl: You need me,” he raps, “I don’t need you/Every night we in the end zone, tell the NFL we in stadiums too.” History, the video tells us, is always present.

Jay-Z: Oh-for-8 at the Grammys. But he’s still starring at the Louvre.

Back in the winter of 1992–’93, I was at the Museum of Modern Art getting passes for the big Henri Matisse retrospective. The joint was jumping, with crowds surging through the lobby and — a bit north of their usual haunts — large men with serious bling roaming the sidewalk and calling out, “Matisse tickets. Who needs tickets? Who’s got tickets to sell?” When I finally made it to the head of the line, an elderly gent in a suit was stammering to the young man at the information desk, “Do you know what’s happening? It’s an outrage…there…there are people out front scalping tickets! This is an art museum.” The MOMA rep and I looked at each other incredulously, and I said, “You’ve never been to a Knicks game?” (Those were the days when you could actually turn a profit on Knicks tix.)

Henri no doubt would have appreciated it. After all, what artist wouldn’t love a crowd going apeshit over his or her — or their — art.

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Janelle Monáe Is Coming for the Throne

Spring is a season of blooming flowers and new beginnings. Or, if you’re Janelle Monáe, spring can be a time to don Georgia O’Keeffe–esque vagina flower pants. In the video for her newest single, “Pynk,” Monáe hops around in these pants — the head of her rumored girlfriend Tessa Thompson poking through the layers of pink, labial fabric — and sings, “Pink like the tongue that goes down…maybe/Pink like the paradise found.”

The single, released on April 10, is a barely tongue in…um…cheek ode to the female body and female sensuality. All four of the songs (“I Like That,” “Make Me Feel,” “Django Jane”) released so far from Monáe’s upcoming album, Dirty Computer, which drops April 27, are undeniably, hip-gyratingly sexy. But they also demonstrate that Monáe has significantly evolved as an artist since her 2013 album, Electric Lady. Monáe, in an album full of musical references, is staking a claim to the pop throne with her idols by her side.

The four new singles show more maturity than her 2015 release “Yoga,” which was sexy, fun even, but wasn’t layered — it had the same swagger as the new songs, but none of the depth. “This is the first time that I released something with a lot of emotion. The people I love feel threatened. I’ve always understood the responsibility of an artist — but I feel it even greater now,” Monáe recently told the New York Times.

Monáe’s earlier work discussed sexuality but didn’t explore it. The songs were eye-winking, surface-level pop hits. On Dirty Computer, Monáe treats sexuality with the nuance it deserves, which situates her work alongside other seminal sexual pop artists such as Prince, Madonna, even Beyoncé.

For example, the most prominent sound on “Make Me Feel,” released in February, is the tongue click, a playful, sexual, silly sound — the sonic equivalent of a wink. But for Monáe it is so clearly more than that.

That tongue click connects her to Miriam Makeba, who recorded the traditional South African wedding song “Qongqothwane,” whose title translated to English means “knock-knock beetle” and refers to a dark beetle making a clicking sound by slamming its belly against the ground. Westerners refer to the song as the “clicking song” as a result of the clicking in the lyrics and in the background.

Clicks are not sounds that have been adopted into the English language, but rather, these sounds have originated, been kept alive, and are used today in African language and in African-inspired diasporic art. A click is certainly not a sound found in the white pop that has dominated the Top 40 in the 2010s. 

In addition to its historical importance, the clicking tongue sound is undeniably seductive.

For example, the sound popped up in Beyoncé’s 2014 self-titled album B side “Blow,” a song clearly about cunniligus. In the song, Beyoncé sings: “I’m-a lean back/Don’t worry it’s nothing major/Make sure you clean that/It’s the only way to get the/[click] Flavor.” There’s very little subtlety in incorporating a sound that can only be made with the tongue in a song so explicitly about oral sex. It’s sexy.

Monáe seems to reference that same idea in “Make Me Feel.” She uses the tongue click directly after lines like “Baby, don’t make me spell it out for you” and “Should know by the way I use my compression.” That’s anything but subtle.

Monáe’s four recent singles are stacked with references, too. The bassline on “Make Me Feel” aligns closely to the bassline on Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s “Blurred Lines.” “Pynk” recalls the funkiness of the Go-Go’s. “I Like That” is an R&B anthem with elements of Nina Simone and Tammi Terrell. All share the spirit of Prince’s warbling synthesizers and production.

“Prince actually was working on the album with me before he passed on to another frequency, and helped me come up with sounds,” Monáe told Annie Mac of BBC’s Radio 1. Prince’s DJ Lenka Paris noted in a now-deleted Facebook post that Prince provided the bouncy synth line that traces through the clicking in the background of “Make Me Feel.” The obvious love story, and the use of magenta and deep blue light (coined “bisexual lighting”) in the video of that song aligns with Prince and the Revolution’s 1986 single “Kiss.”

No sound on “Make Me Feel” appears accidental. A great musician pays tribute to their heroes by showing admiration in a song. Any creator aims to reach a level of maturation where they can integrate all of their inspirations into one harmonious concept, where one sound doesn’t dominate the other. Monáe has done it. “Make Me Feel” is its own song, with its own catchy hook that has its own fun. Even if you miss one of the dozen or so historical references in the song, “Make Me Feel” is a certified banger nonetheless.

Each of the four new singles has an element that unites it with “Make Me Feel.” “Pynk” has the same background bubbly synth line. “Django Jane” has the same swagger. “I Like That” is just as buoyant, with a Prince-inspired rap squeezed in. These songs of self-empowerment and self-confidence are perhaps an indication that Monáe is about to truly, fully come into her own.

On “I Like That,” she compares herself to “the random minor note you hear in major songs.” But in 2018, America might finally be primed for Monáe’s queer, well-deserved major breakthrough into mainstream pop.

 

The Village Voice is celebrating the season’s arts and culture highlights throughout the week of April 16, 2018. For full coverage to date, visit our Best of Spring Arts 2018 page.

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Jeopardy’s Five Best Music Moments

Sure, selling almost 180 million records worldwide is pretty special. As is winning 17 Grammy Awards. But last week, Beyoncé’s legacy was bestowed with arguably the highest of all honors: She got her own category on Jeopardy. Personally, our favorite part was Alex Trebek’s delivery of the phrase “Jay-Z is featured on this Beyoncé song that mentions ‘that liquor get into me.’ ”

In case you missed this glorious moment, you can see it here:

See also: An Illustrated Guide to Beyoncé’s Insight and Empowerment

Jeopardy, of course, has a long and rich history of taking stuff that’s cool and sexy and For The Kids and making it sound extraordinarily awkward and sanitized and, rather ironically, really damn stupid. Here are some of our favorite musical moments from the show’s history.

1. We’re guessing a student intern was responsible for this.
In 2012, Jeopardy reduced much-lauded emotive indie quintet Fleet Foxes to “folk-rockin’ dudes” with this clue. To celebrate, Sub Pop Records tweeted a link to the incident and hashtagged “Trebek!” for good measure.

2. ‘The 1990s Rap Song’
In a particularly delightful episode of Jeopardy: The Battle of the Decades, there was, rather magically, a category titled “The 1990s Rap Song.” The questions — er, answers — included clues relating to Notorious B.I.G., Shock G, and MC Hammer, but it was Trebek’s enthusiastic renditions of Cypress Hill’s “Insane in the Brain” and Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” that truly made this a special moment in TV game show history. This is possibly the most animated we’ve ever heard him.

3. Who Is Buddy Holly?
Sometimes, under pressure, contestants do crazy things on Jeopardy. One time, a guy actually ended up face-down, passed out, during Final Jeopardy, and another lady got laughed at super-hard by the audience for giving “Chris Farley” as a response to a Johnny Cash clue. However, it’s difficult to imagine how one woman, in response to the clue “His widow Maria Elena and actor Gary Busey were on hand when his star was dedicated outside Capitol Records in 2011,” came up with this:

We hope that when someone finally makes a movie about Ice-T, Gary Busey is allowed to at least audition. We would pay to see that.

4. Most Bizarre Clue Ever
We’re pretty sure you could put this in front of every single member of Mötley Crüe and even they wouldn’t answer it correctly. Who the hell came up with this?

5. ‘It’s a Rap’
Plucky contestant Mary holds her shit together really, really well until the very last moment of tackling the “It’s a Rap” category. What sends her over the edge? Trebek doing Public Enemy, that’s what. “I don’t know why that’s making you laugh so much!” the host declares. We think you do, Trebek. We think you do…


 

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The Real Shock About Beyonce’s “Star Spangled Banner”!

No, it’s not that she was lipsynching, singing along, or whatever she was doing.

Way back in 1991, when Whitney Houston did a tremendous job with the tune and it was later revealed to be a lipsynch, it was rather shocking.

But now, in reality show-drenched America, it’s just a “Duh.”

To me, the really shocking thing about Beyonce’s version is that it was a bit of a ripoff (or let’s say homage) to Whitney’s.

When Beyonce hit the big finish, she went with “the la-and of the free-eee–EEE,” going higher with each “eee” in the exact same manner Whitney did.

Believe it not, the song isn’t written that way. It was Whitney’s take on it. And Beyonce appropriated that “EEE” in a way that read to me like highway robbery. (But generally, she was very good.)

The other shocking thing is that Beyonce does an amazing lipsynch job.

She could easily be a drag queen!

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President Obama Arrives in New York Today To Drink Champagne With Jay-Z and Beyoncé (and Appear on Letterman)

President Obama is heading into the city to attend campaign events today, including an appearance on David Letterman and a fancy party at the 40/40 Club with hosts Beyoncé and Jay-Z.

The New York Post reports that there will be a custom-designed 350-bottle champagne tower with $800-per-bottle bubbly. The tower is a monument to Jay-Z’s favorite bottle, the Armand de Brignac. The rap­per famously put the drink on the map when he featured it in his 2006 music video for “Show Me What You Got.”

The details of the party are being kept mum, and only a White House pool reporter will be allowed to file a brief report on the fundraising event.

The president will be speaking to roughly 100 people at the $40,000-per-person event, after addressing 200 people at a $12,500-per-family reception at the Waldorf.

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Obama Back in New York To Hobnob With Jay-Z; GOP Pissy (Redux)

President Barack Obama will be back in the Big Apple to hobnob with celebrities, and — per usual — the state’s Republicans are pissy about it.

The “fundraiser in chief” will be in Manhattan tonight, where he will party with Jay-Z and Beyoncé at a $40,000-a-person fundraiser at the rappers 40/40 Club.

New York Republican Party Chairman Ed Cox is using the occasion to slam the president over the current unemployment numbers, and note that “Obama snubs [Benjammin] Netanyahu” to party with Jay-Z instead.

]
“Against this backdrop, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu asked Barack Obama for
a meeting,” Cox says. “Obama turned down the request from the leader of
America’s closes ally in the Middle East. Instead, the President of the
United States will be hobnobbing with Jay-Z and Beyonce at a
$40,000-per-person, 100-person fundraiser at the swank 40/40 Club –
that’s a cash haul of $4 million for the President.”

See Cox’s entire statement below:

“Once
again, we’re happy to welcome President Obama back to New York State,
where our unemployment rate (9.1%) is a full point above the national
average.

America and the world are in crisis: unemployment is still high, our
national debt has topped $16 trillion, our embassies are burning and
Iran is closer than ever to becoming a nuclear nation.

Against this backdrop, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu asked Barack Obama for a meeting.

Obama turned down the request from the leader of America’s closes ally in the Middle
East.

Instead, the President of the United States will be hobnobbing with Jay-Z and Beyonce
at a $40,000-per-person, 100-person fundraiser at the swank 40/40 Club – that’s
a cash haul of $4 million for the President.

Put another way, Obama will leave New York with $4.68 for every one of our state’s
unemployed workers.

America needs a President more interested in the status of our allies abroad and
 our unemployed at home than in partying with celebrities: America needs Mitt Romney
in the White House.”

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Beyoncé Is Named “Most Beautiful Woman,” but Here’s Who It Should Have Been

People magazine has named Beyoncé the World’s Most Beautiful Woman, and the singer replied that fresh after having given birth, she feels more beautiful than ever.

That’s all very lovely and heartwarming, but People really dropped the chance to honor someone even more gorgeous.

 

Anne Ramsey.

She made me laugh like hell whenever her fiery comic performances turned up in re-runs or revivals, so she was definitely the most beautiful woman of the year.

She’s the most beautiful woman every year.

I know she’s dead, but she’s still funny, and the mag would have been making a great statement by saying that by nature of her wicked talent and perseverance, Anne’s our gal.

There’s no one hotter. I mean it. Comedy equals beauty. Learn it.

Am I off the rails here in a bad way?