“See I know how to rap, it’s simple but/All I did was read a Russell Simmons book,” rapper Swift of D12 admits on “My Band,” a back-and-forth with a spotlight-stealing Eminem. And if Swift is looking to move from rapping into writing, photography, printmaking, publishing, and/or business, the new Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years (to which label co-founder Simmons has contributed a brief preface) would be a good place to start. Tonight, Simmons joins Rick Rubin, the other half of the original Def Jam team, for a conversation about the label’s history, impact, and, perhaps, wise decision not to sign D12.

Fri., Oct. 14, 7 p.m., 2011


Pharoahe Monch’s Desire

Pharoahe Monch is a word surgeon. In the early ’90s, as a member of Organized Konfusion, he and counterpart Prince Po released three tragically slept-on albums before it was cool to be slept on. With Desire, the Queens MC’s first project in damn near a decade, Monch slices seemingly superfluous syllables and conjoins divergent concepts, displaying an insatiable appetite for wordplay: “Came out of the fallopian blasting/Pharoahe hungrier than Ethiopians fasting.”

Meanwhile, “Free” affords Monch the opportunity to vent his pent-up frustrations with record-label red tape by likening the music industry to an antebellum cotton field: “Your A&R’s a house nigga/The label’s the plantation/Now switch that advance for your emancipation.” (His eight-year stint on the dreaded delayed-release-date shelf no doubt fueled this fire.) On “When the Gun Draws,” he tells an all-too-common story of murder and mayhem, but from the pistol’s point of view; the influence of producer Denaun Porter (of D12 fame) is conspicuously evident here, the forebodingly sparse piano and harp chords lending a distinctly Eminem quality to the track. (The self-directed video, featuring Monch as a uniformed police officer who narrates as a curly-haired, prepubescent boy uses a .45 to settle his parents’ domestic dispute, is even creepier.)

It’s clear from Monch’s pervasive debasement of the music industry (payback, no doubt, for the industry’s debasement of him) that Desire is not meant to sell a million ringtones. No track delivers the brute force of 1999’s “Simon Says,” the romp that catapulted Monch’s career as a solo act but triggered the untimely demise of his debut album, Internal Affairs, due to its unauthorized sample of soundtrack music from Godzilla. What Desire offers instead is at times cerebral and at times depraved, but invariably provocative.


Slim Shady’s Best-Of Set Lets Mass Market Work in His Favor

Truth be told, Eminem needs the constraints of mass-market pop: the balance Dido brings to white-knuckle tales of dead girlfriends in trunks, how “Lose Yourself”‘s soaring escape from poverty humanizes the monster that would rape his mom. But it’s already well documented he’s the master of the loophole, so his commercial compromises on The Hits are offset by a seven-track Deluxe Edition CD—Stan’s Mixtape—where Marshall’s inner nut job goes gruesome on tracks with Biggie and (for the interminable “Shit on You”) D12. Unless you still lack “Renegade” with Jay-Z, forget the Deluxe and save four bucks.

Anyway, the three new songs on The Hits form a neat (OK, maybe too neat) X-ray of Eminem’s psyche. “Fack,” featuring several retarded verses about ass gerbils for giggly 12-year-olds everywhere, actually beats the tired misogyny of the Nate Dogg collaboration “Shake That.” And “When I’m Gone” is about Hailey and the price of fame and has dream sequences no less, but also details: Hailey putting boxes in front of the door to keep Dad home, for instance. One can only hope the death that keeps coming back in the chorus is the funeral for Em’s gangster shit.



Eminem’s bratty nihilism cracker-jacked the Warped Tour punk party, so why can’t bling-punx Good Charlotte gaffle hip-hop’s business acumen? There’s branding via ugly apparel (their Hot Topic–adored MADE clothing line), branding via shitty vanity label (GC’s DC Flag label has a roster as dubious as Shady’s. Think Hazen Street : D12 :: Lola Ray : Obie Trice), and self-reflecting lyrics that incriminate and contradict (the title track claims “idiots” say “money talks,” while “I Just Wanna Live” petitions for a punker’s right to floss). It’s as if P. Diddy curated The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle—deft appropriationists Good Charlotte cop punk sub-movements like they’re new Kanye beats: jerking pop-punk in 2000, bawling an emo mega-hit in 2002, and now sporting a swass new goth sheen (though more Invader Zim than Bauhaus).

The upsides to punk-as-product niche marketing: 400-pound-gorilla bands record whatever they want, and if these triple-platinum gorillas want to mix martial Britneybeat, “Lose Yourself” phenome babble, Pharrell faux-soprano, and “Can’t Knock the Hustle” strutting (like on the claustrophobic “I Wanna Live”), they can stick a feather in their new raven cuts and call it punkaroni. Good Charlotte have hooks for days and the fun, gloomy Life and Death sounds like a moody missing link between Fountains of Wayne and Thrice. The downside to punk-as-product niche marketing: an insulting retail campaign. Epic released two versions, each with a different lame bonus track that not only sounds tacked on, but is tacked on. The Hot Topic wrist cuff crowd wants to blow allowance scrilla on its fave rave—but an essentially identical copy of the same record ain’t exactly a Partridge Fam lunch box. There’s even a third version sold exclusively at Target, featuring a live track of “The Anthem.” Good Charlotte spit on overblown celebrities with words, and spit on independent retail in deeds. They got mansions. Think we should rob them?