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Reasonably Doubting Illmatic



Nas vs Jay-Z

Many moons ago, my compadres and I would envision our favorite Hollywood, sports, and television heroes engaged in all sorts of mortal combat scenarios (finish him). Godzilla vs. King Kong, Freddy vs. Jason, Dr. J vs. MJ, Pam Grier vs. Halle Berry, etc . . . Any cultural icon at the height of notoriety would be eventually sentenced to a Celebrity Death Match (we never got royalties btw). Who imagined these epic struggles would one day materialize, let alone resolve our fabricated logistical inconsistencies? Inconsistencies such as how could Freddy Kruger possibly fight Jason Voorhees when Jason is deceased and last I checked, the dead suffered from a terrible affliction called “Death”, rendering rapid eye movement (REM) improbable? Our unsolved but phenomenally superior plot lines were immortalized and revered for years, that is until Gen X’ers garnered influence in Hollywood’s boardroom. All those “What if” scenarios debated in many a schoolyard began to actualize. The strobe light was turned off and we were granted the misfortune of viewing these cinematic robeasts first hand (yes, Voltron.) Not only did these attempts seldom live up to the hype machine that is “Childhood Imagination”, they lacked the possibility of ever actually occurring. Enter Sean Corey Carter p.k.a. Jay-Z & Nasir Jones p.k.a Nas.

For the unfamiliar, there had been underlying grumblings for years surrounding which of these two hip-hop artists was more adept as it related to lyrical skill, album sales, oozing machismo, swagger, street credibility, and basically all activities comprising a pissing contest. The drama finally culminated in a series of songs (“Takeover” for Jay-Z and “Ether” for Nas) that would allegedly determine an undisputed representative of the hip-hop delegation. Not since Ali / Frazier has there been such clamoring for one black man to whoop another black man’s ass! According to popular consensus aka “da streets”, Nas would emerge the heavily contended victor of said verbal joustmanship. Some argue that Nas’s victory was attributed solely to his ability to withstand and rebut the acrimony spewed on Jay’s offering, but then again, those presenting that argument are most likely Jay fans. There remains evidence however that although Jay stumbled, he may have retained the self professed, interim, “King of the Hill” position left vacant by his predecessor Biggie Smalls, left vacant by his predecessor Big Daddy Kane, left vacant by his predecessor Rakim da God Allah. It’s all muddy waters and extremely super ugly.

All hip-hop aficionados have undoubtedly forged allegiances to either Nas or Jay -Z at this juncture. My intent today is not to sway anyone’s preference, for I have eternally aligned myself with Jay and will not undulate (if Nas would’ve just used the track, maybe things would be different.) I am merely here to inform you that you may be ingesting hallucinogens if you believe Esco can hold a scented candle to Hov’s catalog. Come on now. Brooklyn, please brush your shoulders off and stand up (and do some jumping jacks too Brooklyn, you’re looking kinda chubby these days)! Do not be alarmed Queens (I share dual citizenship with Queens – so I am torn) for Nas may have a shot in the near future, and I mean this, man!

Most Nas fans are lyric junkies and will readily present Nas’s magnum opus, Illmatic, as living testament to his supremacy. As lyrically gifted as Nas is (and he is in fact, a monster), Illmatic is only one album and we are not judging on lyrical content alone. If Emcee or “MC” truly means move the crowd, then Jay-Z is the consummate MC’s Emcee, while Nas leaves the dance floor scene empty (I rap on weekends). Jay also has a more comprehensive catalog. Lyrical merit gets you but so far. It may be fundamentally sound but it can also be fundamentally boring. This is why we hate Duke Basketball. This is why we hate the San Antonio Spurs. If technical merit were the only requisite for entertainers then we would all have on Diana Turasi basketball jerseys. Who? Exactly.

On several albums, Nas was left screaming, “Are you not entertained?” amidst a deafeningly silent audience (and some Queensbridge crickets). Even with all that lyrical potency, delivery has always been of equal relevance in any oratory profession. To further illustrate this point, whose speech would you rather listen to, Ben Stein or Barack Obama (And I love voodoo economics)? Nas has gotten very adept however at presenting comprehensive albums as of late (Hip Hop is Dead, Untitled, Life is Good), which is why I say he still may have a shot. Seems he does better when he has a Main Idea (yes, Weekly Reader).

Although a fan, I approach Nas and Jay’s lyrics from a self-proclaimed producer’s point of view (this is after all hip hop, it is all self proclaimed.) Lyrics absolutely matter but staunch attention must also be levied to iambic pentameter, inflection, cadence, algorithmic composition, syncopation and a slew of other words you didn’t think a producer could spell. As I was remixing Jay’s “99 Problems” for my own amusement (jeez, get a hobby), it dawned on me that one of the reasons I am such a fan is because Jay makes my tracks sound like the shiznit, @ least to me.


Janita – Three Songs She’d Love to Have Written



Janita’s newest album Here Be Dragons is another in a progression of finely crafted hymns for the empowered. Whether by love, as in the silky “I Do,” or by subverting expectations, in the Beatlesesque “Not What You’re Used To,” Janita draws on lessons learned during a positively unique career that spans decades and continents. We caught up with Janita on the heels of her latest single “When It’s All Up To You” to find out three songs she’d love to have written.

Elliott Smith — “L.A.” 

This is one of my favorite songs by Elliott Smith. I listened to the full album Figure 8 a lot while I was writing the songs on my new album, and it was a huge influence on me both melodically and lyrically. This song in particular has also informed some of the production choices we made later, like the heavier guitars you hear on my song “Not What You’re Used To.”

“L.A.” is incredibly melodic, but there’s an elusive, haunting quality to it. It feels like you’re always trying to reach it, catch up to it somehow. The backing vocals accentuate that feeling. In my mind, the song paints such a vivid picture of the ephemeral, fickle nature of L.A., and the similarly transient nature of the main character. Elliott Smith himself? I don’t know exactly how he does (did) it, but I’m certainly in awe of it.

Radiohead — “There There”

So hypnotic. So badass. Could the production possibly be any cooler? The melody is intricate and beautiful, and I can relate to the lyric from every which angle: as the singer, as the one being sung to, and whether in love relationships, friendships, or with total strangers. The subject matter simply comes up in life in so many ways all the time… I recently tried to express similar notions as I was writing a song, only to remember that it was already done here perfectly. Goddammit.

Punch Brothers — “Julep”

This song is simply magical to me. It’s made me bawl my eyes out at a Punch Brothers concert two separate times. It’s like that viral video that was circulating some years ago of a baby moved to tears when her mom sings a sad tune. I’m that baby when it comes to this song. It simply hits some sort of primal button in me and keeps pressing it until the very end.

While you’re at it, check out Janita’s video for “Digging in the Dirt,” a funky and faithful rendition of the Peter Gabriel classic.

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New Music – Bachelor



Jay Som’s Melina Duterte and Palehound’s Ellen Kempner join forces as Bachelor – a musical powerhouse whose new record Doomin’ Sun drops May 28th on Polyvinyl.

Kemper and Duterter recorded the album during two weeks of mutual appreciation in California. Three visceral singles have been released in the lead-up, including the Pixies-flavored “Stay in the Car” and the sprawling “Anything At All.”

Bachelor has also announced the Doomin’ Sun Fest, a one-day livestream featuring Tegan & Sara, Courtney Barnett, Adrianne Lenker, Jeff Tweedy, Japanese Breakfast, Julien Baker, and more.

Doomin Sun Fest

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Self-Serving Interview with Electronic Device Does Little to Advance Musician’s Career



Two men that look suspiciously alike meet outside a fictitious Brooklyn hot-spot – six feet apart.

MC Krispy E: Very nice to meet you. (squints) Have we met before?

Electronic Device: Maybe?

MC Krispy E: Is the rest of the band joining us?

Electronic Device: (pause) I am the rest of the band.

MC Krispy E: You are Electronic Device? What’s that about?

Electronic Device: Uhm, yeah, it’s like a pen name. You know what that is, right?

MC Krispy E: I have some idea.

Electronic Device: It was actually the name of one of my dad’s companies back in the day before…

MC Krispy E: (looking at his watch) Wonderful. So… it says here you have a new single called “All Things Come to an End” inspired by the death of your brother.

Electronic Device: Yeah, after my brother died I recorded songs as a form of therapy in his old bedroom in Staten Island.

MC Krispy E: And now I read that you have cancer. Am I supposed to feel extra sorry for you?

Electronic Device: Uhm…

MC Krispy E: It sounds like this album is going to be super depressing.

Electronic Device: It’s not, I swear. I was looking for some happiness while recording these songs, there’s not much of an agenda beyond that.

MC Krispy E: What kind of music is it?

Electronic Device: I wasn’t really thinking about influences while recording, but listening back I hear some Concrete Blonde, some Cracker.

MC Krispy: So bands no one is interested in?

Electronic Device: What the hell, man?

MC Krispy: Sorry, it’s almost like I can’t help it.  What’s the single about?

Electronic Device: I hate saying what a song is about because everything is up for interpretation.

MC Krispy E: Humor us.

Electronic Device: I can say that “All Things Come to an End” has multiple narrators, some of which are unreliable.

MC Krispy E: (stares)

Electronic Device: And that one day I was at my Dad’s house and when I turned the corner into the hallway my Dad thought I was my brother for a moment, which was super sad because of course I couldn’t be.

MC Krispy E: And then you wrote a whole song about that.

Electronic Device: I guess so. When you put it that way…

MC Krispy E: (yawning) Tell us when the single come out.

Electronic Device: The single is out now. The album comes out in 2021.

MC Krispy E: Well, good for you. And good luck with that cancer thing.

Electronic Device: Yeah, you too.

MC Krispy E: Thanks. What?

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