Monday, December 11, 2006

Jim Jones Review

First off, this blog is still NBA-related. Because of some appointments regarding my professional future, I was incommunicado for about two weeks and didn't keep up with The League to the extent a blogger of my status should. (You may have noticed.)

The good news is that I have several basketball columns on the horizon: a first quarter report on Bron, Melo, and Flash; a Man on the Street piece about the Hornets game I'm attending tomorrow; and an exhaustive analysis of the past and future of Slamball.

The bad news; that is, if you don't like my hip-hop writing, is this month is chock full of the biggest rap releases, and I'm planning year-end best of lists. So chili. As for now, I submit a review of a little title known as...

Hip-hop exists in two different universes: the real one and the self-important one it has created for itself.

The real world: So far, T.I.'s King is the only hip-hop album on this year's top twenty list in sales. Furthermore, much has been made of no rap acts being nominated in the major categories of the Grammys--and those two facts are probably intrinsically linked. The general public is better acquainted with a hype man whose most important work is fifteen years old than many legends of the genre. No matter how much I enjoy a work of rap, half of the country will refuse to listen to it on general principle.

Rap's make-believe world: All rappers are rich and play a central role in the future of music. They are part of a legacy that is stronger than ever, and the corporate world is their playground. Their influence on the future of not only youth culture, but culture at-large, is nonpareil. They are being true to themselves and where they came from. Popular culture steals everything cool from them but gives them no credit for the many positive things they accomplish.

More than any other group or entity, the Harlem-based collective of the Diplomats embody the chasm between the real world and R.M.B.W. Their talk of spearheading a Movement, of making millions, and of having untold influence on The Kids could not be further from the truth. Suffice it to say that your mom has no idea who they are. It's not as if you have to go platinum to make a difference--Velvet Underground are still inching towards gold. But the Velvet Underground never claimed to drive Ferraris.

And Lou Reed never looked like this.

It's no secret that I'm a Dipset stan, and that hubris is part of what attracts me. Besides the nursery rhyme choruses, the off-center references, the virulent homophobia, and the bizarre samples (Jefferson Starship? "The Facts of Life Theme"?), there is a sense that the Diplomats interact with each other in their own world, that world being the R.M.B.W. Jim Jones, a/k/a Jimmy Blanco, a/k/a Capo, a/k/a Dirt Angel, is the co-founder of the label and group and, thus, the progenitor of that notion.

That being said, he has mostly perpetuated the Movement from behind the scenes as C.E.O., as A&R rep for Warner Music (Don't people rap so that they don't have to get real jobs? What's with this?), and as cheerleader for the squad. For the past few years though, he has assumed the role of Rapper Who Can't Rap.

The place of Rapper Who Can't Rap has always fascinated me. Would this work in any other profession? Let's say, God forbid, you and your spouse are getting a divorce. On one hand, you can hire an attorney with a good record and knowledge of the system. Maybe his office isn't that great-looking, maybe he doesn't have flashy business cards, but he's obviously a solid attorney. On the other hand, you have a dude who knows nothing about the law but has a TV commercial in which he rips up checks. Is there any time you wouldn't pick the first lawyer? If you look at it from that angle, the way people spend money is pretty foolish. I have trouble figuring out how much more info my readers need about rappers' backgrounds, so I guess this video is all you have to know. Before I get into analyzing this record in particular, keep in mind that this is a gentleman who said on national TV, "Getting as much money as you possibly can. Isn't that what life is about?"

Choosing a favorite Jim Jones video is like choosing a favorite child.

There are two reasons for Jones' newfound popularity and sales: 1) the relative weakness of the New York game and its need for someone to get behind, and 2) Jones' unpredictable ridiculousness. Chief in this second factor is his inescapable catchphrase of "BALLLLINNNNN!" It's the symbol of everything he stands for, and it's just fun to say. Based on that one catchphrase, people are actually excited about Jim Jones. And the thing is only getting bigger. We could see this on shirts at Dillard's in six months. It's making "show me the money" look like it never really caught on.


Now onto the album that Stylus calls "a bald-faced request for ten dollars." While it's probably the third best Christmas-themed rap album of all time, I can only really think of three.

Viewing it in context, a Diplomats member making a Christmas album is a no-brainer. Any artist making a Christmas CD is pretty much making a shameless plea to fans, but Christmas is the perfect opportunity to exert a philosophy of crass materialism. Who's better at that than a rap group that floods the market with mediocre material anyway?

(On that note, you'll never hear Jimmy babbling about some kind of hidden sensibility of "what Christmas is all about." He knows what it's about: buying expensive things to show people how rich you are. You could argue that with the "Xmas" he even deliberately divorces religious ceremony from the proceedings altogether. But that's giving Jim Jones a lot of credit.)

And making a mediocre Christmas CD, knowing that people like me will buy it for its absurdity anyway, is even more of a study of the indolent BALLLINNNN'! Jones represents. To play into a sense of responsibility to the community--he eloquently writes in the liner notes, "I wanted to make a Christmas album for kids in the 'hood and shit like that"--makes even more sense, considering his reliance upon the R.M.B.W.

This thing is ten songs long, with only five of them being Christmas-related and all of them featuring inferior Dip weed-carriers like Mel Matrix and Stack Bundles, so it would have been nice for Capo to have offered it as a download-only EP or a fan club release or something. But that charity and logic is so antithetical to his ethos that I would almost rather pay money for the album.

This seems to be the perfect analogy to show the Diplomats' place in the game. While Jay hobknobs with Donald Trump at Nets games, Cam'ron is chatting with the dude who played Arliss.

The first half of A Dipset Xmas is, as I mentioned, sort of made up of Christmas tunes. They're either vague celebrations of cheer, under-handed confessions of greed, and talk of "livin' fast and ballin' at Christmas time, " or they're memories of lesser holidays before Jones was rich. I think that's what he's saying at least. His way of being patently indescriptive, saying absolutely nothing memorable, could almost be construed as a talent.

Without warning, the second, non-Christmas half of the album picks up with the standard Dipset agenda. I learned the two following lessons:
1. People who are not hustling to get money have less worth, in an abstract sense, than rich people. If I had money, I would be a better person. Having money is fun.
2. I need to stop snitching, a point I agree with wholeheartedly. The centerpiece of our judicial system, testifying against wrongdoing, is fucking whack. Have you ever thought of this? Why should people be punished for breaking the law? Sounds like some Schopenhauer books are being passed around 140th and Lenox Ave.

"We Get Money," which has been bouncing around on mixtapes for over a year, is Jones' quintessential statement on snitchin'. It begins with him yelling, "Yeah, we back! A message to you rap-police: get off my dick--you smell me? You Axl Foley-ass niggas! Donnie Brascos! Jay Reid! Mike Loughry! You shouldn't want to be like these niggas! You fuckin' faggots, you snitches...dickheads! You smell me?" Then the chorus is sung to the theme of Beverly Hills Cop. Does this sound like something you would be interested in? By the way, "Mike Loughry" is the Will Smith character in Bad Boys, not the guy with whom I went to high school. Random reference either way.

The centerpiece of this second half is the "We Fly High Remix," featuring T.I., Diddy, Jermaine Dupri, Baby, and Young Dro (but strangely not Juelz, who has a verse in the superb video). It's one of the only moments of the record that lives up to its promise, with each guest riding the lugubrious synth line with blase charm.

Essential to Jones' style and the feeling you get from listening to A Dipset Xmas is his technique of ad-libbing after nearly every line, though I hate that term. They're more like interjections, since the inclusion of those line-caps is completely intentional and is as important to the overall verse as the line it summarizes or comments upon itself. On the first verse of "Wish List," he punctuates every single line with one of these interjections:

"When you're from the hood, Santa wasn't coming down the chimneys (nope)
Stressed from the sentence, all puffin' like a chimney (chiefin')
Only presents I got--a star pumpin' skinnies (the Knicks)
Beef start to come so I had to dump the semi (I'm fully loa-ded!)
But I was dreamin' of a white Christmas (it never came)
And the fiends, they was fiendin' for a white Christmas (I had the 'caine)
Gettin' green off the white sniffles (fa sho)
Just a team, live life ballistic, and get twisted (goons)
Only gift I got was a birth on this earth (I love you, ma)
And whippin' up enough pots on the first and the third (that ya-yo)
Just to get it on the block is even worse than the curse (pray for me)
One slip you get locked, even worse get a hearse (it's lookin' bad)
Is that the proper way to spend your holidays? (no)
Locked up downstate a hundred miles away (that's fucked up)
God forbid, six feet where the flowers lay (let the doves cry)
I'm tryin' to take trips down to where the dogs lay (Christmas)"

The way these interjections are constructed encapsulates what listening to a Jim Jones album feels like. Like salads with an all-you-can-eat entree, it feels as if you're getting something extra, but it's extra of something you don't really want in the first place. You're blessed and slighted at the same time. In that same way, A Dipset Xmas is both pretty awesome and absolutely terrabull. Jones is a clown prince, and isn't it sad that the state of hip-hop affairs is such that his non sequitur intros are enough to make him the King of New York?

Sad or not, it's true:

Jim Jones- "Wish List"
Jim Jones- "Dipset X-Mas Time"


nick r. said...

I think the rap laymen in the audience need a recommended-listening post sometime. Smell me?

Tank said...

The best of lists are coming, my friend. Or did you want some song downloads I have floating around?