Category Archives: Hip-Hop

“31, Numb, but the Hurt is Gone…”

Friends,

I’m 31.

31 stony grey steps toward the grave if I’m looking to be poetic and needlessly morose.

It’s certainly been a full 31 years, but even in light of everything I have experienced thus far, I feel in some ways like I am just getting started.

Not at life, mind you, but at living.

This is gonna be a big year for me. How do I know?

Well because it has to be. I can’t keep on the way I have been thus far or I will keep getting what I have always gotten.

And I’m bored of that.

2015 was a big year for me. Monster was my operative word. It was my theme for the year if you will. It was on my tongue for everything I wanted to do career-wise.

And, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy: It was my biggest year in film (such as it was), and certainly I could have kept said momentum up and kept growing, albeit in a linear fashion.

But that didn’t seem righteous to me. Essentially, there were other areas of my life I had been neglecting during my entertainment pursuits, most notably my aspirations as an adventurer, and to keep on the same way I had been would have been to repress those longings.

So I donned the sombrero and poncho of el peregrino and made my first foray into Latin America where I partook in ayahuasca and shot a film. This satisfied my longing for adventure while reassuring me that I wasn’t losing too much professional momentum. I got two birds stoned at once as it were.

But now I’m back home. Back for over two months actually, and I stand at a bit of a crossroads: Where do I go from here? I could go back into that linear progression but it doesn’t feel righteous; that is to say I don’t find myself pulled in that direction. After all, do I really wanna spend the rest of my life only telling other people’s stories? No, mine must be the priority.

I feel on a very deep level that to keep pursuing the same things, the same way in the same place is to do myself a disservice and squander my potential while ignoring my passions.

If the theme of 2015 was Monster, the theme for 2016 is Evolve. I have known this…felt this, since mid-2015. I’ve recognized this need for a quantum-shift for that long.

So how do I plan on evolving?

Well, I am precipitating said evolution assymetrically and on many fronts simultaneously, developing existing aptitudes and even trying my hand at new endeavours not strictly film or even adventure related. That’s a big step for me.

So what are some of my approaches?

Well, there is another adventure documentary in the works which will be my greatest undertaking yet. I can’t speak too definitively about it right now simply because I’m not producing/organizing it (which is kind of a relief), but if it doesn’t get deferred until 2017, it will begin this October. Stay tuned for that.

But, I’m kinda sorta almost hoping it does get deferred until next year because my back-up plan is pretty damn sweet too. I’ve started making some inquiries about this one but I can’t start making arrangements until my new passport comes in over the next couple weeks…

On the home front I am starting a collective which at this moment I am simply calling ACCESS. It will be a first furtive step in the direction of embodying a set of values important to me and my partners in the project, values such as sustainability, abundance, collaboration and skill-development to name a few. We are still selecting the property we wish to purchase for this endeavour, and there is a strict set of criteria it must meet, but I am confident we can have that portion of it sorted out before any departure I may be inclined undertake in the fall. This will be a long-term project that will grow and develop as my partners and I do, and I’m excited to begin living values that I have thus far just been discussing.

With regard to strictly creative endeavours, I’ve done something I’ve been meaning to for some time now which  is to lay down vocals for a hip-hop track. Director and Rapper, Matthew Luppino is producing it and it should be out over the next few weeks. I love rhyming and playing with words and so this is a long-overdue step. I want to challenge myself to write a few tracks a year as a way of harnessing this skill. I’m nice at writing bars. Now the world will see this.

Film-wise, I haven’t been applying for auditions but I have kept busy enough through referrals and the like, and for about a month of my time home I was pretty goddamn busy doing stunts on Blood & Fury: America’s Civil War. This latter was actually really important because it gave me that feeling of still being in the game which is so useful for combating feelings of idleness during this period of reflection.. But the whole time I’ve meditated constantly upon how to evolve. A seemingly obvious step would be to finally look into getting an agent but I’m not 100% sold on that…yet. I think there are other ways in which I can transcend where I’m at before I allow that influence into my life.

Finally I am going back out to comedy shows after a lengthy hiatus. This time however I am more aware of how I present myself on stage and going to try new means of delivering my ideas which will hopefully add to their efficacy.

Like I said earlier, I’m 31. I am LITERALLY in the prime of my life when all factors are taken into consideration. True, my body may have some wear and tear (I was in the army for 10 years), but that is mitigated by eating well and keeping fit. And really, from a physical fitness perspective, I’m still easily in the upper 20th percentile of North American men my age. But even if I wasn’t that lack would be offset by the fact that I’m smarter, wiser, more focused, more established and freer than I’ve ever been. I am at a singular moment in my life where I can do ANYTHING. So it’s very important that I don’t squander this time with vain pursuits because I will never be able to achieve like I can achieve now.

Evolve.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Hall of Otis

Friends,

One of my favourite songs from recent years is the Jay-Z and Kanye collaboration “Otis” from the joint album, Watch the Throne. In short, the song is disgusting with almost universally positive reviews.* But you know how it go: you do something that works and everyone imitates it. In fact, there has been a falsehood perpetuated over the last few years in hip-hop that success can be measured as proportionate to level of hatred one receives, but the truth is more intuitive: success is directly proportionate to how many people jock, dick-ride, emulate and straight-up copy you. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” after all. And imitators there have been, all taking the song’s slick beat and dropping tight lyrics about their own exploits. Four such imitators are noteworthy enough to me to warrant mention and I want to rate them and see how they stack up against the original.
So first, the original…

1. Otis by Jay-Z and Kanye West
Best Lines: ” I guess I got my swagger back.”
“Sophisticated ignorance, write my curses in cursive.”
“Everything’s for sale; I got five passports, I’m never goin to jail.”
“Build your fences, we diggin’ tunnls,” etc… (near every line in the song is a best line)
Worst Lines: N/A

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   Fuck, what can I say about this song that hasn’t already been said about a finger in your ass while getting a blowjob? Amazing! The wordplay is playful, clever and tight and it’s an unapologetic celebration of everything that’s wrong with the world. In fact, the only legit criticism I have ever heard levied at this song came from my friend, Adriana who lamented that the homage to excess, vice and privilege was completely un-ironic and thus an unwitting display of aberrant values. For this view I have some sympathy, but only to a point because my appreciation of the song is more contingent on what it meant to me and not what it meant to Jay and Ye.
This song is gonna serve as the control, if I may be so bold as to potentially misuse scientific language for the purposes of a “for fun” blog post. Gonna rate it on the scientifically-approved scale of 10.

Rating: 10/10

Now for the challengers…

2. Otis (Remix) by Busta Rhymes & DMX
Best Lines: “”Two niggaz reppin’ the ‘R’ -X and X!!”
“Don’t worry bout what condition I’m in, you cats can’t survive half the places I been.”
Anytime DMX growls like a dog.
Worst Lines: “DON’T. TALK. BACK. When your father’s talkin’ to you!”

Busta-Rhymes-DMX-OTIS-REMIX

   This version fucks with me. At the outset I thought to myself, “OH NOES, poor Kanye and Jay are gonna get murdered on their own track.” It was a reasonable assumption; on top of the fact that neither Busta or DMX are slouches on the mic, both have achieved mainstream success and arguably even icon status throughout their careers. And, in the case of DMX, everyone loves a comeback. But somehow this version…fails to deliver, and I’m not even 100% sure why. Even the wack rhymes aren’t that bad.
Some observations though: DMX is definitely the stronger MC on the track but that has less to do with him being “better” than Busta in any absolute sense. Rather, I think it has more to do with the fact that Busta seems to be gearing his delivery to sound more like DMX, menacing and violent. Don’t get me wrong, Busta can be legitimately threatening, but nobody does it like DMX and when you are going back and forth with him on a track it only accentuates how much better he is than you at it. I would have preferred Busta to deliver his rhymes in his more rapid, staccato style with heavily accentuated breaks followed by near-immediate, seamless re-immersion into rapid, staccato delivery (See What’s Happenin’, Fire, Thank-You, etc.).
Also, I don’t like the heavy use of sound effects on the track. I’m not saying it’s bad but it just doesn’t appeal to me personally.

Rating: 8/10

3. Otis Freestyle by Cassidy feat. Jag
Best Lines: “Scream at me if you need the trees, or the ‘white bitch’ (COCAINE) -I work the morning and the night shift.”
“In Philly I’m a willy/wheelie like a bike trick,”
“I’m from a ‘get shot in the face’ hood,”
Larsiny we in this bitch now -niggas need to leave, apply pressure to a nigga neck -he don’t need to breathe,” etc..
Worst Lines: N/A

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   Straight-up: this version is ill and it probably comes the closest to eclipsing the Jay/Kanye original. Why? Well it’s a solid track with no wack rhymes for one. And while I think Cassidy clearly shines brighter than Jag, the latter is no slouch either. Rather his more subtly delivered punchlines serve to compliment and offset Cassidy’s often crude hilarity. The two have a definite rapport which I where I think they outdo Kanye and Jay, as their back and forth is seamless like Ghostface and Raekwon. For the uninitiated, that’s lofty praise.
On a separate note, I have become something of a fan of Cassidy in recent years, and that’s in spite of the fact that my tastes in music have changed and matured. While I listen to less and less music promoting criminality and violence I can’t help but smile when I hear Cass’ well-wrought punchlines about cooking up dope, killing people, etc. And it’s that same cleverness which really elevates this track.
The sad reality is that because neither Cassidy or Jag have the profile and stardom of Jay and Kanye, this track never got the exposure it deserved outside of the internet. Still from a technical perspective, it’s pretty unfuckwithable.

Rating: 9.5/10

4. Otis Freestyle by Justin Bieber
Best Lines: “Pull up on my enemies, see if they remember me, soon as they remember me, I wipe away they memory.”
“Ridin’ in a all-black Benz, with the all-black rims, and we lookin at some 10s through our all-black lenses.”
“Get it done abundantly, she wants to get up under me, I swear that I got hundred these cause baby I’m a money tree, so be my little honey, be my little bitty bunny, I got honeys all up on me -baby I just get it dunny.”
Worst Lines: “Started playin’ drums when I was only 2, now I kick it in Japan -Kung Fu!”
“I thanked Jesus at the awards, I’m never goin to hell, call me Zack Morris I’m savin ya by the bell.”
“My girls says I’m perfect … I think she is perfectly perfectly perfect.”

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   There is so much right with this version that it’s a damn shame some of the lyrics are so wack. Out of all the challengers, JB is in the best position to cut a track in the same spirit of opulence, stardom and fabulous wealth as the original. And so he does, even quoting Kanye’s line, “Can’t you see the private jets flying over you?” But the problems are of a more technical nature: Pubescent white-boy delivery notwithstanding, Justin seems to be good at emulating great rap but his verses and delivery seem a bit robotic and overly MCish. He tries to cram too many multi-syllabic words in as a seeming cover for not feeling comfortable enough in his own rhyming skin to just flow on the track.  Overall, this version has a a “Hey, look what I can do” vibe rather than the “Shut-up and listen while I break it down for you real quick” vibe I would prefer and which would be better suited to the tone he is aiming for.
I love this version and I respect his effort, but I think JB needs to spend more time developing his rap voice to the level of his singing voice before he can be a serious contender in the rap game.

Rating: 7/10

5. Otis (Remix) by Papoose
Best Lines: “Actin like you fly -STOP, Imma tell you like they told Joe Pesci, go get your motherfuckin’ shinebox!”
“There’s no tomorrow, throw a hollow, all the haters know the motto, cop a mother-lode of bottles, tell the waiter hold the sparkles…”
“You fickle, you couldn’t hustle a nickel out a dimespot.”
“I serve my beef with shells like a fuckin’ taco.”
“Make my Bed in the Stuy -I sleep in y’all streets.”
Worst Lines: “I live in a condo big as Kilimanjaro.”
“I don’t even know the vowels, I-O-U,  gener-AL like Colin Powell,”

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   Once again, so much right with this track that it pains me to see so many missteps. From a technical perspective, this is the kind of delivery Bieber should be aspiring to right now, but from Papoose, a seasoned MC known for lyricism, I think he coulda done better. Like JB, there is way too many instances of ostentatious muli-syllabic rhymes which just seem extraneous. And while there are some great punchlines (I absolutely love the Joe Pesci/Goodfellas reference) on the whole it wasn’t consistently amusing enough like Cassidy’s raps to take me forget that he’s rapping a lot of negative, crime-related shit.
I will give Pap credit though, he does wax conscious in certain parts, like when he tells young girls, “You don’t need implants to get your body all stern, if you just eat right your ass will be more firm.” Actually he spends a few consecutive bars toward the end of the track trying to “teach the younger generation,” going so far as to lament that young black girls, possibly taught to be ashamed of their blackness, seek perms to achieve a more white aesthetic. That’s my interpretation anyways, but I gotta give him props because he shows real honesty and pretty skillfully walks the line between conscious and preachy.
   One more similarity between this version and the JB version is that it’s a solo track. While I’m not necessarily against that, I don’t think it’s any accident that the two highest-ranking versions of the song I have here are duets. It’s a BIG beat and if you’re gonna attack it solo you gotta bring it.

Rating: 8/10

   I hope you enjoyed my critique of these tracks and that it has instilled a similar appreciation of the original song and all of its spin-offs in you.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

*By “universal” I simply mean that I hadn’t seen a single bad review of it in my thorough and exhaustive search on google where I didn’t look past the first page.

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Top 6 “Fuck You; I’m Fly Now” Lyrics

Friends,

What’s the point of becoming rich & famous if you can’t rub it in the faces of everyone who ever bullied you, was mean to you, punked you or ignored you? Well, the following rappers seem to agree with that sentiment and gave these former tormentors a shout-out.
Here are some of my faves.

“Dear teacher, you’re probably somewhere near a speaker,
I’m ballin’ outta control, do you hear my sneakers?
FUCK Y’ALL!”
Artist: Jay-Z
Song: So Ambitious feat. Pharrell

“And any chick that didn’t blow Doc?
I NEVER KNEW YA!”
Artist: Redman
Song: Da Da DaHHH

“What’d you say your name was again?…and I know you from where?
Elementary School?
I DON’T KNOW YOU, MAAAANNN!
Money, not you again…go that way.
LOSER!”
Artist: Big Pun
Song: It’s So Hard

“I know something you don’t know, and I got something to tell ya:
You won’t believe how many people straight doubted the flow; most said that I was a failure.
But now the same motherfuckas askin’ me for dough,
And I’m yellin’, ‘I CAN’T HEAR YA!’
‘Yo, Nelly can we get tickets to your next show?’ -HELL NO
YOU FOR REAL?”
Artist: Nelly
Song: Ride Wit Me

“I was a freshman, in other words, a new jack!
When you mentioned Big L, brothas was like, ‘who’s that?’
Then I made a master plan, now I got a batch of fans,
So when you mention my name now, ‘OH THAT’S MY MAN!’ ‘
Artist: Big L
Song: School Days

“Yeah, this album is dedicated
To all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothing
To all the people that lived above the buildings that I was hustling in front of
That called the police on me
When I was just trying to make some money to feed my daughter
And all the niggas in the struggle
You know what I’m saying
It’s all good baby baby”
Artist: The Notorious B.I.G.
Song: Juicy

There are many others, perhaps enough to warrant a part 2 in the future, but that’s all for now.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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My Top 9 Rap Lyrics

Friends,
This post has been a long time coming.  As something of a hip-hop fan I have latched onto many lyrics over the years which I feel neatly encapsulate my own experiences.  They don’t have to be standout lines, or famous rhymes, but they are the ones which make the listener feel like he and the artist are in on the same joke that nobody else gets.  Here are my proverbial inside jokes with a smattering of rappers.

***

“Aint no right or wrong in this game called survive”
Song: Keep Your Hands High ft. The Notorious B.I.G.
Arist: Tracey Lee

Tracey-Lee-black-enterprise

You might have missed this song when it came out.  More likely you are familiar with Jay-Z’s recycling of parts of it on his song “What More Can I Say?” from 2003’s The Black Album.  (Or, if you’re only the most casual of fans you likely heard T.I. sample from “What More Can I Say?” for his 2004 hit, “Bring ’em Out“)
In any event, the line dispels the notion of the duality of right & wrong, or more to the point, good and evil.  These qualities are powerful myths which serve as expedient yet detrimental explanations for human behaviour. They don’t paint a true picture of why people (criminals in this case) do things.  What Tray-Lee is really saying here is that people in the game don’t do dirt because they’re evil; they do it out of necessity.  All of that murder, exploitation, theft and corruption, it’s all a natural outgrowth of the struggle for survival.

***

“And God made dirt, so this dirt won’t hurt.”
Song: Shook Ones: Part One (by: Mobb Deep)
Artist: Prodigy

Prodigy-Mobb-Deep-Tattoo-psd21618

Obviously this is closely related to the last entry but it deserves mention because of the almost throw-away manner in which it is uttered. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it type line which bears more truth than perhaps any other part of the song.  It also addresses the fallacy that certain behaviours are “unnatural” in any absolute sense; all behaviours are reinforced by the environment which the organism creates for itself.  It’s like Omar says in The Wire, “All in the game, yo…”

***

“We all gon’ die, we bleed through similar veins.”
Song: Thug Luv (by: Bone Thugz n’ Harmony)
Artist: 2-Pac

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2-Pac really spells out the unity and sameness of all human beings here in spite of the fact that he seems to be making a threat.  Still, there is profound existential awareness in his imagery; we all do, in fact, bleed through similar veins and if this shared mortality and vulnerability can’t bring us together, then what can?

***

“Ran through what we scared of; what was we afraid for?
Song: Awnaw (by: Nappy Roots)
Artist: Big V

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I love this line because it is a an expression of that feeling you get after going through adversity. It’s like, everything you haven’t done yet seems scary and impossible, while everything you have done seems not only do-able, but rather common and passe.  When it comes to the plausibility and possibility of any given endeavour, the biggest factor in determining your confidence is whether you have already done it or not.  That’s it.  So go out and do things. Then, doing more things will only seem more do-able.

***

“See things how they are, and not how you like ’em to be”
Song: Mistakes
Artist: Immortal Technique

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Who among us hasn’t told themselves a comforting lie at some point in their lives. I’ve been awake for five hours and I have probably already told myself ten.  But Tech is saying that wish-thinking, delusion, and all other forms of self-deception will only keep you in the invisible prison of ego because you are actually only lying to protect your ego.  The true self doesn’t need comfort, it doesn’t bruise and it wants the truth that will make the ego writhe and squirm.  Feed the ‘self’ with truth, and starve the ego of lies.

***

“Can I walk a righteous path holding a beer?”
Song: Resurrection (Large Pro Remix)
Artist: Common

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This is a big one for me. After all, I know there are things/vices I shouldn’t be doing as they serve as barriers for personal growth…but they’re so much fun.  Nobody seems more aware of this than Common, who, at this point in his career, was also probably puffing a blunt and grabbing an ass.  But does that mean he’s a bad dude?  Some would say ‘yes.’  I would say again what I said earlier, that good and bad are just myths. Still, every time I cloud my ability to think with a chemical I can’t help but think that perhaps I am mistreating my biological hardware.

***

“What you eat don’t make me shit.”
Song: Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)
Artist: Jay-Z

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If you’ve ever worked in a job, a blue-collar one especially, you have probably had co-workers complain about how much/little work someone else is doing.  The irony is that their bitching is almost certainly taking up paid time that they should be using to work.  I get it if someone’s performance is directly making yours more difficult; definitely solve the problem at the lowest level possible without making too much of a stink about it.  However, live and let live; you don’t have to be the police for your co-workers, and by extension other human beings.  Don’t feel the need to expose someone who is getting to the same place you’re getting by taking a different route that isn’t hurting anyone. That’s hater bullshit.

***

“When I catch up to these fiends, Imma knock ’em on they ass.”
Song: Can I Live? II (by: Jay-Z)
Artist: Memphis Bleek

Memphis+Bleek

You gotta approach this world knowing (not thinking) that you’re already a star but that nobody knows it but you.  Bleek gets it, even if noone else does.  And while you could make the argument that he still hasn’t caught up with these “fiends” (read: mainstream superstardom) he is still certain that he would “knock them on their asses” (read: blow them away with his lyricism) if he did.  Prove him wrong!

***

“Too bad you couldn’t do good at marriage!”
Song: Renegades (by: Jay-Z)
Artist: Eminem

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Oh man, this song and this line specifically resonated with me like crazy when I was a teenager.  It seemed like my parents were only too willing to point out my shortcomings and failings when they were fucking up left, right and center.  Eminem cut through this bullshit in a way that struck a chord with white, teenage boys in step-families in the early 2000’s; we knew things were fucked up and that the idyllic veneer of perfection and tranquility that coated our suburban world was simply that, a veneer.  We saw the cracks, the flaws, the violence, and the fights behind closed doors, and then the smiles which were plastered over faces when there was company over.  We knew the truth and Em let us know we weren’t alone.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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