Tag Archives: Kanye West

My Top 10 Albums of 2016

Hard to believe that another year has come and gone. I won’t beat around the bush, 2016 was a hard year for me (and the world at large) and I’m not sad to see it go. That said, there was some fantastic music released this year. I haven’t done a Top 10 Albums list since 2012, the biggest reason for that being I am super-lazy and didn’t make much of an effort to listen to stuff as it came out. But this year I made a real effort to listen to as many new releases as I possibly could and I also kept a running list of what I heard and what tickled my fancy.

Please keep in my that this is a music blog, first and foremost, so even though it’s called Defending Axl Rose I listen to many genres of music. Meaning: all you racists fucks that want to complain that I have rap albums on this list can just stop reading now. I can (and do) approve pretty much every non-spam comment I receive on this website, including all sorts of hateful comments attacking myself (or my shitty writing) but if you leave a comment bashing me for including non-rock artists on this list I’m going to delete it.

Lastly, I feel the need to address what’s not on this list. Specifically, the album everyone seems to think was “the best” album of 2016: David Bowie’s final album BLACKSTAR. Just before he died, I remember a creepy music video was released to promote the album. I recall vividly pushing play with eager anticipation. I silently prayed that the Thin White Duke still had it. Then the video started and…I wasn’t impressed. It’s just not my cup of tea if I’m being honest.  BLACKSTAR, which is described by many as “jazzy” is just too avant-garde to me. I tried as recently as last month to make it all the way through the album in order to “get it” and include it on this list…but I just couldn’t. Sorry, Bowie. I love the glam-rock era stuff, but I just couldn’t connect with this final effort. I will say that the album now sounds terribly sad now that he’s dead. The album is riddled with allusions to death and passing which does change the way BLACKSTAR plays.  He truly was writing about the end of his life on that record. Anyway, I know some of my music loving firends are going to comment “Where is BLACKSTAR?” and I just wanted to address that now rather than later.

So without further ado…

 

 

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10. TEENS OF DENIAL by Car Seat Headrest. I kept hearing good things about a band called Car Seat Headrest, so I checked out TEENS OF DENIAL and was surprised the album lived up to the hype. What really piqued my curiosity was the band’s use of The Cars track “Just What I Needed,” however by the time I got around to listening to the album the song “Not What I Needed” had been gutted of The Cars lyrics following a massive recall on the album. Turns out The Cars (or whoever owns the rights to their music) hadn’t approved the use of their music. Bummer. Anyway, this band has been around for a while (Wikipedia states this is the 13th album!?) but these guys sound young. TEENS OF DENIAL reminded me of the early 2000’s garage rock revival with a dash of Moldy Peaches Adam Green thrown in for good measure. These songs tell little stories and are kinda funny/strange at times. “Destroyed By Hippie Powers” has a great riff and the lyrical hook to the semi-epic “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” reminds me of all the great indie music I was listening to in my early 20’s. A throwback album for sure, TEENS OF DENIAL is a fun one that gets better with each listen. Definetly check this one out if you’re still listening to the Juno soundtrack.

 

 

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9. SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME by Against Me! Though I don’t typically go for aging punks there’s something very charming about Against Me!’s latest record SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME. Part of what I find so appealing about this record is its unrepentant pop leanings. (Because aging popstars are fun, aging punks are sad, get it?) Songs like “Boyfriend” and “Crash” are damn good fine pop songs, the kind that stick in your head for days and make you wonder what the hell is wrong with pop culture that these things didn’t break through. Though many of the songs deal with the lead singer’s transition from male to female (which, what could be more punk than being true to yourself?) there’s something universal in the album’s awkward and angry-ish songs. So while SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME does have flourishes of aging-punkism, there’s a lot more going on throughout the album. The spooky “Dead Rats” is also a bitchin’ tune that, in addition to “Crash,” is what convinced me that I liked this band and loved this album.

 

 

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8. GOOD TIMES! by The Monkees. What a delightful surprise that a 2016 Monkees album is actually really, really good! Growing up, I was a Beatles-fan and always considered The Monkees to be lame imitations. But the concept behind this record was too intriguing for me to pass up: the reunited band (minus the deceased Davy Jones) would record songs written by their famous admirers. Admirers like Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), Andy Partridge (XTC), Paul Weller (The Jam), and Noel Gallagher (Oasis). The album works both as a modern album and as an artifact of classic 60’s pop. What’s more, there are even moments of real honest-to-god greatness on this record, such as the tearjerker “Me & Magdalena.” I think of all the albums on this list, GOOD TIMES! is the one that many people will be the most skeptical of, but give it a fair shake. Believe me, this lifelong Beatles fan wouldn’t have this album on his Best of 2016 list unless this was a legit, great record.  Read my original review here.

 

 

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7. WILD STAB by The I Don’t Cares. A fun, playful meeting of minds between singer-songwriters Juliana Hatfield (The Lemonheads) and Paul Westerberg (The Replacements) WILD STAB is great. I’m a big fan of Westerberg’s wryly earnest lyrics and WILD STAB has Westerberg playing off of the charming Hatfield quite nicely. In fact, the two go together so well one can’t help but wonder if songs like “Kissing Break” are even more intimate that they appear on the surface. Regardless of whether or not our two leads are an item, as The I Don’t Cares they make a great team. After Westerberg disbanded The Replacements (again) I didn’t expect to hear from him so soon. Thankfully, this stripped-down/laid-back album is the perfect capper to the ‘Mats reunion tour. The playful lyrics of songs like “Wear Me Out Loud” and “Sorry For Tomorrow Night” reminded me of how great a songwriter Westerberg can be. The single “King of America” is a fantastic example of classic-Westerbergian writing. The shimmering lyrical hook blended with the sneering, almost dashed-off disdain in the vocal delivery is everything I love about Paul Westerberg. I was so happy that this album came out, though it doesn’t appear to have made much of an impact, I could only find a few reviews of it online when researching WILD STAB in order to confirm it’s 2016 release date. Don’t sleep on this one, especially if you like The Replacements.

 

 

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6. COLORING BOOK by Chance The Rapper. A fusion of rap, pop, and gospel music, Chance The Rapper’s COLORING BOOK shares many similarities with another high-profile rap album released in 2016, Kanye West’s THE LIFE OF PABLO. But whereas Mr. West’s album is littered with the debris of hubris and unchecked ego, Chance’s album is more playful and has 99% less cringe-inducing moments. There are many parallels between the two albums, the opening “All We Got” (which features Kanye) is reminiscent of “Ultralight Beam” off LIFE OF PABLO. Both albums have a song about the transient nature of friendship (“Real Friends” vs. “Summer Friends”). But Chance’s song “No Problem” is the fun summer-jam  2005 Kanye used to make. In fact, despite tackling some heavy subjects (“Same Drugs”), COLORING BOOK is vibrant and makes you feel good as you listen. Had COLORING BOOK not been released the same year as Kanye’s latest opus, I can safely say it would have been my favorite rap album of the year. Hopefully, he’ll get that Grammy.

 

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5. iii by Middle Class Fashion. While not yet household names, Middle Class Fashion earned a spot on my Best Albums of 2016 by crafting clever, catchy songs. The band’s third album is a little darker than their previous effort, 2013’s JUNGLE (which is also fantastic), but still just as engaging and fun. These are songs that you’re almost instantly able to sing along with, this is most exemplified by the track “86.” It’s one of those songs you swear you’ve heard somewhere before because it’s immediately accessible/familiar. To me, that’s the hallmark of truly great songwriting. Middle Class Fashion sorta defy easy/neat categorization, but if I had to describe them I’d say they’re a piano-centric indie rock band that flirts with dance/electronic music. Some of the tracks on this album have a retro 80’s synth quality about them, but not in an annoying way (if that makes sense). Stand out tracks like “Runaway” and the aforementioned “86” were definitely in heavy rotation in my playlists this year. Even as I write this I keep thinking about how great the melancholic “Outer Space” is or how fun “Schoolboy” is…and how great is it that they appear back-to-back! I can’t recommend this album enough.

 

 

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4. HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT by Metallica.  It took me a long time to decide if Metallica’s latest album was worthy of this list. After issuing my final verdict on the album earlier this month, I went back and re-listened to HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT. Having removed myself from the sky-high expectations that haunted my first few listenings of the album, I can safely say that this is the best modern Metallica record. Overblown and overlong, but nonetheless a thrilling ride. There are very few massive album releases that impress me anymore, but Metallica has successfully pulled off a AAA-release in 2016 that’s actually worthy of all the attention. I recently learned that “Moth Into Flame” was written about the late singer Amy Winehouse, which adds a tragic dimension to the song. I’m not surprised that this album didn’t land on the Best of 2016 list for Heavy Metal Overload, this isn’t an album for hardcore metalheads but is instead for all of us filthy casuals. But at the end of the day, Metallica is keeping the torch of metal lit and that needs to be respected. The fact that they were able to put together such a solid album needs to be celebrated. I also still can’t get “Now That We’re Dead” out of my head. Read my original review here.

 

 

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3. BOY KING by Wild Beasts.  Though I didn’t cite them in my initial review, I think the specter of Queen haunts BOY KING. Sure, Wild Beasts’ latest album may sound more like Trent Reznor-meets-Stereophonics at first brush, but the confident strut and purring sexuality are 100% Queen. There’s a theatricality radiating throughout BOY KING that recalls A NIGHT AT THE OPERA. I went from having never heard of Wild Beasts to falling head over heels for them in 2016. This is a great record to run (or do other things) to and was my #2 most-listened to album top to bottom (see #1 for my most listened-to album). “Big Cat” and “Get My Bang” are essential tracks, but there’s something fantastic about “Eat Your Heart Out Adonis” and “Alpha Female.” If you like (dark) Brit-pop or just pop with flair, give BOY KING a listen. Read my original review here.

 

 

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2. WEEZER (The White Album) by Weezer. The first time I heard the latest Weezer album I had it on softly while I did other things. I only really gave it a shot out of habit. “Oh, the new Weezer album? Yeah, I heard it…” I remember being pretty unimpressed and wrote the band off as finally no longer worth the effort and moved on. Then something strange happened, I started seeing it pop up online and on a podcast or two that I listen to. Word on the street was that this new Weezer album was the real deal. So I sat down and gave WEEZER (The White Album) another shot. Boy, am I glad I did because this was one of the best albums I heard all year. As is the case with most modern Weezer albums, the singles are the worst songs on the record. “Thank God For Girls” is pretty cringe-worthy, no matter how big a fan you are. But 90% of this album is a pleasant return to form for the band. “Endless Bummer” the album’s final track, is a spooky campfire song that builds into a crescendo of awesomeness. I also really enjoyed the 60’s throwback “(Girl We Got A) Good Thing” which could have been a cut on the #8 album on this list. This is the sort of album that reinforces my belief that it’s never okay to write a band off.   Read my original review here.

 

And finally…

 

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1. THE LIFE OF PABLO by Kanye West.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s never been harder to be a Kanye West fan than it’s been in 2016. I was introduced to Kanye in the fall of 2005, and since that time he’s been the most consistently great artist of the past decade. Every new Kanye West album pushes forward–Kanye never back-peddles or plays it safe even when many in the record buying public would prefer if he stopped experimenting and just got back to writing summer jams like “The Good Life.” I take the good with the bad and largely ignore everything not music related when it comes to Mr. West. So no, I don’t want Keeping Up With The Kardashians and I don’t follow him on Twitter. Critics of Kanye West focus on the over-sized ego, but listening to his songs provides a clearer picture of just how fragile and insecure Kanye can be. Like many great artists, Kanye no doubt suffers from some form of mental illness and should be forgiven for some (but not all) of his transgressions. And as far as the out of control ego goes, if you take the time to study his catalog you’ll notice that the best parts of all his albums always go to his guest stars. Usually, these are up-and-coming rappers whose careers get a much-needed shot in the arm by appearing on a Kanye track. Chance the Rapper first appeared on my radar this year after his amazing turn on “Ultralight Beam,” the opening track of THE LIFE OF PABLO.

THE LIFE OF PABLO is tour de force, one that perfectly showcases the fragility and the bravado raging inside Kanye West. The album paints the picture of a man who is at war with himself and his shortcomings. Yes, there are some truly awful, cringe-worthy moments on this album, but there are also wonderfully sublime, beautiful moments, too. I won’t defend “Famous,” where Kanye continues to publicly harass Taylor Swift. I can’t claim that “Father Stretch My Hands” isn’t creepy as shit (a gospel song about fucking models? Okay, Yeezus). But these unflattering moments sit along tracks like “Ultralight Beam” which is about as divine as music can get. The brilliant “Highlights” feels like the old Kanye everyone’s also saying they miss, its celebratory message wouldn’t be out of place on any of the early, so-called classic Kanye albums. “Real Friends” and “Wolves” offer a glimpse beneath the bravado, showing us a lonely, isolated individual. One who can’t even rely on family. The capper, of course, is the now famous (infamous?) “I Love Kanye.” An a capella track, “I Love Kanye” is West at his most painfully self-aware. The first time one listens to the track it feels like a joke. A playful jab at his own public image. But upon repeat listens the song turns tragic, “I Love Kanye” is the work a man who knows he’s damaged but feels powerless to change.

This is the only album on this list I both bootlegged and purchased legally. LIFE OF PABLO is a strange and hyper-modern album, both finished and incomplete, with West becoming the rap equivalent of George Lucas. The album is full of interesting samples and arrangements and sounds completely alien from the majority of modern rap albums. THE LIFE OF PABLO feels as though it could be the beginning or end of Kanye West’s career. On one hand, the album’s undeniable brilliance and fluidity could be the first salvo in a series of released and then post-released altered albums. The next few albums from Kanye could be less finished product and more like evolving conversations with the listening public. But the recent spate of bizarre news items relating to Kanye West the man (not the artist) could also mean THE LIFE OF PABLO might be the last album we get from him. I don’t blindly put faith in Kanye West’s music, I’m sure he’s more than capable of crafting a shitty album. But I do have faith that Kanye won’t release anything less than his pure, unadulterated artistic vision, which is exactly what THE LIFE OF PABLO is. So in that sense, he’s the last true artist working in mainstream music. And we’re lucky to have him while we do. Read my original review here.

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I Might Actually, Maybe, Possibly, Perhaps, Get to See GnR Live!

I’m still smarting from the whole Kanye West concert debacle, but news came a few days ago that Guns N’ Roses were going to hit-up a bunch of US cities not on the original leg of their Not In This Lifetime reunion tour. I remain cautiously optimistic about my chances of seeing the band, even though my native St. Louis and current home Denver are on the list of cities blessed with a tour stop. I mean, Axl Rose is no Kanye West, but he does have a reputation…if I buy a ticket for one of these shows will I be dooming my fellow concert goers?

I missed the first leg of the tour, though my parents (of all people) saw the band in Kansas City and apparently had a good time. This year has been on of many crushing defeats and moments of terrible disappointment…but I’m going to tempt fate one more time and buy a ticket to the Denver show this Friday when they go on sale.

The new tour dates are:

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Denied by Kanye: Mr. West Uncharacteristically Spazzes out and Cancels Remaining LIFE OF PABLO Tour Dates

File this under Shitty News That Actually Doesn’t Surprise Me: Kanye West has canceled the remaining dates of his LIFE OF PABLO tour. This comes on the heels of Yeezus losing his mind over the weekend in California while “performing.” I put that in quotes because Mr. West, after making the crowd wait over an hour for the show to begin, only performed three songs before storming off stage. He apparently went on a long jag attacking Jay Z and Beyonce while at the same time praising president-elect Donald Trump. People were, understandably, confused and little pissed. For their part, Ticketmaster decided to do the right thing and refund people the money they spent on tickets to the concert.

Then this morning I awoke to find that many friends and family on social media were directing me to news articles stating that Kanye had canceled the rest of the tour. I checked my email but as of writing this post, I’ve received no correspondence from the ticket company who sold me my upcoming (next Monday!!!) concert ticket. For the briefest of moments, I thought that maybe this was a hoax or had been blown out of proportion. I went on Kanye’s website and everything seemed normal. However, when I clicked through to see if tickets could be purchased for upcoming concert dates I was greeted with this bit of cold reality:

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So that’s it then. What a whirlwind. You’ll recall that my journey to Yeezus-ticketdom has been fraught with much pain and sorrow. There was my failed attempt to raise money online in order to see Mr. West perform in Vegas. Then, just as my soul had accepted that I wouldn’t be seeing him perform, he surprisingly announced another leg of THE LIFE OF PABLO TOUR that would come to my town! I eagerly waited for tickets to go on sale and plunked down $69 (giggity) to see my idol (and the person who will probably feature at top of my Best Albums of 2016 list) perform live. I must say, it’s not easy being a Kanye West fan. The media circus the man cultivates detracts so much from his music that when I tell people I love his music they almost always look at me as though I’ve lost my mind. The disgust that they exhibit is no doubt for Kanye the Media Personality, who is both irritating and at this point controversial for the sake of being controversial.

At this point, I still love Kanye, but as he said on LIFE OF PABLO: “I miss the old Kanye.” If I could offer Mr. West some advice it would be this: give up the hype train and the constant need to be in the news. Downsize your life and follow the example of The Beatles–give up touring and appearing in public and retreat to the studio. Focus on making your complex, amazing music and stop messing around with politics, shoes, fashion shows, and the Kardashian soap opera. There is still time to salvage your career and your reputation as a serious artists, but only if you get back to doing what got you famous in the first place.

UPDATE: Just as I was about to post this I got an email about my refund:

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Countdown to YEEZUS: Ticket Secured, MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY Re-visited, and Thoughts on a Live Kanye Performace

As promised, I’m going to write a few posts about my impending Kanye West concert. When I last wrote about this concert, I explained that a Denver show had been announced and that I was dusting off my credit card  so I could attend. Luckily for me, I didn’t really need to use the Defending Axl Rose Master Card! I was able to get a pretty good seat for $69. Since that time, I’ve kept an eye on the tickets and for the most part, the prices have remained stable and as of this posting tickets are still available.

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As long as there’s Kanye, there is hope.

During the fantastic World Series, which I watch every year, I muted my TV and revisited MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY. Mr. West’s 2010 album has been severely underplayed in my household, which made me decide to revisit it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the album holds up 6 years later. The singles “Power” and “Runaway” remain solid classics, but I was really blown away by the John Legend track “Blame Game.” I’m not sure why this poignant song failed to connect with me in previous listening sessions, but man is this an almost perfect song (the closing outro with comedian Chris Rock is probably the most cringe-inducing K. West album skit). The star-studded “Monster” also still holds up really well, though I must say the star-making performance from Niki Minaj bums me out when I hear now. Who could have guessed that her fierce performance on “Monster” would be an almost one-off thing and she’d become one of the most disappointing new rap artists of the 2010’s?

Listening to “Monster” got me thinking about what a Kanye West concert would be like. Despite being well-known as an egomaniac, Kanye’s albums are so brilliant because he doesn’t hog the spotlight on his releases. In fact, Kanye the album maker is generous with the limelight and often appears as second banana on the best tracks. How do I know that Kanye isn’t his troubling, problematic public persona? I listen to his albums and hear him give the best moments away to other, usually up-and-coming artists. The first time I heard Chance the Rapper was this summer when he stole the show on the opening track of THE LIFE OF PABLO. With so many of his best songs featuring A-list and AAA-list artists, how does a live Kanye performance work? Obviously a track like “Monster” doesn’t work unless Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Niki Manaj, and Bon Iver are in attendance and thus doesn’t get performed. But because so many of Kanye’s songs feature really great artists that I’m not sure Kanye can avoid doing a solo-only concert. I’m guessing that the verses done by guest rappers are just omitted, but as someone that’s never been to a rap concert before, I’m interested to see how it’s handled.

 

Look for a few more Kanye-centric posts to appear before my November 28th concert. I’m still trying to decide the best way to document the concert itself, so if you have any thoughts on the best way to do that chime-in below in the comments section.

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Campaign to Send Me to See Kanye West Official Over

You might recall a few months ago when I started a Go Fund Me campaign in order to send me to Las Vegas to see Kanye West perform live. Don’t remember that? Well, it happened. Fueled by the  desperation to see the man perform LIFE OF PABLO live in person and a lack of funds in order to travel outside of Denver, I emulated my musical hero and took to the Internet in order to (essentially) beg for money. So how did I do? Well, I made $6 more than Kanye made when he infamously sought money from Internet Zillionaire/Facebook Mogul Mark Zuckerberg…of course, that means I only raised $6. Well short of the $900 I was asking for. Now, let me admit now that that figure was pretty high, but consider the fact that I need airfare, a hotel, and a ticket to Yeezus’s show. I only guestimated, so $900 might have been on the low side…who knows?

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The campaign is over, I’m no longer accepting donations, mostly because it’s too late for me to raise money to attend the Vegas show. But don’t shed any tears for this middle-aged rock blogger, for every time Yeezus closes one door he immediately opens another (and then tweets about it). This week it was announced the second leg of Kanye’s tour would come to my beloved Denver, Colorado! Huzzah! So this Friday at 10:00am I’m dusting off my credit card and paying whatever number fate demands I pay in order to see Mr. West. I wish the show wasn’t on the Monday after Thanksgiving, but we do what we can with what we are given, right?

I’m going to document the shit out of this concert, so stay tuned for updates!

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ROCK N’ READ: The Rap Year Book

Earlier this summer I was in Barnes & Noble, haunting the Arts & Entertainment section. I was looking for a good book to read on the history of punk music, what I found instead was a really good primer for rap music. Shea Serrano, a former columnist on the now-defunct Grantland website, has crafted a nice introduction to the genre. Far from being definitive, The Rap Year Book: The Most Important Rap Song From Every Year Since 1979, Discussed, Debated, and Deconstructed provides a nice introduction to a rap novice (such as myself). Like the rather lengthy title suggests, the book is broken up into chapters by year starting in 1979 and ending in 2014, each chapter focuses on the most important song of said year. Serrano opens each chapter simply with a “What This Song Is About” and “Why It’s Important” section before proceeding to wax philosophically about the merits of that years song. This longer, essay portion of each chapter is followed up with a colorful infographic or illustration that ties somehow into the subject matter of the song featured. These are all really amusing, though I didn’t get to enjoy them as fully as I’d would have liked because I bought the Kindle version of the book and most of them didn’t display properly on my iPad.

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The Rap Year Book chronicles the maturation of the the genre and illustrates not only the massive creative talent behind the music, but also maps out the various genres and sub-genres that contributed to the birth of rap. Despite being a thoughtful, articulate explanation of why each song is most important song of a particular year, this book is divisive as hell. Anytime one tries to pick “the best of the year” in any subject, there’s going to be some hard choices made. Refreshingly, at the end of every chapter there is a “Rebuttal” section where another writer gives a brief explanation of why an entirely different song from that year is actually the best song. Some of these short mini-essays could have been fleshed out themselves into interesting chapters. I found this to be a ballsy move on Serrano’s part and helps to illustrate just how the author doesn’t 100% fully believe that his picks are the only correct picks for song of the year.

In case your’e wondering, here are Serrano’s picks/chapters of the book:

1979 “Rapper’s Delight” The Sugarhill Gang

1980 “The Breaks” Kurtis Blow

1981 “Jazzy Sensation” Afrika Bambaataa and the Jazzy Five

1982 “The Message” Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five

1983 “Sucker M.C.’s” Run-DMC

1984 “Friends” Whodini

1985 “La Di Da Di” Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick

1986 “6 in the Mornin’” Ice-T

1987 “Paid in Full” Eric B. and Rakim

1988 “Straight Outta Compton” N.W.A

1989 “Fight the Power” Public Enemy

1990 “Bonita Applebum” A Tribe Called Quest

1991 “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” Geto Boys

1992 “Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang” Dr. Dre, featuring Snoop Dogg

1993 “C.R.E.A.M.” Wu-Tang Clan

1994 “Juicy” The Notorious B.I.G.

1995 “Dear Mama” Tupac

1996 “California Love” Tupac, featuring Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman

1997 “Can’t Nobody Hold Me Down” Puff Daddy, featuring Mase

1998 “Ruff Ryders’ Anthem” DMX

1999 “My Name Is” Eminem

2000 “Big Pimpin’” Jay Z, featuring UGK

2001 “Takeover” vs. “Ether” Jay Z vs. Nas

2002 “Grindin’” The Clipse

2003 “In Da Club” 50 Cent

2004 “Still Tippin’” Mike Jones, featuring Slim Thug and Paul Wall

2005 “Gold Digger” Kanye West, featuring Jamie Foxx

2006 “Hustlin’” Rick Ross

2007 “International Players Anthem” UGK, featuring Outkast

2008 “A Milli” Lil Wayne

2009 “Best I Ever Had” Drake

2010 “Monster” Kanye West, featuring Rick Ross, Jay Z, Bon Iver, and Nicki Minaj

2011 “Niggas in Paris” Jay Z and Kanye West

2012 “Same Love” Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

2013 “Control” Big Sean, featuring Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronica

2014 “Lifestyle” Rich Gang, featuring Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan

 Obviously the first chapter, 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, is an important chapter because it kicks off both the book and the genre itself. Other standout chapters (in my humble opinion) are 1989’s “Fight the Power,” 1990’s “Bonita Applebum” (cited here as the “first true rap love song”), and 2006’s “Hustlin.” I really enjoyed the chapter on Rick Ross’ “Hustlin” because I liked finding out what a complete and utter bullshit artist Ross is. The evolution of rap songwriting from brutally autobiographical to the fanciful bullshit stylings of Rick Ross is a fascinating transformation. I also really appreciate how well-represented Kanye West during the 00’s.

There’s a Spotify playlist available that features the songs mentioned in the book and it’s just as essential. Overall, I think the careful thought and intelligent analysis of The Rap Year Book make this a must-read for anyone even remotely interested it the both rap music and modern black art. Even if you don’t agree with all of the choices for song of the year, there is so much good analysis of lyrics, artist backstory, historical context, and in-depth interpretation this is one year book you’ll actually want to revisit.

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Please Consider Supporting Toxic Melons’ Kickstarter

Hello Friends. So remember when I asked you all to send me $900 so I could go see Kanye West perform in Las Vegas? Well perhaps consider donating instead to Paul Fairbairn’s Toxic Melon’s Kickstarter campaign. Paul releases excellent power-pop under the name “Toxic Melons” and hoo-boy does he have a fantastic E.P. in the works titled “Four Play”. Not only did this guy get guitar hero Eric Dover to participate…he got Roger Manning. Are you a fan of Jellyfish? You know, that band I won’t stop blathering about that everyone who’s ever heard them loves? Well if you pine for those golden power-pop days of yore, supporting Paul’s Kickstarter is a great way to see those days live again, people!!!

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Yummy.

So far Paul’s been able to raise roughly half the amount of money he needs in order to put the E.P. out as a physical product (delicious, delicious vinyl!). I can’t stress enough how important just about everything related to this Kickstarter is to us power-pop fans. Jellyfish connection? Check. Brilliant-but-under-appreciated starving musician? Check. The promotion of physical media as a great keepsake/vinyl release? Triple check. I know all of you were planning on sending me to see Yeezus, but spend your money on Toxic Melons instead.

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Send Defending Axl Rose To See Kanye West

Hello. Well this is awkward. A few weeks ago I found out that Kanye West would be touring in support of his latest album/magnum opus THE LIFE OF PABLO. Normally, this would be great news except he wasn’t coming to the city I live in. I was pretty bummed out. Then, a few days after my birthday, my parents got to see Guns N’ Roses in Kansas City. While very happy for them, this also really bummed me out. I should have gone to that show, but unfortunately a new job and a new baby (plus lack of money) meant that I’d have to skip seeing GNR. I’m barely able to live with myself, people. I swore that the next time a “Holy Fuck!” artist went on tour I’d do everything in my power to go and see them.

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Which leads me to Kanye. I was once offered free tickets to see Kanye open for U2, but I had already made unbreakable plans was was forced to pass up the opportunity. My relationship with Kanye started in the fall of 2005. I was living in the dorms at the University of St.Louis-Missouri when hurricane Katrina hit. The kids studying in New Orleans were distributed to colleges all across the nation. I remember sitting on the front porch of my dorm building, smoking Camel cigarettes, when a van pulled up and deposited two such refugees. The school representative helped them with their luggage, gave them vouchers for food, and then basically said “good luck” and drove off. I could tell that these kids were shell-shocked and in need of help. I didn’t really know anyone in St. Louis at the time, having just moved there myself, so I sympathized with them. I took them out for lunch and we became friends. They introduced me to Budweiser (up until that point I did not know there was any variety other than Bud Light), Tyler Perry movies, and Kanye West. LATE REGISTRATION had just dropped and they insisted that I hear it. That was my gateway to rap music, a gift that continues to enrich my life over ten years later.

This year’s LIFE OF PABLO is my number one favorite album. It’s the album I listen to when I run and when I speed to fast on the highway. In short, I need to see this man, but I can’t afford a trip and concert without help. Please take a moment to consider donating to my Go Fund Me campaign.  It feels weird asking for this money, but at the same time you’ll be getting something out of this, too. For starters, I plan on writing extensively about both the lead-up to the concert, the concert, and my post-concert thoughts/feelings. Maybe some of you would pay to NOT get my thoughts on a Kanye West concert, to those people I say: “Why are you still reading this post?” I’m going to reward my top donors with a thank you package and wear the names of everyone who donated to the fund on a special t-shirt when (if?) I attend the show.

I promise not to be annoying about this and post about it ad nauseam. I also won’t make this a “thing” that I do for every concert I go to. I can afford a $35 ticket to see Weezer in the city where I live, I don’t expect people to pick up the tab on that sort of thing. I do feel like I’ve turned my readers onto good albums and songs over the years. And I know I’ve made you laugh (at least once) even it was at me and not necessarily with me…that has to be worth a buck or two, right?

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The Life of Pablo by Kanye West

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This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I love Kanye West. Both the music and the man. This is a rock blog but over the past 10 years or so I’ve warmed to hip-hop, thanks largely in part to the works of Mr. West. I totally get why most people don’t like the persona of Kanye West: he’s brash, arrogant, and sexist. Defending Axl Rose has never been about Axl Rose, but instead about the artists like Rose who operate on a completely different level than 99.999% of the rest of us. These exceptional artists have a vision and spend their lives struggling to bring that vision in its pure, uncompromised, form to the masses. They push boundaries in genre and offer us a window into both the artist and ourselves. Kanye West is a genius on the same level as Brian Wilson. Do I cringe when he belittles Taylor Swift or goes on Twitter and proclaims Bill Cosby “innocent”? Hell yes I do. But Kanye doesn’t really hurt anyone but himself so I forgive him. The music is so good I can overlook his faults.

THE LIFE OF PABLO has been on my must-listen list back when it was called SWISH and WAVES.  When it came out last month, on the Jay-Z backed music streaming service Tidal, I downloaded the Tidal app and contemplated canceling my beloved Spotify subscription just so I could hear the record. I waited, with bated-fanboy breath, for Yeezus to announce when the non-Tidal world would get an opportunity to hear his latest masterpiece. Then the confusion began: the album’s physical sale was delayed and then it was scrapped. West proclaimed his album would never be fore sale on Twitter, despite the fact that he’d already given it away sort of by issuing download codes to the people who attended his NYC fashion show where the album debuted. Now there’s word that Kanye is still editing/changing the album, thus making THE LIFE OF PABLO the Star Wars of rap albums (Kanye = George Lucas).

This review has two paragraphs defending the man and giving context to the release of the album because that’s the only way to interface with Kanye’s music. One can’t like or dislike these tracks without taking the performance art piece that is Kanye West in as a whole. He’s worked (famously) with Paul McCartney and no doubt sees himself as a modern-day John Lennon, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that Kanye West is really the modern-day Yoko Ono (Ono the artist not the Beatle girlfriend).

THE LIFE OF PABLO opens with gospel “Ultralight Beam.” An epic, beautiful track that begins with West’s 4 year old daughter praising Jesus and then builds to a rapturous choir. This song, about as unconventional as a pop song could be, works on a pure emotional level. I’m 100% agnostic but by the time Chance the Rapper comes in near the end I feel like a true Believer. The album descends from the opener’s lofty heights rollercoasting up and down a few times and bottoms out on “FML.” Here is what all the Kanye haters seem to miss about him: he’s not only his own worst enemy, he’s also his biggest critic. “FML” is about how he fucks up his own life. The song is about West’s troubles with infidelity, which is also touched on in “30 Hours” where West feels jealous because he finds himself on the wrong end of an open-relationship (one that he admits he insisted on having). “Real Friends” continues the tradition of “Runaway” and paints West as a workaholic loner who lives in a cold, friendless world. “Wolves” is another somber track where West gives insight into what it’s like to be a solitary figure against the whole of the world. You can’t help but feel sorry for they guy, even when later he compares himself and Kim to Mary and Joseph (yes, that Mary and Joseph).

Of course no review of THE LIFE OF PABLO would be complete without discussing “Famous,” the song where he throws gasoline on his feud with Taylor Swift. I don’t believe Kanye’s assertion that he “made that bitch famous,” but I do think that Swift has greatly benefited from her association with West. Just like Batman needs the Joker, Swift provides the perfect heroic foil to West’s exaggerated douchebag persona. That West has chosen to rag on America’s sweetheart and the music world’s biggest, most popular modern artist isn’t surprising. He’s jealous of her and like the third grade boy tugging his classmates ponytails; he’s picking on her because he likes her. It’s a shame West mars an otherwise perfect song with such a cringeworthy verse. Rihanna and the Sister Nancy sample are such a killer combo and balance West’s tough guy rapping.

My current favorite track, however, is probably the most-Kanye track of all-time. Title “I Love Kanye,” the song is a 43 second song that is just West with no musical accompaniment. The lyrics speak for themselves:

“I miss the old Kanye, straight from the ‘Go Kanye
Chop up the soul Kanye, set on his goals Kanye
I hate the new Kanye, the bad mood Kanye
The always rude Kanye, spaz in the news Kanye
I miss the sweet Kanye, chop up the beats Kanye
I gotta to say at that time I’d like to meet Kanye
See I invented Kanye, it wasn’t any Kanyes
And now I look and look around and there’s so many Kanyes
I used to love Kanye, I used to love Kanye
I even had the pink polo, I thought I was Kanye
What if Kanye made a song about Kanye
Called “I Miss The Old Kanye,” man that would be so Kanye
That’s all it was Kanye, we still love Kanye
And I love you like Kanye loves Kanye.”

The track ends with West laughing, and it’s a pretty good punchline, but there’s a lot of naked, personal honesty in this song. I don’t see Kanye as the arrogant asshole he’d like us to believe he his. Nor do I view him as the villain his detractors make him out to be. For me, Kanye West is a tragic figure of Shakespearean proportions. If he was an oblvious asshole even his biggest fans couldn’t forgive him (myself included). But Kanye is acutely aware of his failings and I think would genuinely like to be the good guy.

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There are no big radio-friendly tracks on THE LIFE OF PABLO. There is no “Gold Digger” or “Touch the Sky” on this record. Even if you hate Kanye and despise rap if you’re a music fan you have to respect that he’s one of the only (if not the only) mainstream artist who make albums. The album as a cohesive, artistic whole has been absent from the modern music scene for nearly 10 years (give or take). But the fact that Kanye agonizes over things like track sequences on his records makes this music fan happy. Don’t listen haphazardly to THE LIFE OF PABLO, instead take it track by track as God…I mean Kanye intended. Then when you’re done go online and seek out the endless stream of “I Love Kanye” remixes that have mushroomed all over the Internet.

I had to torrent this album, which is a real bummer. Hopefully something will change and THE LIFE OF PABLO will become commercially available in a wider-release. Though his mental state may be deteriorating, West’s ability to create intricate, interesting music is only getting stronger.

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Your Next Favorite Band: The Replacements

I don’t even know where to start with this one.  The Replacements are like an institution in the pop/punk world.  I want to say something stupid like “they’re as important as The Beatles” or “they’re a bit like Nirvana” but that doesn’t do them justice.  The Replacements started out as a shitty punk band in Minnesota  and became something much more, so much more.  Without The Replacements there would be no fucking Green Day, I’ll tell you that.

So much hair-product, so little time.

Lead singer/song-writer Paul Westerberg is a genius.  You want catchy as hell songs that are also ABOUT something? Then look no further.  His lyrics are literate and biting…and yet also sweet and almost naive at the same time.   They’re tough as hell and soft as a pillow. He’s that special kind of badass that can write about how sad and lonely he is without coming off like a sissy.  For me this is best encapsulated by their song “Unsatisfied.” It’s tough as hell and makes me want to cry it’s so heart-on-their-sleeve the lyrics should be written in blood.

The band evolved from spikey, angry-youngman punk (see the STINK Ep) to more refined power-pop  (PLEASED TO MEET ME).  Whenever a band changes so dramatically it usually means their is a real artist involved, because in my opinion, a true artist is never content to bang out the same crap year after year.  The songs were written 20+ years ago and yet they still seem fresh and relevant.  This is 80’s music that doesn’t seem to be 80’s music.

So if they’re so fucking great, why haven’t you heard of them? Well, they were so punk-rock they had this almost pathologically desire to ruin their careers.  I’ve seen old MTV footage of them cursing and carousing drunkenly on TV, just trying to piss people off.   They basically sabotaged their own careers at almost every turn.  They were young, dumb, addicted to drugs, and didn’t really fit any mold corporate America gave them.  If they’d come out just a few years later they would have been Nirvana, I’m convinced of that.  Really, The Replacements were an unsuccessful Nirvana–in that they refused to play the corporate-shrill game…but the zeitgeist wasn’t with The Replacements like it was with Kurt Cobain & Company.  But I don’t feel too bad for them, success would have just ruined the party.  It’s more fun to be the under-dog anyway, right?

Little did they realize they'd be naming their 1984 release LET IT BE. I'm sure if they knew they'd have dressed up...

There are so many good songs, so many 100% perfect albums from this band, I don’t even know what to recommend you check out.  I guess start with PLEASED TO MEET ME and LET IT BE. Oh yeah, The Replacements had THE TESTICULAR FORTITUDE to name their 1984 album the same as The Beatles final (chronologically released) album.  It would be like if Kanye’s next album was called SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND. Holy fuck, I’d like to have been there when the label found out.

There’s a Big Star connection in that, like most ’80s rockers, Paul Westerberg worshiped at the alter of Alex Chilton’s Band.  The Replacements kick so much ass, I haven’t done them any favors in any of this dribble: please just listen to a few songs and buy their albums.  They’re the real deal.

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