The Jon Konkak Mediocre White Rapper Award: Mac Miller
Upending 35 years of time honored tradition, the stigma to being a mediocre white rapper has vanished. Somewhere in dirty Jerse, Milkbone plots a comeback, and I wonder if any of these kids will turn in anything as decent as “Keep It Real.” At least that got us to “The Ghetto.” Young Black Teenagers missed out. Nowadays you can appeal to teenaged bros with upturned Abercrombie collars and Gamecocks hats and the sorostitutes who love them.
Besides frat rap, Vampire Weekend and Deadmau5, they also like to listen to classic rock like Dave Matthews and Social Distortion. Stuff like that. Tom Hank’s son made this for the magazine that practically started the East-West beef. And I still don’t know or care who the fuck Machine Gun Kelly is. No value judgments. Kids will like what kids will like. But as a rule of thumb, I cannot abide by rap music made by people who enjoy wearing sweater vests. You are not getting paid like Donald Trump, you’re getting paid like Jon Konkak.
The “Shark Biters” Award: Big Sean
It’s okay to rhyme over the beat for “Lemonade.” But no matter what Kanye tells you, it is not okay to deliver an entire set consisting of you jacking Jackie Chain, Big Krit, and a bunch of other people’s tracks that I’m forgetting. Sean’s set was like listening to a mixtape from 2007, co-presented by the Fader, wrapped in a pair of those played out Yeezy shades, and washed down with a Sparks. And expanding the list of rap fashion faux pas,’ rapping in jean jackets isn’t a good look unless you’re playing a Wyoming Community College-sponsored rodeo.
The Lupe Fiasco Award for Unoriginal Indie Rock Carpetbagging
Awarded in honor of Isaac Brock’s new beard brusher, the Lupe Fiasco Award goes to a tie between Seattle Slug disciples, Macklemore and Philadelphia cream cheese rappers Chiddy Bang. Rap is currently enduring an anomic disintegration of the rules and regulations that once governed the game. This is both a good and bad thing.On the plus side, rappers are no longer subject to any useless strictures or posturing in order to get put on. You don’t have to cultivate a fake thug image or pray to some imaginary idea of “real hip-hop.” The bad thing is that whereas once guys like MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice and Puffy were excoriated for the lack of originality in stealing loops outright and rapping over them, now it’s common practice.
Admittedly, guys like Fiend and Ghostface do the same thing, but it’s a lot easier to sound good over Marvin Gaye or Dramatics songs than it is to sound good over The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s “Otherside.” Or rapping over The Killers, Beirut, or MGMT. It might get you a break and a couple bookings at Bates college, but it’s lazy, obvious, and comes with a built-in expiration date.
The Moncrief Award for Best Overall Moncriefing: Charles Bradley
Already covered here. At worst, he’s the closest thing to a male Sharon Jones that you will find. At best, it’s the closest thing to watching James Brown in his prime. A consummate showman, songwriter, and narrative. Drop any soul-revival or Daptone reservations. Bradley makes the music he has to make. And he wears a leisure suit.
The Blue Steel Award: The Strokes
The Strokes delivered the Stroksiest set in the history of Strokesdom. At one point before the show, a woman leaned over to me and asked me if I could tell her which songs were which. I agreed to, before realized that other than “Last Nite,” and “You Only Live Once,” I couldn’t name a single song title off the top of my head. Nor did it get any easier when then played.
Admittedly, the Strokes are genuine rock stars, a scarce commodity in the sotto vocce indie rock world. And that one Strokes thing that they do is really great. The problem is that they only know how to be Strokesy and no one wants them to be anything but Strokesy (Julian Casablancas is contractually obligated to wear leather at all times, which must be weird when he drops his kid off at Mommy and Me.) Like most bands that so neatly capture the zeitgeist, the Stokes will forever be partially trapped in some imaginary 2001. Just like Derek Zoolander.
The Paul Mooney Award for Making White People Feel Awkward: Shabazz Palaces
Playing to a room filled with 97 percent white people, Shabazz Palaces lambasted rappers for selling out to the white man’s establishment while making “Nat Turner raps” and mocking 5 percenters that don’t eat pork but cook bacon. Except for like 12 people, the room seemed perplexed and wondered who the guy in the Senegal jersey was. The full review is here, so I won’t belabor the point, but it was nice to see the group be as bizarre and baleful in person as they are on record. They weren’t as strident and obnoxious as Dead Prez and they weren’t kicking myopic hippie cliches, they sounded snarling and progressive — forward-thinking but not hide-bound or hamstrung by ancient ideals. Ish may be the only rapper approaching 40 who doesn’t need to play the old hits.
The Andy Williams “He’s Still Got It” Award: Aesop Rock
Whereas most indie rappers that came of age at the beginning of the last decade have lapsed into rap senescence by embarrassing themselves in every way possible (witness certain Linda Tripped-rappers begging Based God for a co-sign via Twitter), Aesop Rock continues to validate the acclaim that non-rapcentric writers lavished on him a decade ago before they discovered Dipset, Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy.
Had he wanted to, Aesop could surely have had a prime-time showcase slot. Instead, he dipped into Homeslice Pizza around 6:40 on Saturday for a little-promoted but intensely crowded show with Rob Sonic (and later Kimya Dawson). He ran through new tracks that sounded great, played random one-offs like “Fishtales,” and even dug deep into the catalogue to pull out “Big Bang.” (Describing it as “I wrote this when I was a fetus…I still am a fetus in many ways).” He announced that he’s working on three albums, a solo record, one with Kimya, and a third with Sonic. He remains a great rapper, adapting his sound to the present without compromising his integrity or aesthetic in the slightest. And he got me to like a Kimya Dawson song, which is a sentence I never thought I’d write.
The Menace II Society II Award: Black Hippy
Jay Rock as O-Dog, no need for the Larenz Tate co-sign. All the hippies (minus Ab-Soul who was MIA) absolutely destroyed their performance at the Nah Right/Smoking Section showcase. Full review here, so again, scant rambling. However, it bears repeating that Kendrick Lamar was the revelation. I still claim first in the hype sweepstakes (evidence), however he’s been consistently inconsistent over the last two years, dropping a bunch of great songs and some that sound like they should be used as aromatherapy music. After Thursday I was completely sold. Whereas he occasionally seems almost cuddly and Smurf-like on-record, he was uncomfortably intense on stage, as though he was mildly insane, occasionally staring off at objects that didn’t exist. And like chicken and waffles, rap and mild insanity mix work better than they should. The Hughes Brothers ought to be making videos for these dudes, not Dr. Dre and whoever Skylar Grey is.