April 16, 2012

Jonah Bromwich was the first rapper to adopt a tabby.

It’s been nice to see some* of the support for Lil B, after he said a bunch of honest things earnestly (earnest things honestly?) at NYU the other night. No one in their right mind is against love, hope, faith in humanity or seat belts. At the same time, when some of us are looking for guidance, pure honesty isn’t enough. By being inarticulate, spontaneous and unpredictable, Lil B is able to restate old ideas in new ways, which should be the goal of every artist. But “new” doesn’t necessarily mean profound, and his gobbledygook often obscures the truth and makes the trolls snicker.

*It’s hard to contend with other convoluted arguments which state that Lil B is not only a somewhat mangled product of the internet age but also a Tupac of twitter, who’s half-assed raps exist due to a Warholian sense of purpose and not a broken filter.

In order for me to relate to somebody, a certain sensibility has to be present, a sense that the speaker or artist at hand is aware of and has grappled with the things that make it difficult to love every person they come into contact with, that make it hard, I guess, to be based. A spontaneous thought is a good thing. Organizing that thought to the point where it’s grounded and intelligent is even better. That’s why I prefer what Oddisee’s done with his new song “Hustle Off” to the ramblings of Based God.

The two start with the same approach. According to the DC native, “Hustle Off” (along with every other song on his upcoming album People Hear What they See) “was written in an outside environment, so that I could observe the subjects that would become my subject matter.” It’s about “influence, inspiration, perception and reality.”

That’s the first part of artistry. But the second part, and the part that Lil B, god bless him, is missing entirely, is craft. It’s identifying the precise sentiment you want to express, shaving off the parts that are extraneous or silly, and coming up with something that truly matters, even if it is simple.

So the idea that “Hustle Off” starts with is turning your hustle off, giving the head-shaped dent in the wall a rest and taking it easy for a second. It’s an unusual sentiment given that most tend to advertise their constant time on the grind and even Oddisee has trouble resisting the traditional mentality at first. “Make due, make moves, make way, pay through, pay dues, pay day” he raps, all different ways of saying, “work hard.”

After all that hard work though, he finds himself disillusioned: “see I was finding out it ain’t all that its cracked to be, for myself I had to see fuck what they say, had to get back to me, I had to take it there, a mental vacation something we all need.” Reflecting on the work (and observing other people trapped in that same cycle) produces a moment of clarity, one which, in turn gives birth to a song. There’s nothing complicated or pretentious about it. And, because it’s Oddisee, it all comes on top of a beautiful beat that bears a lot of resemblance to the tracks from Rock Creek Park, staccato bursts of brass during the verses leading to full-on serenades for the chorus.

I love Lil B’s speech. I’ve read the transcript a couple of times now and I think it’s funny and nice and true and endearing. But, when it comes to taking those kinds of sentiments, capturing them in three minutes (or forty-five minutes) and setting them to music, I’d rather listen to someone like Oddisee, someone who’s just as creative as Lil B and a whole lot better at editing.


MP3: Oddisee-“Hustle Off” (Left-Click)

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