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PostPosted: Tue May 29, 2012 4:09 pm 
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Comedian Kurt Braunohler explains his improvised anti-game show, where among other things, comedians are challenged to verbally shame puppies. The comedy group Kasper Hauser will interrupt our entertainment program to bring you a fake news broadcast. And the novelist Walter Mosley on his distinctive brand of detective fiction. Plus the AV Club's Scott Tobias and Nathan Rabin discuss Wes Anderson's new film Moonrise Kingdom and the new stand-up comedy special from Hannibal Buress.

Bullseye with Jesse Thorn: Kurt Braunohler, Walter Mosley, and Kasper Hauser


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PostPosted: Tue May 29, 2012 6:21 pm 
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Confusing Outshot this week.

Premises are 1: Flow is elusive and difficult to pin down or define and, simultaneously, 2. Jay-Z is probably the best at it. Eh.

I mean, he's good and successful and all, but I don't know if it's his flow as much as 80% pure circumstance + 20% obsessively hard work, the same things that "make" most pop cultural icons. To compare, how many CEOs have written books about their unique leadership style, which is a convenient retrospective conceit, when in reality they were extraordinarily lucky and happened to also have the presence of mind and work ethic to capitalize on it?

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PostPosted: Tue May 29, 2012 6:27 pm 
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Put Kurt Braunohler on the short-list of awesome potential JJGo! guests. He would kill it.


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PostPosted: Tue May 29, 2012 9:25 pm 
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wemetintheair wrote:
Confusing Outshot this week.

Premises are 1: Flow is elusive and difficult to pin down or define and, simultaneously, 2. Jay-Z is probably the best at it. Eh.

I mean, he's good and successful and all, but I don't know if it's his flow as much as 80% pure circumstance + 20% obsessively hard work, the same things that "make" most pop cultural icons. To compare, how many CEOs have written books about their unique leadership style, which is a convenient retrospective conceit, when in reality they were extraordinarily lucky and happened to also have the presence of mind and work ethic to capitalize on it?


I don't think you'll find a lot of people who like rap who would say that Jay-Z's success was based on hard work and luck, rather than merit. Certainly the hard work and luck are important to capitalize on the skills, but Jay-Z is a truly great MC.

The thesis here isn't that Jay-Z's flow makes him the greatest rapper of all time. I'm not even sure he is the greatest rapper of all time. As I say in the piece, he's got about as good a claim to that title as anybody, but that's a very complex argument to make. The thesis was I recommend Hovi Baby as a particularly superb example of flow, and Jay's flow in particular.

To restate the definition I offered in the piece I would say that flow is essentially the combination of an MC's style and the rhythmic aspects of his delivery. Essentially everything other than voice and lyrical content.

There are a few big inflection points in the history of MC-ing. Kool Moe Dee brought creative rhythmic and rhyming structures in the early 80s. More than the classic emphasis-on-the-last-word-of-the-line, last-word-rhymes thing. Around the same time, in the "Golden Age," Big Daddy Kane brought dense complexity of structure, and Rakim essentially took that complexity and removed the "show your work" part. Kane is hot - like Eminem, he sounds like he's working - and Rakim is cool. He's doing something very complex, but you might not even notice unless you're paying attention.

Rakim is pretty much the source of all modern rapping. Rakim feeds pretty directly to Biggie who feeds pretty directly to Jay, who's perfected what Biggie created about 20 years ago now.

And Hovi Baby is a perfect example. It's an incredible hard track to rap over, and Jay not only raps over it succesfully, he shifts his flow like twelvedy million different ways, his lyrics are insanely complex, and he does it all without sounding like he's trying. His voice is essentially solo-ing over the beat, despite how complex the beat is, and without sounding strained or "try-hard." And again: this is over a track that I think almost no one else in the game could have rapped over.

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PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 4:06 am 
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Public Radijo International?

Is this an allusion to the woman at the beginning of Radiolab who says "anj NPR"?

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PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 10:48 am 
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The explanation of flow in the Outshot is great! I think the reason a lot of people dismiss rap is that at some level they believe it's simply reducible to music + poetry. If that were true, then anyone capable of making good music and making good poetry could be a good rapper, which of course isn't the case. The artistry and genius of good rap lies in the interplay between the music and the speech. A common tactic of people criticizing rap/hip-hop as a medium is to point out how particular lyrics, when written down or spoken by a layman, sound stupid, or how particular beats are repetitive and uninteresting as music. Of course it's not difficult to find counterexamples to both those generalizations, but ultimately that doesn't even matter. The fact is that there is a space where a truly talented rapper can create something that works as rap without working when dissected into its constituent parts. If there weren't such a space, then rap wouldn't really be a thing.

Once you have the concept of flow, you can listen to rap with flow in mind, which means you have a way to appreciate and enjoy rap in and of itself, without reducing it to other things. I have a number of friends who say that they just don't get rap. I plan on doing them a favor by playing them this Outshot.

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PostPosted: Wed May 30, 2012 1:38 pm 
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schnickpot wrote:
The explanation of flow in the Outshot is great! I think the reason a lot of people dismiss rap is that at some level they believe it's simply reducible to music + poetry. If that were true, then anyone capable of making good music and making good poetry could be a good rapper, which of course isn't the case. The artistry and genius of good rap lies in the interplay between the music and the speech. A common tactic of people criticizing rap/hip-hop as a medium is to point out how particular lyrics, when written down or spoken by a layman, sound stupid, or how particular beats are repetitive and uninteresting as music. Of course it's not difficult to find counterexamples to both those generalizations, but ultimately that doesn't even matter. The fact is that there is a space where a truly talented rapper can create something that works as rap without working when dissected into its constituent parts. If there weren't such a space, then rap wouldn't really be a thing.

Once you have the concept of flow, you can listen to rap with flow in mind, which means you have a way to appreciate and enjoy rap in and of itself, without reducing it to other things. I have a number of friends who say that they just don't get rap. I plan on doing them a favor by playing them this Outshot.


A++ would recommend this comment to friends.

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PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 11:39 pm 
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Oh hey!

We agree about Jay's meritorious flow. As a fellow "person who likes rap," albeit one with far less encyclopedic knowledge than Jesse, that's not the point I was trying to make. I guess I'm not even disputing any points made in the Outshot so much as hoping to converse a bit more.

What I mean is, there are certainly merit-heavy MCs out there with comparable flow and cleverness - Masta Ace, Nas (ignore that I'm bringing up Nas when talking about Jay-Z), Mystikal, Royce da 5'9", A-1 from San Francisco (he's on his way at least, please check out his newest mix tape) - who aren't as flush, and I think the difference is part hard work and part luck. This doesn't detract from success in any way; if anything, it makes it a better story.

In the beginning, Jay had to start Roc-a-Fella to get his stuff out, make his own distro deals, and hire his own producers. Even now, he's still one of the most prolifically touring rappers out there. And I think luck plays a part in the sense that he happened to fall in with Biggie and Busta Rhymes during high school and be featured on some Big Daddy Kane tracks. Knowing the right people and getting the right breaks goes hand in hand with hard work, and it's often the missing ingredient.

And then there's the matter of subject matter appeal, sampling expertise, etc. For example, I can't imagine Mystikal catching on fire anymore, partly because he's in jail and partly because, for all his flow, he still sounds like a belt sander.

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PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 11:42 pm 
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A-1 was my neighbor growing up and was best friends with my brother, and he's a talented guy, but I don't think you're doing him or yourself any favors comparing him to Jay-Z.

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PostPosted: Thu May 31, 2012 11:47 pm 
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Wondered if you knew of him. Hey, I mean, he's young, but he's oh so infectious, and everything I hear I like more. There aren't many MCs I can say that about.

Buuuuut now I know what not to talk to you about. So that's good I guess.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 12:27 am 
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As much as I've always been a big Nas>Jay believer, Jesse is right that no one is seeing Jay's flow. In this particular aspect of the game, Jay's basically in a league of his own.

Although I do appreciate you bringing up Royce, I feel like he doesn't get enough credit.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 12:47 am 
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I guess I'm just not sure what your thesis is.

Hard work and luck are important ingredients of success?

Yes, that's true. We all agree.

But if you sincerely believe that hard work and luck is all that separates Jay-Z from Royce da 5'9" or Masta Ace... I'm a fan of Royce and Ace, but you can't be serious. I think you could construct an argument that Nas is the greatest rapper of all time, but it wouldn't be based on him being as clever or having a flow comparable to Jay's, because neither is true. On his best day, Nas is 80% as clever and has 75% of the flow that Jay does. If you want to say his lyrics are better overall, or he's realler, or raps about more important stuff, or won their battles, I think all of those things are reasonable arguments (though I don't agree with all of them). But flow and cleverness will not be where you win that argument.

Jay-Z doesn't need to call attention to his cleverness, and in fact part of his success is that his lyrics are densely layered - enjoyable on both a surface level and when explicated.

But I don't know if even Nas, maybe the greatest lyricist in hip-hop history, has ever had a verse as clever as, say, this verse from Threat, which is full of interconnected desert/violence metaphors that blow my mind every time I hear it.

Quote:
Grown man I put hands on you
I dig a hole in the desert, they build The Sands on you
Lay out blueprint plans on you
We Rat Pack niggaz, let Sam tap dance on you
Then, I Sinatra shot ya God damn you
... I put the boy in the box like David Blaine
Let the audience watch, it ain't a thang
Y'all wish I was frontin, I George Bush the button
Front of all you in your car lift up your hood nigga run it
Then lift up your whole hood like you got oil under it


And then Nas is like, "BUT I WROTE A SONG FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A GUN!"

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 1:21 am 
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I don't have much of a thesis to offer. More just shit-shooting, although hip-hop and rap are admittedly bad topics to shit-shoot with someone as passionate about the subject as you, because I'll quickly get in over my head.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 3:21 am 
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Can we all agree on this:

Because of hard work and luck (And other things) Jay-Z has great flow.


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PostPosted: Fri Jun 01, 2012 2:50 pm 
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Septimus wrote:
Can we all agree on this:

Because of hard work and luck (And other things) Jay-Z has great flow.


Totally.

To change the subject, I'm really looking forward to the next season of Put This On, sponsored by RocaWear!

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