The title of this music column is "No Trivia," which is swiped from a Wu Tang Clan lyric ("Raw, I'm a give to ya, with no trivia") because it's just a cool-ass way of saying, "no bullshit," which is a mission statement when I sit down to type out words about music, which I have been doing professionally for seven years now, Jesus Christ.
No Trivia began in 2007 as my personal blog. Its very, very minor success led to some gigs writing for the City Paper, which for me, was pretty nuts at the time. Even more nuts: In 2012 "No Trivia" became SPIN's hip-hop blog. There, I gained something of a reputation for pissing people off by writing things about, say, why Lupe Fiasco is a mansplaining goober or how Nicki Minaj is a genius and Kanye West is our Pink Floyd. Things that I believe wholeheartedly mind you, but things that had people calling me a "troll" and accusing me of being out for clicks and all that stuff. Whatevz.
I left SPIN in June to come to the City Paper and decided to bring No Trivia in some form or another with me. It will be a locally oriented music column of some kind, though when music that enters the P.R. cycle and plays the national-coverage game grabs my ears or sticks in my craw, I'll write about that too. For this first installment, some stray thoughts about the scene:
- James Nasty's excellent "Calvert Street" has got me thinking about club music and what went wrong and how guys like him and others are doing a lot to make things right again. Namely, club music became overly reliant upon radio hits. It chews the radio up and spits it back out as something new. That's what it does; that's what it has always done. But what happens when the radio sucks, which it has, egregiously so since the mid-2000s? Does anybody want a good remix of a shitty song? Sure, you can flip a small piece of it and send it in some new direction, but club music got too caught up cannibalizing the radio, much to its detriment. Finally, it has figured out that sampling whatever sounds cool is a better idea (Nasty does this on "Calvert St." via old to old-ish samples of Elephant Man and Slick Rick). Also, club has gotten less provincial, finally accepting the fact that that dance is about conversing with other party musics (consider Nasty's moobahton-ish, neo-disco-y 'Fan Dem Off'). This is also why DJ AngelBaby is so important. She isn't bitter about Philly or Newark or Diplo or any of that. It's all starting over. Like I said before: "Bmore Club: Year Zero."
- Baltimore hip-hop is mostly a sea of mooks mining the mainstream for ideas and lugging them back to Baltimore and then imagining this will get them on the radio, or at least the chance to charge 35 bones for tickets to a shitty set at Paparazzi. For the most part, the best rap here is by the freaks (Abdu Ali, DDm, TT the Artist) because they mix and match sensibilities. But Lor Scoota's "Still N The Trenches 2" and Young Moose's "O.T.M. 2." have me excited about Baltimore rap "proper" for the first time in forever. Both of these guys have a great pop-trap sensibility that feels fresh and alive and has just enough of specificity in it. They're like very good pulp writers. The formula's the same for sure, but the differences are in the tiny details and precisely how the data's delivered: Scoota's ear for Vangelis-y synths and his rising and falling hooks; Moose's assonant slur and studious Lil Boosie fetish. Scoota and Moose also make me think of current Washington, D.C. street hero Shy Glizzy, who is Baltimore's biggest rapper really, if the number of Glizzy mixtape cuts coming out of car windows around here and the local ubiquity of "Awwsome" are any indication.
- Something's off about high-profile underground-ish shows in the city these days. They are increasingly polarized, full of oddball youngs and olds who've devoted their lives to music and bored bros and their buddies and partners marketed to by the indie-rock industrial complex, so they decide hey, why not cab it on up and back from Canton or Federal Hill to hear some tunes. What's missing is everybody else because everybody else is working all the time or has children or other grown-ass responsibilities. Shit's kind of dark if you really think about it. The scene as "Snowpiercer" scenario: scrappy weirdos who care a whole lot and got-nothing-better-to-do types with time on their hands who don't care about much of anything. And the bros can't shake off their privilege even for a few hours and be polite or shut the fuck up and just be part of an ecosystem that existed long before they found out about it, so they put their glass bottles on the floor of D.I.Y. spaces (Future Islands @ Floristree) or blab through a respectable and highly entertaining opening act (Matmos @ Metro; check out this video for evidence of how loud the crowd was there). And look, I get it, you're straight and white and a dude so the idea of not being able to wander into a place and own that shit is new and scary to you so you act up, but shape up or just go away ya meatheads.
Before I end this thing, I want to send some good luck Abdu Ali's way. He is moving to Brooklyn this weekend. It seems like he'll be back (Fields Festival Aug. 22-24, the next Kahlon's scheduled for September) enough that none of us should get mad at him. Last night's performance at the Crown was bittersweet and Abdu looked nervous to me, for the first time. Why anyone would move to Brooklyn in 2014 I do not know. But I do know that Abdu very quickly carried significant parts of the scene here on his back. He probably needs a break. I hope Brooklyn offers him that or at least, something different.
And finally, here's what I was listening to in July: