January 20, 2004

Sell Out With Me
By Canyon Cody
Originally published in The Heights

Video killed the radio star, and soon mp3 will kill the video star. Globalization not only means a Starbucks at every corner, but a Beyonce song at every frequency. A healthy underground has grown out of an allergic reaction to all the bling, yet even the righteous ones can be tempted by the limelight. Loyal fans are quick to renounce allegiance to a band that sells out with an appearance on TRL. "I liked their older stuff better," is the unofficial mantra of music snobs everywhere. Music aficionados demonstrate their knowledge by celebrating unknown bands, while criticizing those with a record deal.

Though much of the music on MTV isn't worth my KaZaA download time, many of the so-called "sell-outs" are still the talented, innovative artists they were before they went platinum. Stuck on the radio, these are the best of the worst.


The Roots "The Seed 2.0" Phrenology
The Roots have built themselves one of the most loyal fan bases in music by tirelessly touring the country, often playing colleges and small venues. Their fans chastised the band for their radio-friendly single, snickering at the song's popularity with hip-hop philistines, the sort of people that love Outkast's "Hey Ya" and misprounce ENYCE.

Nevertheless ... "The Seed 2.0" rocks, and that's exactly why some people criticize it. The song won heavy rotation on rock 'n' roll stations, exposing hip- hop to a greater audience, which threatens protective fans. Ironically, lead singer Black Thought admits his hip-hop infidelity, rapping metaphorically about cheating on his girl with another lover, who then gets pregnant: "Sit and watch it grow, standin' where I'm at / Fertilize another behind my lover's back." The Roots are amazing talented musicians with diverse musical interest, and though their allegiance will forever remain with hip-hop, other genres deserve their attention as well. If nothing else, the song deserves respect for introducing neo-soul singer Cody ChestnuTT, whose solo albums drips with sexy songs like "I Look Good In Leather."

Talib Kweli "Get By" Quality
Talib built his reputation as a true lyricist, recognized by the the underground and the industry as a true-school emcee. Jay-Z admitted, "If skills sold/ Truth be told/ I'd probably be/ Lyrically/ Talib Kweli." After two underground classics, Blackstar and Reflection Eternal, Talib decided he wanted to get paid dollars as well as respect, so he called Jay-Z's producer, made a video, and tried to sell his skills to the Carson Daly generation.

Nevertheless ... "Get By" fulfils Talib's promise that "it ain't commercial or underground/ it's true." Kanye's layered piano loops create an infectious chorus around a sample from the late Nina Simone's 1965 cover of "Sinner Man."

The Strokes "Someday" Is This It?
The Strokes sold out before they even sold an album, cursed by their own hype. The critics prophesized the second coming of Christ, and the buzz killed the band. Lead singer Julian Casablancas sings, "Promises they break before they're made/Sometimes, sometimes." The Strokes were too cool for school, until they were expelled from all the true hipster's stereos.

Nevertheless ... "Someday" is the best thing to come out of two guitars, a bass, a drum set, and a long-haired twentysomething lead singer since Nirvana sang "Here we are now, entertain us." The eight second breakbeat at 1:41 into "Someday" begs for a b-boy with two turntables and a mixer to loop the drum solo into a hip-hop beat.


Jay-Z "Lucifer" The Black Album
After his debut classic Reasonable Doubt, Jay-Z sold his underground soul for "Money, Cash, Hoes." After big pimpin' for almost a decade, Jay-Z finally admitted on his last album, "I dumbed down for my audience/ to double my dollars."

Nevertheless ... "Lucifer" bounces with a sinfully catchy hook from Kanye West. Though the accelerated Max Romeo sample demonstrates Jay-Z's tendency to jump on a passing craze, he redeems himself by rhyming "Jesus" with "facetious."

The Cure "Love Cats" Strange Attraction
The Cure never, ever plays "The Lovecats" at its concerts. Lead singer Robert Smith always seems to resent the band's mainstream success and prefers its more dreary tunes. Just as Radiohead's fans despise "Creep," dedicated (aka snobby) Cure fans claim it's a silly little song for the radio.

Nevertheless ... "The Lovecats" bubbles with ebullient fun. Easily danceable for even the most rhythmically challenged, the jazzy piano melody seems as mischievous as the "cagey tigers" Smith sings about. Despite the upbeat tempo, the song's appeal is its rainy, sleepy Sunday lyrics: "Curl up by the fire/ And sleep for awhile/ It's the grooviest thing/ It's the perfect dream."

2Pac "Can't C Me" All Eyez On Me

Most rappers are criticized (rather foolishly) for abandoning the gully lifestyle of guns and drugs for the cushy suburban life. 2Pac, on the other hand, reversed the sequence and emerged from the 'burbs, only to begin a prolific career in crime to complement his equally prolific music career. In that sense, 2Pac never sold out, though in retrospect, he probably should have. 2Pac didn't sell his music to The Man, but instead sold his soul to the devil. Sentenced to four years for sexual abuse, 2Pac accepted a quid pro quo deal with notorious gangster Suge Knight: 2Pac signed to Knight's record label, Death Row, and Knight paid Shakur's $1.4 million bail. Pac immediately flew to LA and began recording All Eyez on Me with the man that would later drive the car in which 2Pac was shot and killed.

Nevertheless ... "Can't C Me" opens the first rap double LP with a bang. George Clinton sings the hook on top of Dr. Dre's bumping beat, both of which are overshadowed by 2Pac's angry verses, rapped with the violent passion of a man straight of out jail. In three lines, Pac proves that he's the real gangsta and that 50 Cent is nothing but a bad, redundant imitation: "Tell them tricks that shot me / that they missed / they ain't killed me."