November 18, 2004

Sly and Robbie lay down reggae riddim
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

How cool are Sly and Robbie? Too cool for words.

During their three-hour performance at The Paradise on Tuesday, Sly and Robbie were so immersed in their funky reggae rhythm that they didn't say a single word. Instead, the live drum and bass duo laid down a danceable groove while an all-star lineup of guest appearances controlled the microphones.

Drummer Lowell "Sly" Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare have been pioneers in reggae music for decades. Robbie played the bass on Bob Marley's "Stir It Up" and worked with Sly alongside Mick Jagger and Pete Tosh. Tuesday's show was the last stop on the pair's 25th anniversary celebration tour.

Sly, who earned his nickname by listening to Sly & the Family Stone while growing up, revolutionized reggae music in the early '90s by embracing the electronically programmed beats that became ragamuffin, or ragga for short. The group's beats provide the background for plenty of modern reggae dancehall, including the hit "Murder She Wrote" by Chaka Demus and Pliers.

Back in the day, the duo literally lived off only bread and water while touring in order to save up enough money to start their label, Taxi Productions, which they launched featuring the breakthrough of Black Uhuru.

During the show, Sly picked his drumsticks back up and proved he's still an amazing drummer despite his new role as a beat producer. His fast-paced syncopated rhythms were so intricate and complicated that they sounded as if Sly had produced them on his drum machine.

Robbie roamed the stage plucking away at his bass, flirting with college girls in the front row, and clowning with his silent partner sitting at the drums.

While Sly and Robbie took care of the rhythm and beat, guest singers rotated onstage to accompany the reggae legends. Keyboards, saxophone, and trombone comprised the rest of the backing band for Tony Rebel, who has been touring for nearly as long as Sly and Robbie. Rebel brought his Rastafarian dancehall groove into the mix along with sultry singer Blue Fox. Half Pint was the final act, bringing a bit of youth into a show dominated by aging, but still rocking, old-school reggae stars.

At no point did Sly and Robbie drop the beat for even a moment's rest, leaving the dancing crowd satisfied but exhausted by the night's end. Robbie ended the show with a bass solo so impressively dirty that he stared at his own hands with a disgusted look on his face.
America mourns ODB
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

First Yasir Arafat, now ODB. Russell Jones, aka Ol' Dirty Bastard, aka Big Baby Jesus, aka Dirt McGirt, would have turned 36 years old on Monday, but passed away two days prior. The cause of death remains unclear, but the biggest surprise is that ODB survived this long.

Every time ODB went to jail, he'd come back with a new nickname. In addition to a long list of violent crime convictions, ODB was arrested for shoplifting a pair of $50 sneakers and for being found nude in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in Berlin. He was the first citizen to be arrested under a new law that made it illegal for convicted felons to wear bulletproof vests. During court proceedings, he was scolded by the judge for falling asleep and calling a female attorney a "sperm donor." He was truly an old dirty bastard. May he rest in peace, though he certainly didn't live in peace.

ODB - "Shimmy Shimmy Ya"
What do ODB and the Jesuits at Boston College have in common? They both stand firmly opposed to the use of condoms. "Oh baby, I like it raw," ODB croons repeatedly on the hook to "Shimmy Shimmy Ya." Not surprisingly, ODB left behind quite a legacy. The modern-day Johnny Appleseed fathered at least 13 children, proving to his fans that he didn't just make up stuff in his rhymes - ODB practiced what he preached. That's keeping it real.

Mariah Carey - Fantasy [ft. ODB]
"Man, this girl is totally crazy," ODB must have been thinking to himself while recording with Mariah Carey, who might be the only person more imbalanced than ODB. "Me and Mariah go back like babies with pacifiers," he raps in his characteristic sloppy drawl. ODB was the best hip-hop cartoon since Flavor Flav; who else would jump on stage at the Grammy's to complain that Wu-Tang should have won instead?

ODB - "Got Your Money" [ft. Kelis]

ODB made his name as the eccentric member of the Wu-Tang Clan, but his biggest hit as a solo artist featured a radio-friendly beat produced by Pharrel Williams of the Neptunes and a catchy hook sung by Kelis. No one seemed to give ODB the memo that this was supposed to be his tame PG-13 TRL hit. He dedicates his biggest moment in the spotlight to "all the pretty girls, and the ugly girls too, cuz you pretty to me anyways, baby." There's an odd sensitivity to ODB, who was just a gentle Big Baby Jesus.

Pras - Ghetto Superstar [ft. ODB and Mya]
This track from the Bullworth soundtrack features ODB imagining himself as a U.S. senator walking the streets of the ghetto. ODB's ADD makes it hard for him to pay attention long enough to sustain a story for an entire verse. Trying to follow a logical path in ODB's narrative is nearly impossible, but his heart was always in the right place.
Without an enemy, Eminem falters
By Canyon Cody
Published in The Heights

On his new album Encore, Eminem disappoints and impresses at the same time. He has always enjoyed a God-given talent for rapping, but it was his meticulous attention to rhyme scheme that made the difference between simply impressive and absolutely amazing albums.

Eminem comes off like a procrastinator who had two and half years to record his follow-up to The Eminem Show, but instead finished it in a rush at the last second. Like an intelligent student writing a late night term paper, Eminem cruises on natural ability, but still sounds tired and repetitive.

For better or for worse, producer Dr. Dre's beats perfectly match Eminem's flow. The doctor's beats lack their normal G-funk bounce, but remain better than those of most other producers. The problem is that Eminem and Dr. Dre shouldn't be compared with average rappers and producers. Eminem's beef with Benzono and Ja Rule inspired him to more passionate lyricism than anything found on Encore, but they were still petty feuds with lessers. If Eminem wants to assert himself as a legitimate candidate for the best rapper of all time, he needs to learn how to push himself to a higher standard on his own rather than relying on others to push his buttons for him.

The biggest problem (and biggest consolation) is that Eminem seems to be completely aware of this problem. He has always been at his most vicious when he feels threatened by another rapper, but on "Toy Soldiers," Eminem admits that he needs to demonstrate more self-control in the future. He raps, "It's not a plea that I'm coppin/ I'm just willing to be the bigger man if y'all can quit poppin/ off at your jaws/ Well, then I can/ cuz frankly I'm sick of talkin'."

The problem with this song and much of the album is that Eminem is rehashing subject matter that he has already kicked to death on better songs previously released on DJ Green Lantern mixtapes in the last few years.

On "Evil Deeds," Eminem brags, "Sometimes the average listener rewinds and plays me 20 times." On previous albums this has been true, but there isn't a single verse on Encore like the second verse in "Square Dance" from The Eminem Show, which required multiple listening before you could get you head around his lyrical gymnastics. On Encore, there are brief flashes of the impressive multi-syllabic rhymes that fans expect from Eminem, but he doesn't sustain his virtuosity for more than a line or two.

On "Big Weenie" Eminem rambles about his legions of jealous enemies, until he eventually admits, "It's pointless/ Why do we have to keep on going through this?/ This is torturous." The album isn't torturous, but it's certainly pointless. Eminem's irrepressible talent shines through his lazy verses nonetheless, which makes Encore a disappointment, but not a waste.