What is actually up with Eminem?

One of the most celebrated MC’s in modern rap music, Eminem, dropped a new album, Music to be Murdered By, this week. This is his eleventh album and he remains one of the most popular and controversial figures in rap music, in part due to race, subject matter, beef with other MC’s and straight bravado. He has had the worldwide bestselling album twice, won countless awards and in so many other ways is a pillar of the rap community. On the surface, he seems very much like the two very different personas he presented us over the years with Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers, but neither of those public figures is Eminem. Listening to this record, I found myself asking if the real Slim Shady would ever stand up?

Eminem, Music To Be Murdered By, 2020

Unlike Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Stevie Wonder or Tina Turner, there is something about the majority of Eminem’s work that makes me think he won’t stand up in a historical context. Maybe he knows this too, and that’s why he is so venomous on the intro of his new record to assert his relevance and how his name is used by the media. He has always taken the violence of street rap and turned it darker, more personal and that has helped him stand out in the genre. And yes, being more twisted might get shock value followers, but is it going to be held up as an example of the art form? He might have gained popularity for those early sinister rhymes, but its on this album it feels like he is aiming to be his best self. The problem for Em, is that he has been someone else, insecure and so overtly saying he doesn’t give a fuck for so long, it sounds like he doesn’t know who his best self is.  

There is no taking away from his skill though. First (real) track in, Unaccommodating he take Young M.A.’s meandering thought process and puts jumper cables to it. He’s so hot on his verse its almost excusable that he once again uses the most horrific social situations for lyrical fodder referencing the shootings at the Ariana Grande concert. Its less of a shock, because this is his tried and tested trope, but it still feels unnecessary. People died violently that night and trivializing it helps no one.

The next track features Bad Meets Evil partner Royce Da 5”9 and is a great in for raising an interesting issue for Em: Royce da 5”9 is such a staunch defender of anything Em does and as a white MC in an art form started by disenfranchised black men, does Royce (and Dre, D12 even 50 for that matter) give him legitimacy? And is that more so than Mac Millar for example (whose posthumous album was released the same day)? Why is Royce and others able to throw the culture vulture net over other white MC’s (Yelawolf anyone?) but Em is protected? How the hell Post Malone became popular is surely in relation to Em’s history and a fungal ear infection whose symptoms include deafness and seems to come complementary along with any of his music.

There are few “relationship” tracks in there where Em at least pretends to acknowledge women and to an extent D12 that can totally be skipped which is just as much a metaphor for his misogyny as any of his lyrics. The next must hear track on this record is Godzilla which feature the late Juice WRLD. I have mixed feelings about this track and the timing of releasing it. Juice WRLD was taken from us far too young and hearing his vocals saddens me. He provides a hook at the beginning of the song and the remainder of the track Em bodies, and hell does he go for it. I can’t decide if this is a fitting tribute for Juice or an arrogant way of outshining a youngster gone too soon. If it turns anyone onto Juice WRLD’s music than great, otherwise, more insensitive shit form the king of insensitive shit.

What might have been the highlight of the album if Juice was still touring Europe, is the track Yah Yah where Old schoolers Black Thought and Q-Tip show up. Its probably the only song on the album where Em doesn’t go out of his way to out do the feature, though it helps Black Thought comes hot and the hook is super catchy. Yeah Marsh and Little Engine are good tracks with that smooth Em flow, but nothing particular to say. Lock it Up comes curtesy of Anderson.Paak and is the next song that needs to grab you. It almost proves that you can rap at a katrilion BPM, but if you have the funk of Anderson.Paak you can lace a track with it and everyone else shines because of you. The best elements of Slaughterhouse (i.e. everyone bar Joe Budden) show up right at the end of the album. I personally feel Joell Ortiz is one of the best MC’s out there and he proves it again on this track. He and Royce hold their own on the track and the Wu Tang references make the nostalgia of the song swell, Its another stellar outing.

What is clear at the end of this record is Eminem is so concerned with how he is persevered, he keeps hiding behind aliases, ego, and his legacy. He has yet to show the vulnerability of Juice WRLD on a track or the straight funk of Anderson.Paak that makes other people shine, but that distance allows him to be horrendous. And that’s what people want.  After the killing Kim lyrics and Slim Shady’s antics maybe no one expects Em to be himself. Maybe they believe he is this arrogant asshole he presents as or maybe no one other Machine Gun Kelly cares who Eminem really is and so this is the best we’ll see from him. Is it an album you need to hear? No, but there are three or four tracks that are so good they send tingles up the spine.

Poem – Land Mass

Whatungarongaro te tangata toitū te whenua –

As man disappears from sight, the land remains.

Will it always remain? Right from when

I was at primary school, until much later

and for a brief period when I forgot

to be the centre of the universe

I didn’t conceptualise that my teachers

had a life outside the classroom.

I remember seeing Ms Leehan

buying an ice-cream at the dairy after school

and refusing to speak to her.

Archimedes figured out that too much people

leads to spillage. Still, he celebrated.  But

when I run naked through the streets yelling

made up words like “accountability”,

I’m “disturbing the peace”! The water

from his bathtub only added to rising sea levels.

It’s hard to not drive my ‘89 Corolla

knowing I’m adding to emissions when

I see the Young Nats advocating

for unfettered capitalism.

Nothing is certain except maybe the land,

I watch incomprehensible chunks of ice

crack and fall into the ocean and

it hurts my teeth like a Sensodyne advert.

I owe Tangaroa an apology

for every time I bought takeaway sushi

and didn’t recycle that plastic container

I couldn’t conceptualise the waste making it to

the sea. Ka mate te kāinga tahi,

White Airliner in Forest

This site talks more about donating to the fire fighters dealing with horror Australia is dealing with right now https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/bushfire-relief-how-you-can-help-those-in-need/news-story/a0476ac3538b8c373f281ea6be204421

These guys plant native trees in NZ with your donations https://www.treesthatcount.co.nz/

And this is the Protect Ihumātao  page https://www.protectihumatao.com/

PS – I have no formal connection to any of these groups, I am not paid to promote them, I just think they’re tops. Cool? Chur.

Reflecting on people reflecting on things – 2019

Its that time of year again. December-ish and we are all feeling pretty jolly, if not completely exhausted and drunk on the nog. We are celebrating Christian values super-imposed over pagan understanding of harvesting food all while feeling guilty about, well, everything. That’s right everyone, its Christmas time!

We’re intelligent people though as a society we are in the middle of mass consumerism as a culture, a religion or whatever and our synapses are running on empty. As a result, we often turn to critics to help with pressies for the family and friends that we know like music, books, movies or whatever. Our new favourite Christmas tradition is truly end of year lists! To celebrate the tradition of end of year lists, here’s an end of year list about end of year lists.

Best Music

woman standing watching LED light musical instrument

Pitchforkhttps://pitchfork.com/features/lists-and-guides/best-albums-2019/ I wank on about music in a wanky kind of way with brief interludes to have a wank and even I find Pitchfork a bit wanky. Their end of year list is much the same. They highlight Big Thief, MIKE and few others I like, but its hard to take this seriously. Soz Pitchfork, but yeah nah.

RNZ – Song Crush https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/song-crush Hosted by Kirsten Johnstone and joined by a bunch of other Music 101 stalwarts, this is a really sweet selection of fave tunes. The presenters are so passionate about their song choices and give all kinds of background and choice little details, it really draws you in. International and NZ are split which is helpful too. Some highlights include Michael Kiwanuka and Tiny Ruins.

Rolling Stone https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/best-albums-2010s-ranked-913997/ RS does the 100 best albums of 2010. Kind of interesting, way too many to get through. Not even that helpful for Christmas presents but way more accessible music than some of these lists. Strong B-

Bandcamphttps://daily.bandcamp.com/best-of-2019/the-best-albums-of-2019-20-1 Bandcamp too do 100 albums and that is just from this year so a lot to get through. I’d focus on the top 20 as they are grouped in that way and if you press play at the top, you just get a track from each of the albums which is a nice way to get an idea of what’s going on. Both Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard and fave new rapper Billy Woods make an appearance.

The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/dec/17/best-albums-2019-no-4-sharon-van-etten-remind-me-tomorrow The Guardian do top 50, top 20 and huge write ups on each. Cool if you already love Sharon Van Etten as I do and want to read a little more about her (or Billie Eilish or other selections), but otherwise a bit much. Maybe calm down a smidge Guardian?

Off the Tracks https://offthetracks.co.nz/the-albums-i-loved-the-most-in-2019/. Simon Sweetman who is NZ’s most controversial music reviewer has a list that encompasses the broadest selection of different kinds of music. A truly eclectic listener, he makes sure Jazz, Rock, Soundtracks and everything in between get a mention. Also, short and sharp write ups. Pretty good all round.

Best Books

books on ground

NZIER Summer reading list for the Prime Minister https://nzier.org.nz/media/nzier-releases-summer-reading-list-for-the-prime-minister-2019 This is a pretty cool concept of a short list of books that the PM or anyone interested in NZ’s state of play could add to their own summer reading list. Pretty heavy sounding titles though, can’t see myself picking them up.

The New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com/culture/2019-in-review/the-best-books-of-2019 The New Yorker might still be considered a bastion for High Brow Literature, but this list gives a range of books and quick snappy blurbs making it accessible. Includes the beautifully written On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, by Ocean Vuong

The NZ Herald/Canvasshttps://www.nzherald.co.nz/entertainment/news/article.cfm?c_id=1501119&objectid=12292645

The NZ Herald decided to go with a pay wall in recent times and this list is oddly behind it. You can view online if you are a premium customer and the print edition was very well put together. Not sure why you’d put something like this behind the pay wall though, as this list demonstrates, non-paying readers have so many options to look at similar content for free. Not sure this was the smoothest move NZ Herald, but hey, am stoked all your right wing fuckhead columnists like Mike Hosking are free to the public!

The Listener https://www.noted.co.nz/culture/culture-books/100-best-books-of-2019-listener Another list of 100 which is just so many. The layout is pretty but I thought I might be able to click on a book cover to get more info, but can’t. Nice to see its broken up into Fiction, History etc and with a broad range of authors. Ian McEwan and Marlon James’ new ones unsurprisingly make appearances.

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/choiceawards/best-books-2019 This has a peoples choice type element which is a nice touch, but I am not sure I can get behind the idea that book X is the best in each category. I guess one book wins the Man Booker prize (Or not https://thebookerprizes.com/fiction), but it seems odd that we give out firsts in an entirely subjective medium of art. Ah well. Margaret Attwood tops this pool for fiction.

Best Movies

Landry's Happy New Year

Esquire https://www.esquire.com/entertainment/movies/g24561951/best-movies-of-2019/ Another list of 50 and I don’t know anyone who has time to see 50 movies before New Years, but hey these won’t go anywhere. Plenty of time to see them in 2020. One of the good and frustrating things about this list as it includes trailers for each entry. Great, I love trailers, but makes the whole list a pain to load. Links please Esquire? Spoiler alert, The Lighthouse takes out #1 spot.  

Wired https://www.wired.co.uk/article/best-films-2019 Similar layout to Esquire, but with a more mainstream feel. A bunch of Marvel entries and no ranking system makes this feel a bit more true to the average schlub like me. Def my pick of movie lists.

Stuff Okay, so Stuff haven’t updated their list since June from what I can see https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/film/113584594/the-best-movies-of-the-2019-so-far  but I love their film reviewer going in on this animated film. Worst of 2019. https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/film/film-reviews/118137766/playmobil-the-movie-everything-is-awful

Urban List https://www.theurbanlist.com/nz/a-list/best-movies-netflix-nz This is a Netflix specific list which makes sense in this age of streaming. It includes things that have come out in other formats previously as well as new content. The Irishman obviously makes an appearance, but so does Dirty Dancing. Great ideas for the summer Netflix and if you would also like to chill.

Other notable lists

Best of NZ Politics with The Spin Off https://thespinoff.co.nz/politics/18-12-2019/new-zealand-politics-in-2019-we-pick-the-champs-and-the-flops/

Best Art with the New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/06/arts/design/best-art.html

Media Person of the Year with Newsroom https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2019/12/19/955264/media-person-of-the-year-2

Best Memes with the Thrillist https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/best-memes-2019

Best Longform articles with Longform.org https://longform.org/best

Best Quotes with Wealthy Gorilla https://wealthygorilla.com/60-short-funny-motivational-quotes/

Best Podcasts with Time https://time.com/5737235/best-podcasts-2019/

Ahhh, isn’t that better? Lists for the summer and more! Happy listing whanau. Nga mihi nui.

brown leather case

Chatting with punk band Die! Die! Die! for HUP (Hamilton Underground Press).

This interview originally appears here https://www.hamiltonundergroundpress.com/news/december-08th-2019

Nostalgia is a bastard of a thing. It serves up all this expectation. It colours things often in ways that aren’t as exacting on a revisit.  Finding out I was going to have a chat to Die! Die! Die! guitarist and vocalist, Andrew Wilson about (among other things) the reissue of their acclaimed album Promises, Promises, I’ll admit I was a little nervous. Promises, Promises was the soundtrack to a particular time in my version of Hamilton, my little Nissan Pulsar and several raucous nights on Vic Street back in 2007-08ish. A CD long since lost or given to an ex-girlfriend but remembered with great fondness.  Had my memories changed the facts or vice versa? I needn’t have worried. The album and its vocalist are just as endearing after all this time, which is probably an insult to a punk band, but never meant that way. https://diediedie.bandcamp.com/

Andrew tells me that he still considers Die! Die! Die! just that, a punk band, though they’ve been called all kinds of other things. Labels like noise pop, post punk are always thrust upon the group never created from the inside and aren’t generally that helpful. I wondered about raising a previous interview where the band recounted playing The China Hardcore Music Festival and felt they were being booed for not being ‘Hardcore’ enough. In fairness, that’s not entirely a labelling issue, and our conversation had moved on. What had occurred in China at that time was that Lachlan Anderson left the group leaving Andrew and drummer Mike(y) Prain once again without a bassist.

Times have turned however as Andrew tells me that Lachie is back, and this change seems like Die! Die! Die! to a T. The band has often had a rotating cast of bassists, several much-needed hiatuses and there are times when Die! Die! Die! just weren’t doing music. Hell, they were meant to be playing their last show in the summer of ‘03-04. Andrew explained that there have been many times the band had stopped being fun, wasn’t sustainable or just in a “bullshit holding pattern,” and so these breaks and personal changes were always on the cards. But the band wasn’t over.

Andrew and Mikey’s friendship is such that not only has the band continued, it produced some of the best music of their careers. The spikey and aggressive EP, O (pronounced ‘Oh’, and not ‘Zero’ as I did in one of my many gaffes’ during the interview) saw Die! Die! Die! with Lachie back in the fold. It became popular in part due to the band’s ability to play it live with stark replication of the record. Previous outing, Charm.Offensive, was heavily produced with plenty of over dubbing and while that produced a noisy sonic aesthetic all of its own, it became hard to duplicate live. Andrew seems spurred on by the relative success of O, and is hoping the re-issue of Promises, Promises, will get enough money together that the band can record again without, “owing anyone”. Andrew did qualify that by saying, “When we release music, we don’t expect it to sell!”

The recent success may also be in part due to the use of bandcamp (and subsequent interview with Nick Fulton there https://daily.bandcamp.com/features/die-die-die-feature ) and streaming sites. Not that Andrew could tell me much about that, having only signed up to Spotify in the last few months. He recalled the early days of the band when record labels would foot the bill for studio time, including their famous trip to Chicago to record with Steve Albini who produced records for the likes of Nirvana and The Stooges. Things are being done a lot differently now with the band calling their own shots. Andrew explained that every time personalities or professionals in the music industry told them to do something a certain way, it wouldn’t work. So, when the band head back to Chicago next year to once again record with Steve Albini, it will be under their own steam.

Image result for steve albini

First however, they’ve got to get to Hamilton. Yes, they’ve had coveted spots at SXSW and toured Europe, Asia, Russia, but they (unlike many others) have always had time for Hamilton. They’ve even skipped the capital in the past to make sure The Tron gets its dose of Die! Die! Die!, and for that and on behalf of our little town, I said a heartfelt thank you.

I’ve seen Die! Die! Die! play in venues like Soul (RIP), Void (RIP) and Ward Lane (RIP?) over the years and recall a time Andrew swung from a light fitting which we agreed may well have actually been The Mint Chicks’ Kody Neilson. Nevertheless, their high energy live show will be a timely reminder of the legacy of Die! Die! Die! They play Nivara Lounge Dec 13 with old friends The Coolies and hopefully new friends Sora Shima, and OKSUN OX. https://diediedie.bandcamp.com/

Image result for die die die hamilton

Where did all the cowboys go?

This all started by trying to find an EP from a Hamilton (NZ) band I love(d) called Wizz Kids. Once upon a time I even wrote a review for it for those cool dudes at Hamilton Underground Press https://www.hamiltonundergroundpress.com/news/archives/12-2015 But that was many moons ago and since then, it has vanished…

The link in that review used to take you to a bandcamp page for the EP Humiliations and the band, and while they can still be found on bandcamp via a split album with other Hamilton hardcore heroes, Spiteful Urinator, the EP I was in love with has gone. I downloaded it all those years ago, but since then I have moved at least four times, I’ve moved past my Ipod (broke) onto new laptops (Mrs’) and all records are lost. Now had I bought Taylor Swift on Itunes or similar there would be more outcry had it gone missing form several very white teenage girls and many, many more dads who secretly keep up with pop music. But smaller acts can remove their work from the world by stealth.

Image result for wizz kids hamilton band

I’ve still got my CD’s and my dad’s records but losing the Wizz Kids EP made me ask questions about the legitimacy of ownership of art, particularly music in the modern age. There was a time when publication was final, but no more. Is that fair? And I am aghast partly because this isn’t the first time this has happened. I’m looking at you Nadia Reid. And I’m out for answers PNC!

Nadia Reid has shot to stardom recently, but what hooked me on her soulful folk music and striking voice was a track called Good Things. She put up a live recording on bandcamp and there is a brief intro where she explains that a friend of hers told her that all her songs in a minor key were depressing, so she wrote this one in a major key and it was really sad. Someone close to me had just committed suicide and I sat at the top of the hill between Raglan and Hamilton having just heard the news of his passing and listened to that song on repeat. I think I listened to it approximately one katrillion times over the following months. Now, gone.

Image result for Nadia reid good things

A lighter example is the Who Betta Then This Remix that PNC put out with NZ’s best MC’s spitting verses over a 41 instrumental. Louie Knuxx, Scribe and Sid Diamond might give the verse of their careers on that number, but can I get it on Spotify? Nope. PNC (most underrated rapper in NZ anyone?) has some stuff on bandcamp, but not much and I can get it on Youtube so not all is lost, but hardly ideal. I bought his album Under the Influence on CD which was dumb as he was giving it away for free online, but it meant that I could throw it on when I wanted. I actually was in control of recorded music.

Image result for pnc rapper

Perhaps I am looking at this all wrong, I can’t get back those gigs I saw as a younger person. I hold in my head the time the lead singer of Diediedie swung from the light fitting at Soul or the stage dive at a Sommerset concert that ended concussion, but I can’t replay the music. Those memories are some of my favorite. Perhaps my desire to hold onto something tangible is born out of consumerism, addiction, a need to have control of the environment in order to what? Feel something?

I guess what I am missing is the ability of the Wizz Kids, Nadia Reid and PNC to make me feel something and because they did it so well in the past, I’ve become reliant. I should really thank them for sharing their artistry with me in the first place, but the selfish part of me is like, HEY, WHERE IS MY MUSIC?

Thanks/Chur

Bygones by Raiza Biza – album review

Raiza Biza may well be Hamilton’s newest favourite son. Not because he hasn’t dropped some six odd albums already, or because metal still comes to mind when picturing Hamilton music, but because the rapper is just as international as he is local. And don’t we just love it when someone is making it overseas! He is just as happy featuring a Pineapple Lumps skit as he is dropping a verse next to Australian MCs, REMI and B Wise. The cohesiveness his latest record, Bygones is almost exemplified by the inclusion of a feature from US and Mello Music’s hero in residence, Oddisee. Needless to say, Biza has outdone himself.

There is a vibe to this record which includes touchstones of dusty soul, rich and velvety but also with a directness in delivery. His rap is certainly smooth and melodic, but Rwandan born and grappling with African diaspora, being a father of three and “the devil in the billboard” Biza is earnest in his music. He builds on his story telling skills to grow a whole world in this petri dish. Whether he is name checking Trump or binging back embattled X-Factor winner, Beau Monga for a feature, there is a timelessness to this record.

Biza, like so many other worthy NZ artists, feels a little unsung. With the help of long-time collaborator, Crime Heat, he has produced quality album after quality album but hasn’t quite managed the success perhaps afforded to similar artists in Melbourne or Sydney, let alone the States. It might be a smidge of cultural cringe when it comes to NZ hip hop and it’s not just because every white guy you know said, “not many, if any in” the 2000’s.

There is something about the realism of hip hop that can be hard to look directly in the eye. The popularity of foreign/US artists that dominate most of Mai FM’s playlist may have enough physical distance to allow us to glorify their antics or maybe misread them entirely. It might be why we’re calling meth, crack in order to hark back to US street culture, but when it’s at home, whether it be SWIDT talking about suicide or Tom Scott talking about addiction, its potentially harder for audiences to hear.

Biza is covering the same topics he’s always covered with variance, nuance and the intelligence that makes him a great artist, but are audiences here ready to hear one of our (adopted?) own tell the truth? The track Self-Medicated is perhaps the peak of these interacting streams of cultural influence. Here, Biza is waking up to a blunt and the “fade away” bridge could quite happily be on any current hip-hop record from Lil Xan to Lil Wayne. Despite this, he is his own voice and admits that he’s trying so hard to be cool, he could go back to being an asshole. That’s the honesty and self-awareness you won’t find on a Future album. Though in fairness, the hyper-catchy Funds, might be.

Album and other albums for that matter can be found here https://raizabiza.bandcamp.com/album/bygones