As readers of the Riff should know by now, your terribly-named DJ and contributing writer is a pretentious, nerdy weirdo, zoning out to noodly downtempo space-hop, jamming to 20-minute neo-metal sludge-fests, and bouncing along to Malian wedding music. Of course, part of my job here on the Riff is to, er, bring good things to light, hopefully exposing one or two (of our five or six) readers to obscure but worthwhile music. But there’s some cheesy stuff out there that deserves a little critical praise, and I’m willing to be the man to do it.
First up, Atlanta rapper T.I., who isn’t immune to critical acclaim. His 2006 album King even ended up on a few year-end best-of lists, with Pitchfork calling it “stunning.” But nowadays T.I. is a superstar hitmaker, and thus, taken a little less seriously, but a couple tracks from his latest album, Paper Trail, have seeped into my brain and won’t let go. I admit, it’s partially Oasis syndrome; these are songs that are so deeply familiar, they almost sound like rip-offs. “Live Your Life” brings Rihanna on board for a hand-waving ballad that’s about half a step from “Umbrella,” and “Whatever You Like” bites E-40 delivery and Lil Wayne keyboard blips for Oughties-hip-hop-by-numbers. But they’re irresistible. “Life” especially seems to distill the most universally-appealing moments from about 12 different songs (that’s Ozone’s horrific/awesome “Numa Numa Song” in the background) creating something rich and emotional that you can sing along with the first time you hear it. “Live Your Life” even brings in the good old “ays” and “ohs” from Naughty By Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray” to make it easy. I can’t seem to find an embeddable copy of the actual video, so watch it at MTV.com here, or watch an amateur cut-up of other stuff to the actual song below.
Next, it’s the “cheesy trance” category. San Francisco producer Kaskade has grown from his origins on local imprint Om Records to become one of the biggest names in dance music; north of the border, Canadian artist Deadmau5 has established himself as one of the most adept electronic music producers out there. They joined forces for a tune called “Move For Me,” and it’s completely formulaic: staccato chords pluck in the now-standard triplet rhythm established by Booka Shade, while an anonymous, breathy female vocal floats over the top. But “Move For Me” is a transcendent piece of pop music. The production is so clean, so smooth, that despite its minimalism, it gives you a sense of complete immersion, like diving into cool, clear water. Lyrically, it’s an oddly melancholy set of lines that work both as a standard sexy pop come-on and as the lament of a touring DJ: “Another night out/Another dance floor/Move for me/I’ll move for you.” There’s no video for it, but listen below.
Over in the Alt-Rock section of the store, there’s nothing I find more annoying than stupid white boys with guitars ironically covering hip-hop, an ugly whiff of racism hanging over their smarmy mockery. Witness Dynamite Hack’s old cover of “Boyz-N-the-Hood” which sneers out the ribald lyrics as condescendingly as possible. The whole conceit seems to say, “look how funny we are, covering stuff that isn’t real music.” I’m glad I got that out of my system, because a group called Framing Hanley has produced a rock cover of Lil Wayne’s ubiquitous Lollipop that I almost like as much as the original. The Nickelback-style power-ballad interpretation seems both a tribute to devil-hands rockism and a winking mockery of it, turning the tables, as if to say “hey white boys, it turns out Lil Wayne rocks harder than Soundgarden.” The video, which you can watch below, has an endless, idiotic intro, so be warned.
So, Riff readers, any current pop trash, cheesy ballad, or formulaic disco number you’d like to come clean about having on your iPod? Confess in the comments below.