Saturday, November 1, 2008

Pitchfork's Marc Hogan Looks At Candidate-Boosting Songs of '08

Via Pitchfork Media

This is a few days old, but I had to share. Marc Hogan from Pitchfork Media takes a look at 10 songs released this year big-upping the U.S. presidential candidates. You can read the whole piece here; I just pasted his write-ups for each song.

NAS: "BLACK PRESIDENT"
Nas' untitled album this year was a typical post-heyday Nas album: uneven, with a few moments of lyrical brilliance, and questionable beatmaking decisions. This song has its flaws, too-- when Nas is "like, what the fuck?", so am I-- but whether on the official LP or on Nas' The Nigger Tape with Green Lantern, this song's drummer-boy beat and debate between Nas's positivity and 2Pac's weary skepticism has kept me coming back more than any other campaign-related tune. My wife taught it in her 7th grade English class last school year in Brooklyn; her students liked it, too. Key line: "It ain't the '60s again."

JAY-Z: "A BILLI"
Hova may not be a billionaire yet, but in a year when even Danish waterfall artists were rhyming over "A Milli", Jay's enthusiastic bling-politics rhymes here are rivaled only by Fabolous and Lil Mama among the (too many) "A Milli" versions I've heard.

YOUNG JEEZY [FT. NAS]: "MY PRESIDENT"
Speaking of "bling-politics", one-time undecided voter Young Jeezy sounds masterful on arguably the least explicitly political Obama song of all. His president is black, his Lambo is blue-- so what? Same difference. "I'm important, too," Jeezy exhorts, comparing his motivational ability to Obama's. Nas sounds like he got lost and ended up on the wrong track.

BIG BOI [FT. MARY J. BLIGE]: "SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE"
The wah-wahing soul funk of recession-scarred "Something's Gotta Give" is perfect for Big Boi's flexible flow and Mary J. Blige's gorgeously smoky vocals. Blige is the one who big-ups B.O., but Boi has a political statement to make to self-styled music connoisseurs, too: "The great debaters debate about who's the greatest MC/ Subject matter don't matter because their verses empty/ No room for thought, nothing for the brain to digest/ So I guess it be about who can jive talk the best."

JOHN RICH: "RAISIN' MCCAIN"
I liked this one better when it didn't have fiddles or sound like "Monday Night Football" and was called "Johnny B. Goode". Also, what does "Raisin' McCain" mean, exactly? I thought I was supposed to be the media elitist who doesn't know my Bible. "Play that American guitar, son." As for the video, well, I see white people.

HANK WILLIAMS, JR.: "MCCAIN-PALIN TRADITION"
Hank Williams, Jr., like most Americans, doesn't believe that ol' "left-wing liberal media" anyway, so I won't explain to him that the financial crisis has nothing to do with bankers not wanting to make loans and Bill Clinton saying, "You got to." When being a Republican means you can't know what a credit default swap is, the recent poll numbers make a lot more sense.

JUDD KESSLER: "LEAD THE WAY"
Bethesda, Md.-based lawyer and amateur musician Judd Kessler's earnest, piano-based message of unity is my favorite McCain anthem. "Imagine someone with a real voice singing it," he says. Aw, dude, you're welcome in indie rock anytime.

JOHN BROWN: "SARAH PALIN (I WANNA LAY PIPE)"
When former "Ego Trip's (White) Rapper Show" contestant John Brown first released his tribute to Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, I was hesitant to discuss it-- after all, was there any point in reinforcing the idiotic sexual fantasies circulating about her, from Rush Limbaugh calling her a "babe" to the National Review editor Rich Lowry seeing "starbursts"? Sometimes funny is just funny, though.

MALIK YUSEF [FT. KANYE WEST AND ADAM LEVINE]: "PROMISED LAND"
Obama has spoken highly of Kanye West, and the Chicago rapper has returned the favor in interviews, but West has stayed more circumspect about the election on record, focusing his most recent output on his own Heartbreak. On this track from the official Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement soundtrack album, he joins with Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine and previous collaborator Malik Yusef to fuel the GOP's Obama-as-Messiah meme.

LUDACRIS: "POLITICS AS USUAL"
Obama has also spoken highly of Ludacris, so this horn-bumping track from Luda's otherwise-forgettable DJ Drama-- aka "Barack O'Drama"-- Presents: The Preview forced the general-election candidate to distance himself from some of the rapper's uglier remarks. As Pitchfork contributor Ian Cohen put it, "Essentially, this is Obama's Sistah Souljah moment, giving him the opportunity to make bold disapprovals of Luda's views of Hillary ('she hated on you so that bitch is irrelevant'), Dubya ('mentally handicapped'), and in the money quote, McCain ('don't belong in ANY chair unless he's paralyzed')." I'm still not sure what that last lyric means.

THE MOUNTAIN GOATS: "DOWN TO THE ARK"
Many indie- or rock-oriented artists have shown their support for Obama, from Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Arcade Fire, Superchunk, the Breeders, Jeff Tweedy, Conor Oberst, Shudder to Think, the Decemberists, My Morning Jacket's Jim James, Joanna Newsom, the National, and M. Ward to Andrew Bird, Les Savy Fav, Fiery Furnaces, No Age, Vampire Weekend, and Lightning Bolt-Foot Village project Noise for Obama-- among others. But few (if any) major indie-rock bands have actually written a song about their candidate. The possible reasons could fill up a whole other feature, whether they're simple cynicism, an aversion to putting art in the service of a specific politician (politicians are, after all, politicians), recognition that such songs rarely stand the test of time, or what. The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle evokes this tension nicely in "Down to the Ark", a piano-driven song he wrote for the Super Tuesday primaries at the behest of public radio's "Weekend America". Darnielle denounces the tax cuts and war matter-of-factly enough, but he portrays the candidates themselves in a darker, more fantastical light. After all, all politicians have pledged their loyalty in blood to a "cloven-hoofed prince," right? Given the enormous challenges facing this country, whoever wins... let's hope not.

3 comments:

  1. the guy who gave the explanations on all the songs is an idiot, dude be acting like all these songs are supposed to be judged like album quality when most of them are just mixtape worthy.. dude needs to wake up and actually listen to shit before he rates it

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  2. But isn't that what I do with my Tape Deck reviews? To criticize Marc Hogan is to criticize me as well.

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  3. Speaking of which: I'm gonna have a new policy for The Tape Deck that HHIReaders might enjoy.

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