Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Recession Playlist

Lamont’s Lists
December 2008

The Recession Playlist

I read an article recently in the New York Times that discussed how, during tough economic times, pop music tends to adjust itself accordingly. Ballads and bluesy numbers sell more during downturns as opposed to the up-tempo, party tracks that prosper during periods of growth. Think about Young Jeezy’s recent release “The Recession” or Kanye West’s “808’s & Heartbreak” and you’ll get the picture. With that in mind, I consulted my ipod to create a hip hop playlist that would be appropriate for our current meltdown. It turns out there is a lot to work with given rap’s love for a good rags to riches (or should I say ashy to classy) narrative. Below are the ten favorite songs that I came up with, along with a bunch more that seemed to fit the mood. I’m sure I missed quite a few great ones so please hit me back with the zingers that I forgot. And don’t worry, next month I will follow up with a list that will hopefully motivate us all to overcome the hard times and get our swagger back (think Tupac “Keep Ya Head Up” and Kanye’s “Wait ‘Til I Get My Money Right”). For now, enjoy wallowing in the misery.


The Top 10 Rap Songs For Hard Times

1. The Message – Grand Master Flash And The Furious Five – The mother of all hard times songs. Melle Mel paints a bleak portrait of an early 80’s New York that is rotting from within. “Rats in the front room / roaches in the back / junkies in the alley with the baseball bat”…eloquent, moving, unforgettable.

2. Everyday Struggle – The Notorious B.I.G. – Biggie’s morbid chorus “I don’t wanna live no moe’ / sometimes I hear death knockin’ at my front doe’…” was matched by his vivid lyrics describing “a true G’s” losing battle to beat the odds on the front lines of America’s urban wasteland.

3. Hurt Me Soul – Lupe Fiasco – Lupe’s in rare form here, even by his lofty standards. On this ambitious effort he pretty much works his way through “all the world’s ills” – from poverty to domestic abuse to the lack of clean water in 3rd world villages. “They bombed my village / they call us killas / took me off their welfare / can’t afford their healthcare”. Somehow he manages to show how all these global problems are interrelated and connected to his own everyday life. It’s a fluid, graceful performance from one of the great talents in the business today.

4. Don’t Feel Right – The Roots – Black Thought is in a foul mood and with good reason. He’s pissed off at THE MAN who’s F’d up his City of Brotherly Love and poisoned our planet. He’s also kind of mad at you too for standing idly by, scolding that “if you ain’t sayin’ nothin’ you’re the system’s accomplice”. That’s harsh, but at least he appreciates that we are all broke…”If you ain’t got no paper then steal this CD / Listen man, I’ll let you know how it feels to be me”.

5. Everything’s Gonna Be Alright – Naughty By Nature – Treach’s hopeless depiction of the life and times of a typical “ghetto bastard” makes for a disturbing contrast to this song’s uplifting chorus. “How will I do it? How will I make it? I won’t that’s how.” Real talk.

6. C.R.E.A.M. – Wu Tang Clan – “It’s been 22 long hard years and still strugglin’ / survival got me buggin’”. Wu Tang’s signature track sounds every bit as urgent today as it did when it was released 15 years ago. It’s simply not possible to capture on record the hunger for success against unfathomable odds any better that Raekwon, Method Man and Inspector Deck did on this raw, unflinching classic.

7. Satisfied? – J-Live – “They say to eat good you got to swallow your pride / But dead that game plan, I’m not satisfied.” J-Live surveys post 9/11 America and delivers a blistering attack on the mess that greed, political corruption and the rat race has created. “Whoever told you it was all good lied”.

8. Good Times – Styles P – Again, don’t be fooled by the title. Here Styles posts the most convincing argument to date for why getting high is the only sane way to face the stress of the daily grind. “And I’d rather roll somethin’ up / ‘Cause if I’m sober dog, I just might flip, grab my guns and hold somethin’ up”. If you’re easily tempted, I suggest you avoid this one.

9. Cheesy Rat Blues – LL Cool J – LL’s career hit the skids in ’89 after a prolonged battle with Kool Moe Dee and the poorly timed release of his third album, “Walking With A Panther”. “Panther” was a self-indulgent brag fest that came at the height of rap’s afro centric period, led by groups such as Public Enemy, X-Clan and The Jungle Brothers. Before he made his triumph comeback with “Mama Said Knock You Out”, he penned this gem about a down-on-his-luck former big shot. “Used to have a girl that was on the ball / when the cash flow got low, so did her calls”. Funny, self-deprecating and spectacularly well-played. That’s why LL is a GOAT.

10. Down ‘N Out – The Nappy Roots – The Nappy Roots do for hip hop + the blues what A Tribe Called Quest did for hip hop + jazz. That is, meld the two genres together seamlessly. Here they enlist Anthony Hamilton to amp their soulful southern fried formula. “Have you ever been down and out? / Not a penny left to your name / Broke down on the side of the road / Is anybody going my way?” Makes me want to take solace in a plate of fried chicken and collard greens.

15 More To Help You Wallow In Your Sorrows
11. Drink Away The Pain – Mobb Deep – “I think the whole world is going insane / I fill my brain up with liquor and drink away the pain”. Enough said.
12. So Many Tears – Tupac – Pac brings the pain on one of his dreariest, darkest confessionals.
13. Po Folks – The Nappy Roots – More bluesy moping from Kentucky’s finest.
14. Life’s A Bitch – Nas - The lyrics are hopeful but the chorus is without redemption…”Life’s a bitch an then you die / that’s why we get high…”
15. Gasoline Dreams – Outkast – “Don’t everybody like the smell of gasoline? Well burn mutha F*#?$, burn American dream” Dre and Big Boi set fire to the promise of the American dream, making the case that it is well out of reach to their fellow youth who are “full of fire and got nowhere to go”.
16. 8 Million Stories – A Tribe Called Quest – Nothing is going Phife’s way on this one, but at least he keeps his sense of humor.
17. All Falls Down – Kanye West – Kanye bemoans materialism as the root of so many of our problems. You gotta love that he doesn’t excuse himself from falling victim.
18. It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp – Djay – Not even pimps are spared when the recession hits hard.
19. I Wish – Skee-Lo – Like LL’s “Cheesy Rat”, Skee-Lo makes light of his D-list status. “I wish I was a little bit taller / I wish I was a balla / I wish I had a rabbit in a hat with a bat / a 6-4 Impala”. Being ass-out never sounded so breezy.
20. Hard Times – Run-DMC – Truth be told, this one doesn’t hold up to modern times, but it’s Run-DMC after all, so they get a pass.
21. Can’t Do Nuthin’ For You Man – Public Enemy – When even Flava Flav feels the need to tell you to get your act together, you know things are bad.
22. This Can’t Be Life – Jay-Z – Sig keeps it real as usual, but Scarface really lays it on thick on this collabo that features Jay-Z taking a rare break from toasting the good life.
23. Prayin For Help – T.I. – “Asking somebody else to give me a hand / I’m tryin’ hard but I’m only a man.” T.I. is eloquent and poignant here as he fights with his inner demons.
24. Streets Of New York – Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – World class lyricism from G Rap providing further, heart-breaking evidence of what life is like for New York’s poor and disenfranchised.
25. Hard Times – Baby Huey And The Babysitters – Talk about the blueprint. This is the heavily sampled masterpiece that spawned a thousand “it’s hard out here” urban folktales.