By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
|Photo by Jonathan Mannion|
The Blueprint (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
He’s the jigga you hate to love: Practically everything Jay-Z espouses — rampant materialism, reckless bravado, sexual objectification — reflects hip-hop’s tiresome self-focus and social irrelevancy. But it’s a testament to his irresistible charisma that no matter what Jay puts out, we return with hands out, begging for more.
Part of his appeal lies in how Jay-Z’s the EveryMC — he doesn’t simply evade MC categories, he exceeds them: less thuggish than DMX, but more brutal with his wordplay as he tears cross-town rival Nas a new asshole on “The Takeover”; less of a pimp than Too Short, but he’ll charm you into singing the chorus to his salacious “Girls, Girls, Girls” for the rest of the year; less conscious than Mos Def, but his gift for introspection on songs like the title track and “Song Cry” are undeniably compelling personal narratives. Commanding the most presence of any rapper in a post-Tupac/Biggie era, Jay-Z can live up to his claim that he’s the “God MC/Me/J-Hova.”
Jay-Z’s now released six albums in just five years, and Blueprint is his best since debuting with Reasonable Doubt in 1996. That’s no small feat given how hip-hop’s algebra usually makes quantity the inverse of quality, but The Blueprint is executed beautifully as Jay-Z balances jeep-beat summer anthems like “Izzo” against the razor-edged drama of “U Don’t Know” while still partying Latin-style on “Hola’ Hovito.” Apart from Jay-Z’s myriad styles, give equal credit to Bink, Kayne West and Just Blaze, the main producers responsible for the album’s sublime musical character. The trio raid the R&B catalogs of the 1970s with abandon, juicing up on Motown’s sugary soul for “Izzo,” tapping into Al Green’s gospel roots on “Blueprint” and stripping off Studio 54 disco elements for “All I Need.” It’s a retro sound, to be sure, but the flashback flavor is far more an asset than a liability.
More than ever, hip-hop needs a leader who can inspire its wayward flock, and Jay-Z’s the default nominee at present. But The Blueprint can’t create the same transcendent magic that albums by OutKast and Lauryn Hill have wielded. Jay’s too in love with himself to aspire to a greater purpose beyond self-praise, and while ego’s long been the fuel for hip-hop’s passion, alas, it’s also the cancer behind its discontent. To that degree, The Blueprint is solid proof that Jay-Z represents some of the worst values hip-hop has to offer, but some of its greatest potential as well.
THE BLACK WIDOWS
Arocknaphobia (Vital Gesture)
“All instrumental, all original, all evil” is the motto of the Black Widows, the L.A.-based instrumental combo whose members shroud their true identities behind black-stocking masks and secondhand industrial jump suits. Unlike the Lucha Libre–inspired surfcasters Los Straitjackets, the Black Widows go incognito for practical purposes: Not only do their disguises allow them to handily sidestep irate owners of the clubs they regularly trash, they also serve to protect the innocent. Guitarists Dr. Vibe and Bob the Snake, bassist Mac Phisto, drummer The Executioner and keyboardist-percussionist-provocateur Jackson the Ripper are all members of some of the city’s most critically acclaimed bands, whose fans would be traumatized to find their heroes moonlighting in a group of such vile intent and lousy haberdashery.
But if the evil that the Widows do will live after them, so shall their sinfully excellent tunes. Arocknaphobia, the band’s long-awaited CD debut, melds the melodic pith of the Ventures, Tornados et al., with the high-volume piss ’n’ vinegar of vintage Blue Oyster Cult. Drums rumble, guitars roar, and small mammals scurry for cover, yet the hooks of tracks like “Agent Double-O Swing,” “War Dance” and the Davie Allan homage “Road Hawg” stay with you long after the smoke clears. Of course, the true mark of any quality instro band is the ability to write thought-provoking titles, and — as “My Least Favorite Martian,” “Rasputin’s Holiday” and “Cosmic Ape” attest — the Widows come up aces on that front as well.
If there was ever a band capable of sharing stages with both Dick Dale and Slipknot, it would have to be the Widows, and these 18 tracks ably replicate the magic and menace of their live show; it’s just like being there, minus the stray projectiles and spilled beer. Got Arocknaphobia? You will. (Dan Epstein)BENT