Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Fat Joe

Fat Joe used to be something different. Coming out of the Bronx in the early 90's Fat Joe's first two albums didn't sound all that different from Big L's Lifestyles of the Poor and Infamous. Not that Joe was on that level lyrically. No way, but his songs were similar in content and organization. A lot of boom-bap beats, songs about roughing dudes up with your hands, a lot of my rap skills are comparable to various types of illegal weapons, and a few punchlines sprinkled in here and there for good measure. Don't get me wrong, Fat Joe was no Big L, not even close. But, his early albums still managed to capture a similar vibe.

To go back and look at some of the videos from the start of his career, particularly "Flow Joe" is an exercise in early-90's rap archeology. Watching this video is unearthing a lost world of a pre-jiggy-with-it era where everybody stood on a freezing rooftop somewhere in the outer boroughs bobbing their heads to the beat. Fat Joe is in the middle of his huge entourage, pointing out his boys and telling us all 93 is going to be the year of the fat man.

In the years since, the snowy rooftop became a Miami mansion. His goon squad morphed into a harem of women, and his wardrobe transitioned from stylish yet functional winter wear to an absurd puffy and feathery blue hooded vest. And instead of mean mugging the camera, for Fat Joe's coup de grace in We Thuggin, he leaps, fully clothed in said puffy and feathery blue hooded vest, into a gigantic pool.

Clearly, times have changed. Fat Joe aimed a whole slew of songs at the ladies and unfortunately, a bit of his thuggish and ruggish side went unnoticed. I'm speaking only about his music, not his character. It's long been established Fat Joe is a dude that ran and probably still rolls with some real life killers. Killers as in people who have actually killed people. He's not a dude to be fucked with. After 50 went at him back in 2005, he claimed, in a XXL cover issue no less, that no rapper has more street credibility than Fat Joe. A claim I thought was a little outlandish until I noticed no one dared question him. He's one of the few rappers to be questioned in a murder investigation, actually, two murder investigations. Complex just put together a nice series on Fat Joe's top ten physical altercations, and some of them are amazing. Aside from busting numerous dudes over the head, Joey Crack managed to get into it with Roy Jones Jr, who stepped to Joe after hearing Joey drop his name in the New York Remix.

According to Fat Joe, he told Roy Jones, "I know you can swing on me. You're the champion of the world. But you're not going to leave this club." And Jones didn't swing, the champion of the world held back from knocking out a very large rapper. Says something right there about the weight dude carries.

But back to the music. The same way Joe kept his name in the street, unfettered by all his radio hits and lady oriented joints, he has kept his music there for anyone who cares enough to dig a little bit deeper into his albums. You listen to some of the deeper cuts and realize, Fat Joe now is the same Fat Joe Da Gangsta from his first albums, he's not the dude that made What's Love. In a lot of ways, What's Love and all his radio singles gave Joey a chance to keep making his harder tracks, to keep being himself.

And in doing so, he's kept up a tremendous work ethic, this being his tenth solo album. And on the subject of his work ethic, Fat Joe has consistently improved his own rapping abilities. Starting off with a more shouting to the crowd style, you can tell his work with Big Pun forced him to step his own rap game up quite a bit. Instead of just a few punchlines, his rhymes got a bit deeper, and his flow more varied.

This of course brings us to his new album, The Darkside. It's nothing short of fantastic. For starters, it's short, 13 tracks clocking in shy of 45 minutes. Even better, it's not filled to capacity with guest appearances. There's a few rappers that drop by, but they all contribute to the song, you never get the feeling Fat Joe is rapping on someone else's track. The production is tight, and more importantly, it fits with the vibe of the album. Even with a bunch of different producers, the overall feel music conveys the same feel throughout the whole album. And Fat Joe kills it. He sounds hungry to make a filler-less album and he does. He comes hard (pause) every song, never gets lazy, and never lets the beats do more work to carry the song than his vocals. Alright, let's get to it.

Unkut - Ten Fat Joe Songs You Missed


check the last line

kilo - feat the clipse and cam'ron

slow down - feat. young jeezy

pure fire

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Sad State of The Anti-Defamation League

A few weeks ago, Mr. Foxman took a righteous beating in an exchange with Peter Beinhart in the New York Review of Books. Beinhart took Foxman to task over the failure of the American Jewish left to speak out against Israeli aggression. But at the heart of his piece was a frustration with the current state of the ADL as a whole.

To see the ADL, one of the primer organizations in the world to target bigotry, oppression, and discrimination all people lose some of its street cred is devastating. The ADL has always been so much more than a New York based Diaspora outfit aimed at Jewish self-protection. It's goals have always been much higher, it's reach has always stretched so much further. But it's main goal, it's charter is has never been too complicated. Stop all hate. Stop all discrimination. Stop all intolerance.

Granted, they've stepped up to Nazi's and the Klan, two opponents a Jewish group should wisely put first. But they didn't shy away from Father Charles Coughlin or Henry Ford at a time when their words, hate, and intolerance seemed a lot more American than the acceptance the ADL demanded. And when the rest of America wanted to speak out, but worried their names would be on McCarthy's list and waved in front of congress, the ADL was there, screaming from the mountaintops.

And now, the ADL has its sights on intelligent design and creationism, arguing in court teaching such nonsense is a clear infringement on the separation of Church And State. In Arizona, the ADL has fought what it argues is an unconstitutional and racist set of laws and taken on the Minutemen, even though we all know type to walk the desert with guns aimed at Mexicans would probably be happy to point em at the Jews too.

But then, in 2007, Abraham Foxman, the then and current head of the ADL did something funny. The Armenians, long seeking recognition of the genocide committed against them in WWI, finally managed to get a bill to Congress asking for just that. Only that. Foxman came out against it, saying the ADL had no place getting somewhere between Congress, the Armenians, and the Turks. He said the Turks and the Aremians need to seriously revisit their history and likened the ADL's intrusion into the issue as an "unwelcome diversion." And though this may be the case, it was the wrong stance for the organization--an organization devoted to protecting civil rights and ending intolerance--to take.

Things continue to spin off course with all sorts or Israel related tomfoolery. Foxman guided the ADL into embracing the views of the country's right wing and has shown a complete lack of empathy to the plight of the Palestinians.

Which brings us to today. Foxman, for some reason no one, decided to throw his hat into the ring and tell the world what the ADL thinks about putting a mosque up at ground zero. Out of nowhere, Foxman has ignored everything the ADL stands for and opposed the building of the mosque. The gist of his stance is in the following quote:

"In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain--unnecessarily--and that is not right."

And the thing is, Foxman is absolutely correct about this. Building an Islamic Center will in fact cause a great deal of pain to victims families. Foxman correctly added survivors (and their family members) have a right to irrational emotions. And I agree with Foxman, and I feel for the families. I feel for the irrationality, and I fully believe they are entitled to wild emotions and illogical grief.

The problem is, the ADL is not their advocate. As Marc Tracy put it, the ADL "is not to advocate for survivors’ rights; it is to advocate (as its mission statement says) for “democratic ideals” and “civil rights.” With this decision, Foxman allowed his personal beliefs to steer the ADL in the opposite direction of its charter and chip away at the ADL’s legacy of promoting tolerance.

Is the desire to build a mosque at Ground Zero a provocation? Is accepting the proposal proof of just how open-minded and all inclusive America is? Is there no current place for the ADL in this debate?

But Foxman can’t keep the ADL out. And in process, the organization has changed. Once a groundbreaking institution aimed at tackling hatred world-wide, we now have a Jewish group with a singular goal: protect the Jews.

It’s hearbreaking. Because the very existence of the ADL kept a long-standing tradition of left-wing Jewish activism. It's very existence proved a central tenant to modern Judaism was the restless pursuit of human rights for all people. It showed the passion of the Jewish people to learn from their own history oppression and help end it for all other people. It is not enough to end anti-Semitism, all hatred must be eliminated. And it is this idea that every Jew with half a mind for history must keep alive. And no matter what the ADL does, by ignoring this idea, we are not protected and the ADL will fail on all counts. To ignore it is to fail to protect us as a people. It is to turn a blind eye to our history and show a lack of vision for our future.