Sic Transit Gloria (Glory Fades): Why the Marshall Mathers LP 2 Sucked.

Since releasing my year-end list of my favorite albums of 2013, I’ve gotten into two different arguments with friends about separate albums. One friend gave an impassioned plea for me to reconsider Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP 2, the other vehemently disagreed with my ranking of Yeezus. Today we focus on Eminem and save Yeezy for the near-future.

There are few moments in life, not involving death, disease or bodily injury to yourself or others, that prove to be more traumatizing than those when you realize, “[insert obscenity of choice], I’m old.” There are, of course, the increasing physical limitations of age – such as the (in)ability to eat or drink without consequence, or one’s precipitous decline in athletic prowess – which can trigger this realization as well, but those feel like more natural occurrences insofar that they’re beyond your own control. What I’m talking about are particular social or cultural settings which, more than anything else, just make you feel old.

For example: I went on a date last year with a girl who – it turns out – was twenty years old (I wasn’t aware of this fact at the time). This young woman’s inability to drink, however, wasn’t what made me feel old. What elicited the “Fuck, I’m old,” reaction, was her response to a joke I made about Linda Tripp (the context of this “joke” is no longer clear), which was vaguely similar to that of my dog when I ask her to take out the trash. It’s not that I was necessarily expecting to score a laugh from a quip about a Pentagon staffer who revealed Monica Lewinsky’s secret affair with President Clinton to Kenneth Starr in 1998 (she also didn’t know who he was), it’s that, upon explaining who Linda Tripp was, and when all of this happened (at her request), she noted that she was probably in kindergarten during the Lewinsky scandal.* That shit makes you feel old…and a little weird.

*All of which makes me wonder whether or not this girl understood the Monica Lewinsky reference on Beyonce’s “Partition.”

One more example (not that you asked): I attended a Postal Service concert in Brooklyn this past summer with some friends, mostly for sake of nostalgia. All things considered, it was a pretty decent show when you realize that Give Up was their only album, it was released in 2003, and it contained all of ten tracks. And, for whatever little it’s worth, there seemed to be a good number of twenty-somethings in attendance as well. The majority of the crowd, however, seemed to skew towards high school-levels of young; so young that, while on line for the opportunity to purchase a round of overpriced Sixpoint beers for my friends and I, two teenage girls approached me, wondering if I’d be willing to buy them a pair of even more egregiously marked domestic light beers (I, obviously, declined).

There’s something odd about realizing that you’re likely one of the oldest people, who isn’t a parent, at a concert for a band that hasn’t released a record in ten years. Give Up was probably one of the most important records of my late-teens; the emotions expressed on the album were the sorts that I could relate to at that age, so it was only natural for my younger self to gravitate toward the band and their genre. And, while it would make sense for people my age to attend a Postal Service reunion tour in 2013, I left the show feeling like the creepy older guy at the Twilight premiere. Only I realized that wasn’t the creepy older guy at the Postal Service show, Ben Gibbard was the creepy older guy at the Postal Service show: he’s thirty-seven years old and performing music that fifteen year olds can relate to. (All credit for this goes to the hilarious Hari Kondabolu who has a terrific stand-up bit about attending a Weezer concert at 27.)

After a certain age, many records which may have, at one time, held great significance in our lives, no longer resonate. It’s not that we’ve matured beyond the point of mindless entertainment – after all, the Lonely Island released one of the most enjoyable albums of the year – it’s that the specific themes of anger and sorrow inherent in the types of music most adolescent males listen to aren’t relevant to the lives of adults with real-world responsibilities. Listening, today, to the discographies of groups such as the Postal Service, Death Cab for Cutie, Brand New or even The Smiths serves only as an aural portal to our youths – their lyrics, for as much as we may have once loved their music, have little practical application for anyone over the age of twenty-two (if not younger). 

The same can be said for much Eminem’s catalog, including his most recent release, the “sequel” to his wildly popular Marshall Mathers LP. The Marshall Mathers LP 2 (which shall henceforth be referred to as MMLP2) rehashes many of the same themes as its predecessor – mommy issues (“Brianless”), daddy issues (“Rhyme or Reason”), shitty ex-girlfriends (“So Much Better”), self-deprication and the overall dickishness of Mr. Mathers (“Asshole”) - but with a receding ability to generate forceful verses or signature hooks. Even on a track such as “Rap God,” which is essentially a six minute showcase of Eminem’s technical prowess (including a fifteen second clip with 97 total words), the lyrics are such a barrage of continual homophobic slurs* that it’s impossible to rap along with, even if one were able to keep up with his flow (which, this author can attest to, you probably cannot).

*How many mainstream rappers still casually use “fag” or its derivatives? This seems indefensible. 

If MMLP2 has any highlights, the foremost has to be the ubiquitous, Rihanna-featuring “The Monster,” on which her addictive chorus saves the audience from Eminem’s otherwise weak verses.* “Love Game,” which features Kendrick Lamar (as well as a good deal of sexism) and samples the Mindbenders’ “The Game of Love,” sounds so unlike the two that it actually works.

*If Rihanna wasn’t also one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, she could probably carve out a nice career as the new Nate Dogg. Since about 2008, it’s seems as if a Rihanna hook has been a rite of passage for every hip-hop star in the same way that a Nate Dogg track  was for a ten year period starting in 1994. If, for whatever reason, she decided to give up her solo career, she’d have a pretty great fallback option.

Despite these highlights and Eminem’s masterful technique, it’s slightly discomfiting to listen to any forty-one year old man complain about his broken childhood, let alone one doing so for the umpteenth time in the public spotlight. While Relapse and Recovery  weren’t up to the standards of his early trilogy of albums (The Slim Shady LP, MMLP, and The Eminem Show) for so many different reasons, they at least covered newer material, exposing a side of Eminem’s life that we hadn’t previously seen.

The album’s opener, “Bad Guy,” is a follow-up to MMLP‘s best track, “Stan,” this time told from the point of view of Stan’s younger brother, Matthew – it’s not nearly as strong as the original, but how many sequels can ever live up to their predecessors? Therein lies the problem with The Marshall Mathers LP 2.

As a general rule of thumb, most sequels to previously successful records (or movies) are poor ideas, mostly because they’re usually made out of desperation, much like MMLP2 – the majority of sequels are nothing more than a moneygrab. Aside from Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, and Dr. Dre’s 2001 (or The Chronic: 2001, its original title)*, it’s difficult to think of any that have achieved nearly the same (let alone better) critical acclaim as their originals. [It should be noted that by "sequels," I'm referring to albums being released a significant period of time after the original - so Lil Wayne's Tha Carter 1-3 or Young Jeezy's Thug Motivation series don't qualify.]

*Speaking of Dr. Dre, where the hell is he on this record? Eminem and Rick Rubin clearly don’t work well together, but you know who Em works really well with? 

That goal is even more difficult to accomplish given the fact that Eminem’s makes what is essentially emo music for white trash hip-hop fans. It also doesn’t help that most of Em’s pop culture references on MMLP2 are hilariously outdated – instead of being funny, like he was earlier in his career, it feels like he’s making dad jokes. It’s oddly creepy for a man of his age to make bad jokes and sing about how greatly his life would improve if his girlfriend would “drop dead” with the same emotion as a fourteen-year-old signing along to “Sic Transit Gloria.”

Unless the overarching purpose of releasing the Marshall Mathers LP 2 was for Eminem to introduce himself to a new generation of angry middle schoolers, the obvious reality is that no record he releases will ever live up to his earlier work. The material on MMLP2 feels like a desperate attempt at rekindling what had made him successful in the first place; at some point you would expect for Eminem’s music to grow up along with his audience, but, more importantly, with Marshall Mathers himself.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays, Music, Shit that Bhavin Likes

Favorite Books of 2013

Welcome to Part II of my year-end lists. Yesterday I ranked my 25 favorite albums of the year, today I’ll be ranking my favorite books of the year. Being that I read more non-fiction than fiction, the list will consist of my 10 favorite novels, and 15 favorite works of non-fiction.

Fiction:

10Bleeding Edge - Thomas Pynchon: Bleeding Edge follows a mother of two, who also happens to work as an unlicensed private investigator during the time leading up to 9/11. Along the way she finds herself dealing with billionaires, drug dealers, mobsters and terrorists, in what was a fun, though oftentimes confusing novel. I generally hate novels that revolve around 9/11 – as they mostly use the events as a crutch – but Pynchon is a strong enough writer that his use of that day and period is somewhat bearable.

9. The Unknowns - Gabriel Roth: Narrated in the first-person, The Unknowns follows a millionaire, Silicon Valley programmer who struggles to understand women, and deal with his family, going back-and-forth between his younger days and the present. This is actually the perfect case of a novel using 9/11 as a crutch.

8. The Sound of Things Falling - Juan Gabriel Vazquez: Set in Pablo Escobar-era Colombia (the novel is a translation), The Sounds of Things Falling is the harrowing story of a man’s battle with PTSD and his search for the truth about his trauma and his friend who was gunned down outside of a billiard hall while in his company.

7. The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt: Tartt’s latest novel follows Theo Decker, an orphaned boy obsessed with a painting, who, later on, finds himself immersed in the underground art world. It’s certainly a better read than The Secret History, but at nearly 800 pages it’s time-consuming (but not even the longest book on this list). 

6. Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City - Choire Sicha: Taking place in post-crash, post-Obama New York City, Sicha (of The Awl, formerly of Gawker) uses the lives of his actual friends to create a story about young, gay men in The City navigating their professional and personal lives. If you’re someone with homophobic tendencies, this isn’t the book for you. 

5. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. - Adelle Waldman: Nate Piven is a Harvard educated, Brooklyn-dwelling, literary-type, who (as a result of his “elite” status) suffers from forms of solpsism and misogyny so prevalent in young males today, which doesn’t allow for him to keep fulfilling relationships. It’s an interesting, female perspective of the problems with young, male, intellectual hipsters.

4. The Stench of Honolulu: A Tropical Adventure - Jack Handey: Written by Jack Handey, of Saturday Night Live, and “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey” fame, The Stench of Honolulu is the story of a degenerate man on a treasure hunt in Hawaii, and is possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever read – each paragraph is its own work of art. Read it in one sitting.

3. The Lowland - Jhumpa LahiriThe Lowland is the heartbreaking story of two brothers from Calcutta – one a rebellious type, the other studious. When Udayan is killed as a result of his political insurrection, Subhash (who had moved to the States to study and work) goes back home and marries his dead brother’s pregnant widow, rescuing her from a less than ideal life in his parent’s house. The novel is a story about family and parenthood, and the struggle of accepting different cultures and norms, and while it struggles at times (Jhumpa Lahiri may be at her best when writing short-fiction), it’s still an excellent book.

2. The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton: The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, Eleanor Catton’s second novel is set during the 1860′s gold rush in New Zealand, following a series of mysterious, and interconnected events. The Luminaries is the type of novel that will have you yelling “holy shit!” or “what the fuck!” to no one but yourself. I try to steer clear of literary cliches such as calling a work a “triumph,” but if a thoroughly captivating, brilliantly written, 800+ page novel (written by a 27-year-old, no less) isn’t a triumph, I’m not sure what is. 

1. Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Adichie, who is probably (now) best known for being sampled on Beyonce’s “***Flawless,” also happens to be a tremendous author. Americanah - which sold out on Amazon shortly after the release of BEYONCE - is essentially the story of a childhood romantics in Nigeria whose paths force them to lead separate lives in the US and UK, but it is also a story about race and perception on these three continents. The Lowlands and The Luminaries are both terrific books, but neither is as socially, or culturally, significant as Americanah.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Shit that Bhavin Likes

Favorite Albums of 2013

Welcome to the first of my year-end lists for 2013. Over the next week or so I’ll be posting my favorite music, books, TV/movies, and other random things I really liked. It’s not that you really care for this shit, I just like making lists, and I know of a few people who purchased some of my favorite stuff from 2012 and enjoyed them. If, over the course of these lists, you find one thing you like that you had previously not heard/read/watched, I’ll consider this a success. And please, feel free to leave comments if you (dis)agree.

Twenty-thirteen was an unusually deep and crazy year for music, with seemingly every big-name artist either releasing an album or touring, and a group of new artists emerging with hit records. As a result, rather than listing my 13 favorite albums of 2013, I had to extend the list to 25 (plus honorable mentions). Like any other year, our perceptions of certain music change with time, and with more listens; as a result, a list like this can be considered malleable – some albums may improve over time, some may get worse. For example, at this time last year I had only listened to El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure, Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music, and Big K.R.I.T.’s Live from the Underground maybe once or twice each, and decided to give them honorable mentions. After having listened to them more in 2013, it’s an easy call to consider them top 10 records from 2012. Even this year, I had originally hated Drake’s “Worst Behaviour,” now it’s one of my favorite songs of the year. So don’t judge me if I snubbed your favorite, or overrated an album that you hated, music is far from final. (Disclaimer: at the time of this writing, I have yet to listen to the Busta Rhymes/Q-Tip mixtape, but I get the feeling it would rank if I had. Another note: the top five have three videos attached [except for Beyonce, who only has two (legally)  available], top ten have two, and the rest only one.)

Honorable Mention (in no particular order): The Great Gatsby OSTMBV - My Bloody Valentine, Blue Chips 2 – Action Bronson, More Than Just a Dream - Fitz and the Tantrums, Kveikur - Sigur Ros, Body Music - AlunaGeorge, True Romance - Charli XCX, Hummingbird - Local Natives, Slow Focus - Fuck Buttons, This Is…Icona Pop - Icona Pop, Heartthrob - Tegan and Sara, AM - Arctic Monkeys, Torres - Torres, Muchacho - Phosphorescent, The Greatest Generation - The Wonder Years, Gifted - Wale (mostly so he doesn’t attack me), We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic - Foxygen, Because the Internet - Childish Gambino, Magna Carta Holy Grail - Jay-Z, The Marshall Mathers LP 2 – Eminem.

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Music, Shit that Bhavin Likes

Kobe Bryant, Roy Halladay, and the Helsinki Bus Station Theory.

[This piece was originally published on The Umpires in May. It has been re-posted here with permission, and a couple of footnotes.]

“To field a groundball must be considered a generous act and an act of comprehension. One moves not against the ball but with it. Bad fielders stab at the ball like an enemy. This is antagonism. The true fielder lets the path of the ball become his own path, thereby comprehending the ball and dissipating the self, which is the source of all suffering and poor defense.” – Aparicio Rodriguez, The Art of Fielding

Defensive wunderkind Henry Skrimshander, the protagonist in Chad Harbach’s wonderful novel, The Art of Fielding, lives by the words of his idol, fictional St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Aparicio Rodriguez (based, it would seem, on real-life Cardinals shortstop Luis Aparicio). “Skrimmer,” as he was called, consumed Rodriguez’s book (of the same title) as if it were gospel, memorizing lines and recalling them while in the field. The Art of Fielding, for Henry Skrimshander and Aparicio Rodriguez, was more than Yoda-like fielding advice, it was a philosophy.

If Aparicio Rodriguez was based on Luis Aparicio, his book, The Art of Fielding, one would think, is likely based on Ted Williams’ The Science of Hitting. In Harbach’s fictional universe, Aparicio Rodriguez was the greatest defensive shortstop in history; in other words, Aparicio Rodriguez was the Ted Williams of fielding the baseball. The difference between Aparicio Rodriguez, Ted Williams, and most other ballplayers is that Aparicio and Williams approach the game cerebrally (even if one only did so fictionally). Baseball, to them, isn’t a competition of physical tools, it is a science; an art form.  

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Obamacare, food stamps, and how Republicans are lying to themselves.

Late last week the Republican-majority US House of Representatives passed a draconian measure to cut nearly $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; colloquially known as the “food stamps” program) over the next ten years.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, nearly 47 million Americans received SNAP benefits in 2012, and 72 percent of SNAP beneficiaries are families with children. That same year, the SNAP program cost American taxpayers around $81 billion, about 92% of which went directly towards purchasing food – meaning SNAP is an extremely efficient program. While $81 billion certainly sounds like a lot of money (mostly because it is, and because enrollment spiked post-recession), we also have to realize that – when broken down – we’re spending very, very little on each recipient: about $4.45 per day.

The bill – which passed, for all intents and purposes, along party lines (217-210) – thankfully will die in the Senate (and if it doesn’t, it would almost certainly be vetoed by President Obama), but that really isn’t what matters right now. What matters is that 217 (mostly Republican) members of congress believe that taking food off of the tables of some of the poorest American families is fiscally responsible, while simultaneously campaigning all over the country urging Americans to forego Obamacare – to live uninsured.

The juxtaposition of these two messages is horribly ironic, though altogether unsurprising. We have, for years, been exposed to the conservative disillusion of America’s existential battle between the Takers and the Makers. The “Takers” are those Americans enrolled in what conservatives love to call “entitlement” programs (SNAP, welfare, Medicaid, etc.) – who in their minds are overwhelmingly black and Latino, though they are split about evenly between black and white in the case of welfare – while the “Makers” (sometimes known as the “Job Creators”) are those who Mitt Romney describes as “hard-working Americans” – otherwise known as “white people.”

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Essays, Politics