Getting Mashed In The Neutral Bling Hotel

I usually don’t bother with mashup albums unless I’m especially fond of and familiar with the base material, but for anyone else who has every note of Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea album indelibly etched in their mind AND a reasonable knowledge of popular hip-hop, Psycosis’s In My G4 Over Da Sea is well worth a listen.

The album doesn’t always succeed at finding the right balance between fairly maximalist hip-hop originals and the NMH sound (there is, for example, just too much going on in the opening mashup between “Ante Up” and “King Of Carrot Flowers pt 1”) but “King Of Jesus Walks, Pts 2 and 3” and “Look At The Two-Headed Boy” are much better blends.

When working with less complex hip-hop originals, the mashups work pretty well. I actually prefer “Communist Mic” over Nas’s original version of “One Mic” and was pleased to find that it was still possible to dougie (slowly) to “Oh Dougie”.

Collected Tweetlinks

Twitter link flotsam from the past few weeks, which I persist in collecting here because I can’t quite handle the ephemerality of Twitter. But do follow @syntaxfreeblog if you’re into that!

2011 Music: Song List

In keeping with my tradition of only managing to say anything about a year’s worth of music once the year in question is already over, here are my songs of note from 2011. As usual, a song doesn’t have to have been released as a single in order to get into this list, and I only feature a song in this list if it isn’t already from one of my favourite albums of the year.

In last year’s list I included some honourable mentions, which were songs that stood out to me but didn’t quite merit being described as my “best of” the year for various reasons. I like the idea so will continue it this year, with:

  • Look At Me Now (Chris Brown feat. Busta Rhymes and Lil’ Wayne): A lot of this song is a frustrating waste of a great beat, but Busta’s verse (starting 1.30) is one of those glorious virtuoso performances which you enjoy first for itself and then for the entertainment value of the million Youtube cover attempts it launched, such as Mac Lethal’s Cook With Me Now "pancakes” version.

  • I Will (Danny Brown): I don’t want to spoil it. Just listen to it. But not out loud unless you are in a rather permissive environment.

  • Edge Of Glory (Lady Gaga): There’s no way of explaining how I ended up following Lady Gaga’s career because I’m madly in love with her gay backup dancer without coming off as insane, is there? Perhaps in some other post. For present purposes, just believe me when I say I’m totally emotionally invested in the career of Mark Kanemura, former So You Think You Can Dance contestant, current Lady Gaga principal dancer, FOREVAH HOTTIE. He’s gone from “normal” backup dancer to someone Gaga obviously favours, and when she premiered the single on the American Idol finale featuring him prominently as the only dancer to appear and dance with her my heart nearly BURST WITH JOY, although I will admit that his lack of clothing might also have contributed to that feeling of imminent pulmonary failure. Every subsequent live performance of the song has also featured him dirty dancing with Gaga in various states of undress, which is why I have 19 Edge Of Glory performance videos saved on my hard drive. The earlier link is to the American Idol performance for sentimentality’s sake (skip to 2:40 to see Mark), but to get a better idea of why I am insane I recommend you watch this lovely compilation instead.

And now the songs proper:

  • Do It Like A Dude (Jessie J): If you commanded me to dissolve and reconstruct myself as a pop star, and gave me the requisite magical powers with which to do so, this would be my debut single and video. (I know the song is borderline 2010/2011 but I only heard it in 2011 and love it too much not to feature it here somewhere.)


  • Try To Sleep (Low): The album this came from felt like a retread of the most accessible bits of Low’s past work, which I found disappointing after the curveball of righteous electronic anger that was Drums And Guns (my favourite Low album, which would also have been featured here as my favourite album of 2007 if I’d ever got round to writing that list). But at least when a band like Low decides to do "accessible", they sometimes end up giving you the prettiest little bit of twinkly harmonized accessibility you could ever imagine.

  • The Other Shoe (Fucked Up): You don’t really expect an established hardcore punk band to decide all of a sudden to feature pretty girly harmonies in their songs, or for a song with chief lyrical takeaway of "DYING ON THE INSIDE! DYING ON THE INSIDE!" to be so damn catchy, but Fucked Up is kinda special that way. (The album this is from is hands-down the best guitar album of the year but it’s so intense that I can’t actually handle listening to it all in one go, so it won’t feature on my album list.)

  • Lose Yourself (Astro): Far and away the best contestant from the inaugural season of X-Factor USA, 15 year old rapper Astro first caught my attention with his ballsy audition but truly gained my admiration once the live rounds started by using each song he was supposed to "cover" as little more than a sonic template upon which to perform his own rap verses – essentially writing his own new material each week. America likes its reality show hamsters meek, humble and preferably with a sob story, so I suppose this swaggerific performance (my favourite of the whole season) explains why he didn’t make it as far as he deserved in the competition.

  • Love Out Of Lust (Lykke Li): I agonized over whether to feature this or the near-perfect Ronettes revivalism of Sadness Is A Blessing, but in the end my choice was emotional – Russ introduced Love Out Of Lust to me on our roadtrip through New England, I loved it immediately, and I love the memory of listening to it in the rental car, our little space of moody poignant beauty racing forward on a vast sunny American highway.

  • No Church In The Wild (Kanye West & Jay-Z): In the same strange way that last year’s Kanye album went from underwhelming me to blindsiding me as my favourite album of the year, I found this unremarkable until I suddenly found its propulsive beat and enigmatic lyrics utterly compelling. The production is reminiscent of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, especially in the use of the vocal samples, which is to say it is distinctive and unexpected in a way no one else is doing quite as well as Kanye.

  • A Thousand Years (Christina Perri): Yes, I seriously like this. No, I’m not into Twilight. What can I say, I enjoy West Coast Swinging to this song and find its lyrics rather romantic. I suppose I am a bit of a sap for this idea of love that makes the passage of time feel like an afterthought – I did start welling up on the bus the first time I heard Magnetic Fields’ It’s Only Time, which had a somewhat similar idea.

  • Skyscraper (Demi Lovato): Yes, I seriously like this. No, I haven’t lost my edge. Yes, I’ve totally lost my edge. Let’s move on.

  • Snowflake (Kate Bush): Kate took over a decade’s break from music to raise her son Bertie, and he duets with her here at age 13. It was worth the wait. Bertie’s lines are those of the titular snowflake falling from the sky, his unbroken voice taking on the high, pure notes we might have expected to hear issuing from his mother years ago. Meanwhile, Kate whispers and wheedles from the waiting earth: "The world is so loud / Keep falling / I’ll find you". Perhaps this sounds twee. It is not. It is bloody beautiful, and like nothing you would ever hear from anyone that wasn’t Kate Bush.

  • Marka (Dub Phizix and Skeptical feat. Strategy): This song is what you would get if you analyzed my brain and wrote an instruction manual for how to press every single one of my dance music buttons. Also, I rarely bother watching music videos but with this one I’m transfixed every time.

Flava Lovers

  • Some people dream of doing food pilgrimages to The Fat Duck or The French Laundry. I dream of visiting Flav’s Fried Chicken – FFC if you’re nasty!
  • One for the “colour me gobsmacked” file – Ludacris co-owns a Singaporean restaurant in Atlanta! Here’s the Bon Appetit interview where I read about it, and its Urbanspoon page. It does murtabak!

Hit You With No Delayin’

Mindboggle of the day, via The High Definite: Busta Rhymes’ Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See was nominated for Best Rap Solo Performance at the 40th Grammies in ’98, but lost to Will Smith. For Men In Black.


I will spare you my no-shit-Sherlock rant about tenuous connections between Grammies and actual artistic achievement, and just go straight into slapdash tangential raving about this song. That juddering, hypnotic sample! Busta rhyming “silly” with “nine milly” within the line, Busta rhyming “in God we trust” with “we murderous” across lines, Busta just inventing rhymes whenever and wherever he damn well wants![1. “You don’t wanna violate nigga really and truly-o / My main thug nigga named Julio he moodio / Type of nigga that’ll slap you with the toolio”] And of course, that incredible “I’ll-have-whatever-hallucinogen-he’s-having” Coming To America / Remember The Time mashup of a video!

Unsatisfied with being awesome all on its own, this song has also gone on to beget more awesome, like one of the best So You Think You Can Dance group routines of all time[2. Google “Busta Mod” and “Wade Robson” if that link stops working.], one of the most impressive hip-hop karaoke performances I’ve ever seen, and my stumbling onto the rather excellent Hip Hop Isn’t Dead blog simply because I googled Busta Rhymes in the course of writing this post. Don’t say I never give y’all my goodies. Peace out.

Ghetto Rocket (Or, I’m Out For Cress-idents To Represent Me)

Sorry about the food-heaviness of some of these recent posts – work and learning WordPress have been kicking my ass, so it feels easier to slap on a picture of a salad here than write thoughtfully about my initial impressions of Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop Won’t Stop – though when looking up the Amazon link to include in this post, I conveniently found that this review captures them quite well.

We made this Tamasin Day-Lewis recipe for pear and blue cheese salad because we happened to have most of the ingredients for it.

We’ve adopted watercress as our poor-man’s-rocket, since it’s a fraction of the price of rocket but still has the peppery kick. Cheese is very pricy here so we try not to go mad with it, but Alec saw the Cashel blue cheese in Jones the Grocer a few weeks back when we made our first visit to Dempsey Road in about two years, and couldn’t resist. YUPPIE. If you try this, you should note that the sesame seeds make the whole dish, so count them as essential. It’s not the best food photo, but I liked the texture of the seeds and watercress against the pear glistening with olive oil, dribbles of balsamic vinegar and its own juice.

Last night, I made Martha Stewart curried apple and potato soup, which was delicious though not particularly photogenic. It went really well with a simple avocado and watercress salad, and 2 slices of kneadyguy bread.

And now, just to keep things here slightly more street than ending a post with Martha Stewart, here’s an excerpt from Can’t Stop Won’t Stop. It’s not perfect but I found it quite evocative, and more successful than some of Chang’s other ambitious attempts to set context and mood:

It was 1977.

Bob Marley was in a foreign studio, recovering from an assassin’s ambush and singing: “Many more will have to suffer. Many more will have to die. Don’t ask me why.” Bantu Stephen Biko was shackled, naked and comatose in the back of a South African police Land Rover. The Baader-Meinhof gang lay in suicide pools in a German prison. The Khmer Rouge filled their killing fields. The Weather Underground and the Young Lords Party crawled toward the final stages of violent implosion. In London, as in New York City, capitalism’s crisis left entire blocks and buildings abandoned, and the sudden appearance of pierced, mohawked, leather-jacketed punks on Kings Road set off paroxysms of hysteria. History behaved as if reset to year zero.

In the Bronx, Herc’s time was passing. But the new culture that had arisen around him had captured the imagination of a new breed of youths in the Bronx. Herc had stripped down and let go of everything, save the most powerful basic elements – the rhythm, the motion, the voice, the name. In doing so, he summoned up a spirit that had been there at Congo Square and in Harlem and on Wareika Hill. The new culture seemed to whirl backward and forward – a loop of history, history as loop – calling and responding, leaping, spinning, renewing.


I have never had much patience for people who dismiss hip-hop as being only about gangstas, bitches and hos, or people who like poetry (especially slam poetry) but don’t extend the same regard or respect to rap. It smacks of ignorance and laziness, like someone picking up A Clockwork Orange and concluding it sucks within the first few pages because they don’t get all the weird language about droogs and devotchkas.

Snoop Dogg has always been a problem for my campaign, not least when I was still in London, listening to Still Dre in my room in the Catholic hall and the elderly nun who ran the place knocked on the door to discuss something with me – during a perfectly timed lull in the conversation while I was standing in the doorway talking to her, my speakers loudly proclaimed “It’s the motherfuckin’ D O double G / Snoop Dogg, mothaFUCKAS!!!” Still, despite myself I rather enjoyed this interview (Emma Forrest) in The Guardian. Excerpt:

I have worn scuffed Converse, boy jeans and a T-shirt to this interview because I didn’t want Snoop to look at me sexually. And yet I find myself asking the next question, when the publicist pops her head in to say “two more minutes”. I stare at him, staring at himself and it comes out like Tourette’s.

“What would be my market value, if you were still pimping?”

Snoop looks up, with interest, for the very first time. He looks at my face, my hair. He appears to do a sum in his head.

“Stand up real quick, let me see.”

And I do.

“Oh! You built nice! You built like a black girl! You been sitting on a fortune. You need the right person to represent you, get the connection. You could be in the $4,000 range.”

Snoop was right. Us Jews do have all the money. All the time I had been wondering where mine was, when it was right behind me.

Here I Go, Here I Go, Here I Go Again

Long-suffering is the man who queues up at the long-queue Punggol nasi lemak place on Tanjong Katong Road to ta pao for the sore-footed fiance lazing on the couch in his flat, watches 3 episodes of the X-Files with her while she squeals “AWWWW POOR SCULLLEEEEE…DEAD??! HE CAN’T BE DEAD!…HE’S ALIVE YAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!” (studying in England screwed up my X-Files viewing, so I haven’t seen any episodes from the middle of season 8 onwards) intermittently throughout the evening and finally, sits calmly while said fiance gleefully searches out old Salt’N’Pepa videos on Youtube and raps to them because she fucking feels like it.

I bet you’re thinking this is a poor excuse for a post, and so far, you would be right. But you see, although all of the above did happen, I wouldn’t normally bother blogging about it. But then I found this:

Big It Up For The Small Towns

I was listening to Lamacq Live (show of November 15th, available here but not for much longer I reckon), where Lady Sovereign was presenting a special report about MCs from the countryside. As they put it, “Can you be street if you live in a lane?” Let me just say that if you’re one of those hataz who can’t take UK hip-hop seriously because of the funny accents, you ain’t heard nuffin (well, nothing quite as funny) until you’ve heard a Scottish MC freestyling to grime.

It was a sweet little program, but a little depressing. There were a lot of exchanges like this:
Lady Sovereign: So wot do you rap about?
Random Cornish/Welsh/Scottish MC: About life and stuff.
Lady Sovereign: Yeah, so, like wot?
Random Cornish/Welsh/Scottish MC: Dunno, really. Not much happens round here.

At least I’ve finally found a watertight argument against Alec ever moving me to the countryside. My future career as a top MC would clearly be jeopardized.

You Realize You’re Getting Old When…

…Gangsta’s Paradise is on the radio, you start rapping along with it in glee (you are studying and very bored), you get to the line “I’m twenny-three now, but will I live to see twenny-fo’?” and you realize that THE LAST TIME YOU RAPPED THAT LINE YOU WERE FIFTEEN AND NOW YOU ARE TWENNY-FO’.