Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Aisle 5: The Extremes of Identification

Check my Last.fm page and you'll see that the most played track is Musiq Soulchild's "Betterman." Of course this is a skewed number. It simply means that the song I've listened to the most while the computer was sending information to the central server is "Betterman." But while its not the most played song, it is pretty up there overall just because I was so enamored with the words when I first heard it. And the worst part was that I had no one to share the very positive sentiment in the song. A woman between a lover and friend who consistently makes me want to do something with my life? I wish. But those are the breaks.

On the contrary, the oft mentioned Mario's "How Could You?" (I prefer the Storch remix) hits a little too close to home. Skipping over the repeated references to mastery of the ghetto kama sutra, when I first digested the lyrics after I learned that one of my relationships had really disintegrated to the point of no return, it was all a little too real. When he belts out "Sometimes I cant help but think that another man's gonna get the one made for me", I thought they used one of the precogs from Minority Report and then took the emotions I would eventually feel and channeled it into their song.

Why does it happen to us? The love songs and even the ones that glorify self actualizaion like Jill Scott's "Golden" are often written because the writer was inspired by a specific occurrence relating to the song. How come we never find them when we care about someone and might actually relate? And why do the ones that talk of the heartbreak and anguish stick with us and sting even deeper? The heartbreak songs have been so real for me that I have listened to some and understood why someone was so upset with me. Floetry's "If I Was A Bird" comes to mind.

Part of it must be that drama always translates better to the musical arena and the euphoria of love is hard to articulate. But maybe our pain makes us more open to commisseration. Maybe this a peculiar problem to myself, a boy with too much love to give. Regardless of the case, I know that more people will sing harder when they're listening to "Since U Been Gone" and stare dreamy eyed at the sound of "Hey There Delilah." Such is life.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Premature Ejaculation: Ma$e

Mason Betha has had the life that seems possible only in America. A young black man with a hard scrabble childhood somehow pulls it together to get a basketball scholarship to a small New York school but pushes that to the side to become a wildly successful rapper only to push that to the side to find God but then come back to try and reclaim what he left behind.

Ma$e was in the right place at the right time. Bad Boy Records in the mid 1990s was as Puffy claimed - unstoppable. For a stretch each record they released garnered enough radio airplay to basically goad listeners into purchasing enough copies that most releases went gold, or at least flirted with the figure. Ma$e had the luxury of being the first real rap push after Biggie had bulldozed a whole in the market. Puffy's Hitmen jacked some Diana Ross to make a bubbly crossover hit for the affluent arrogant Clinton generation. It was Biggie's song, what would eventually prove to be an anthem in the days following his death, but Ma$e appeared and stole just enough shine to propel his star. By the time he appeared with his own solo, another modest hit with Puffy had solidified his reputation as the fun-loving mumbler.

And it brought success. Everybody wanted to revel in their riches and Bad Boy provided the soundtrack. The videos popped with color and wealth was flaunted everywhere. Ma$e epitomized the ethos. Shiny suits, hot women, fast cars. But he was a trailblazer as well. On "Lookin' At Me," that is Ma$e taking a chance with the then unknown Neptunes. In addition, the guy wasn't so bad at rhyming. I'm not saying he should sign up for any freestyle battles. But take a good listen to some of his verses. Places like "24 Hours To Live," a New York should-be classic, you can hear what may have been the last remnants of the Murda Ma$e he submerged to get the mainstream success. There lies an introspection weaved with the clever wordplay that permeates most of his offerings.

Just as he was about to release a sophomore album to capitalize on the debut's success, he left it on the table for God. The album went gold with only one real single and video, which shows how popular he really was. His attempts to return were mostly derided and laughed at. His affiliation with G-Unit just served to make him more enigmatic and even less important since that wave has crested. But what might have happened had he continued. Would he have felt comfortable and let Murda back out? Would he have beat Cam to the finish line in terms of the eccentric New York MC throne? Who knows? It was fun while it lasted