The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Beards, Blazers & Glasses or Will Someone Please Make Pharrell Retire From the Stage?

There are two kinds of legitimate artists. There are the all-time-greats capable of sustaining brilliance over a prolonged period of time. Such artists are led, not by the caprices of popular culture, but by their own innate artistic compass. Neil Young and Bob Dylan are perfect examples of such a genius, as they've transformed themselves again and again, not out of any sense of gimmickry, but out of true artistic evolution. The second type of artists are those who are blessed with a slim window of brilliance. During this window of brilliance, the musicians in question often blow up and become icons. This is usually the point when the wheels start to come off. For the duration of their careers, they are able to easily capitalize on their tremendous fame, but have nothing left to say or contribute. Their careers typically drift rudderless, lacking all sense of urgency and immediacy. Perry Farrell is this type of artist. Weezer also fits this bill, as does Oasis. And certainly, so does Pharrell.

From 1997-2001, it's tough to argue that there were many better producers in hip-hop than the Neptunes. Starting with Mase's "Lookin' At Me," their spaceship synths, futuristic snares and kick-the-door-down drums sounded like nothing hip-hop had ever heard. Over the next four years, The Neptunes dropped a flurry of classic beats: Jay-Z's "The City is Mine," and "I Just Wanna' Luv U," Noreaga's "Superthug," Ol Dirty Bastard's "Recognize" and "Got Your Money," Guru's "All I Said," Ludacris' "Southern Hospitality," Mystikal's "Shake Ya' Ass" and "Danger," Jadakiss' "Knock Yourself Out," and Tha Liks "Best You Can."

It's not hard to pinpoint the end of this era, as it arrived on August 6th 2001, when the Neptunes dropped their N.E.R.D. album, making the pair bonafide superstars. Cue the precipitious decline. After the release of the NERD album, the Neptunes started making beats for artists as lame as Ray J, N' Sync, Britney Spears, L'il Bow Wow, Nelly and Papa Roach. Sure, occasionally, the duo would make a good beat (usually for the Clipse) but for the most part, the Neptunes were just doing tired re-hashes of the sound that had made them famous. In short, they proved the rule that those who can't adapt are forced to die.

Even Pharrell had to Make the Gas Face After Listening to His Solo Album

Oh, but that rule has little bearing in the world of popular culture and Pharrell has been able to coast for years on the goodwill he built up half a decade ago. Despite having exhausted the limited permuations of extraterrestrial beats that they could cook up and even less to say lyrically, Pharrell launched a solo album, In My Mind that even the Pharrell apologists couldn't make excuses for. In short, it was a disaster of Hindenburg proportion.

But apparently no one told that to the promotors of the Samsung Blackjack party held at the Boulevard 3 nightclub on Monday, who booked Pharrell to entertain the very not-hip-hop crowd of celebrities, the people who love them and the people who smirked condescendingly in the corner at this toxic Hollywood cesspool (e.g. myself). Trust me, if you didn't like his solo jaunt, it looked brilliant in comparison to his live show.

In Pharrell's defense, he was playing a party, the majority of whom think the epitome of good hip-hop is Will Smith's Big Willie Style album. (Gettin' Jiggy with It anyone?) However, the performance was mailed in even by those standards. With eyes blood-shot red and squinting, a very stoned looking Pharrell took the mic and immediately asked the crowd who was "fucked up?" The crowd, filled mostly with dim-bulb barbies in high heels and the men who love them, went crazy. Figures.

Please God, I Don't Ask You for Much...But Please Please Please Lemme Make Another Good Song Again
Pharrell then lit into two or three songs from In My Mind. For the life of me, I couldn't tell you which ones. After giving that CD a cursory listening, I immediately deleted it from my computer, ran away screaming and bathed my ears in arsenic. It was fun. Pharrell's live persona basically consisted of nothing more than standing arrogantly on-stage, face permanently cocked in an "I'm Better Than You" sneer and the occasional stoned holler to the audience. In person, his reedy falsetto sounded frail, as he hit all the high notes, but sounded off-kilter and disoriented.

But the most amazing part of the performance wasn't that he somehow managed to make his In My Mind even worse than it sounded on wax. No, the amazing thing was that after about three of four songs, Pharrell just started played tracks that he'd produced and danced along with them. Few things seemed more ridiculous than watching him try to pull off, "I Just Wanna' Luv U" without Jay-Z, "Shake Your Moneymaker" sans Ludacris, or "Drop It Like It's Hot" with Snoop Dogg nowhere in sight. The crowd didn't seem to know the difference though and continued braying like adulatory donkeys. It was all sorts of awful.

After about 30 minutes, I'd had enough and left. Some things are too much for even me. At that point, it wasn't even worth laughing at, it was just boring and validated what I've thought for some time: at 33 years of age Pharrell is washed up. Sure, he might contribute the occasional decent beat, but the man needs to take cues from Dr. Dre and stay behind the production console where he belongs. At least, in my mind.

Download These Songs From When The Neptunes Were Actually Good

Noreaga: "Superthug" from N.O.R.E. (left-click)
Ol' Dirty Bastard: "Recognize" from Nigga Please (left-click)

The Round-Up
Head over to Information Leafblower for the 2006 edition of the Best 40 Bands in America (as voted on by bloggers). I was asked to be a part of the list and it features several of my quotes. The list was restricted to American bands, because you know all of us bloggers get xenophobic like that (not really). The list isn't neccesarily the 10 Best Bands in America but rather the 10 Best American Bands in 2006 alone. Therefore, bands that didn't release albums this year (Spoon, Wilco first and foremost in my mind) didn't rank as high as they probably will next year. The list was also intended to factor in how much a band toured and how good their live set was (this is why the Raconteurs ranked so high on my list). At any rate, if anyone was wondering my list was, here it is. Their actual Leafblower list ranking is in parentheses.

10. Voxtrot (20)
9. Comets on Fire (not ranked)
8. The Black Keys (not ranked)
7. Beirut (18)
6. Grizzly Bear (11)
5. The Decemberists (3)
4. The Raconteurs (not ranked)
3. My Morning Jacket (5)
2. Ghostface (4)
1. The Hold Steady (2)

If you still have time, I highly encourage everyone to check out 33 Jones and Dallas Penn's reviews of the Jay-Z album. 33 Jones gives an eloquent defense of Kingdom Come while Dallas' viewpoint effectively capsizes everything I could hope to have said and more. Both are excellent.

Lastly, Chuck Klosterman gave a great interview to the AV Club this week, reaffirming my faith in him after the slightly disappointing Klosterman IV.

11 Comments:

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Rap Jack Bauer said...

Weiss:

I'm glad SOMEONE has called Pharrell out for his hackneyed "performances." When that first NERD album dropped and the band toured with Jay-Z and Kweli for the Liquid Sprite tour, I sadly couldn't go. But when NERD came out with their second, shittier album "Fly or Die" and were touring, I was determined to catch them. Thankfully a good buddy of mine caught NERD on that same Liquid Sprite tour when "In Search Of..." was the coolest record no one bought. He said, "Whatever you do, never pay money to see NERD or Pharrell live. They are horrendously awful in every possible way."

I was shocked--I was feeling NERD, except for their second album when they did a joint with Good Charlotte. But after that warning, I started watching any performance of Pharrell I could. And guess what--from his appearance on Jay-Z MTV Unplugged, to this years VMA's with Ludacris for "Money Maker," to catching The Life and Rhymes of Snoop Dogg (?!? The man just spells things) when Skateboard P did "Beautiful" and ad-libbed "Drop it Like It's Hot," Pharrell time and time again has shown to be the Paris Hilton of hip hop. He's a highly paid accessory that matches a beat. He's as charismatic as lasic surgery. His live performance consists of highlighting his BAPES and Ice Creams and BBC shirts while a beat plays in the background. A life-sized cardboard cut-out of KRS-One, Kweli, Common, DMX or even Kanye on stage holds a crowd down more than P ever could. Then again this is the same man who wrote "Your ass is a spaceship and I want to ride."

 
At 2:05 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

I saw the Information Leafblower post the other day and was floored by some of the rankings...I think more than anything else it showed me just how out of touch I am with the current state of rock music.

Then I saw Passion of the Weiss on there as a contributer and I wanted to see what your top ten was -- thanks for posting that. The only band in the top ten that I agree with is MMJ. But, then again, I'm just a short-hair wannabe hippie with a love for noodling.

 
At 3:28 PM, Blogger Nate said...

My real beef with this Phar-rell is the fact that many a female feels inclined to consider him very good looking. Am I missing something? Dude is short and looks like some sort of negroid rodent species. It proves that if you're on Television enough, every girl will think you're "fine".

 
At 4:13 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

Zilla: Can't say i ever liked the Nerd albums, by that pt I was over them...and Pharrell's ridiculous image. As much as I hate Kanye, the dude is GOAT compared to Pharrell...why can't these dudes just stay behind the boards...the only producer that can rap is EL-P. And I can't deny that Dre sounded pretty good.

Nate: I couldn't have said it better myself.

Ace: I think you'd really dig the Black Keys, Comets on Fire and The Raconteurs (at least live)...if you wanna' any of that stuff send me an e-mail and I can send it your way.

 
At 4:54 PM, Blogger Douglas Reinhardt said...

I think I have the rose colored glasses on when it comes to the new Clipse album ( largely due to "Keys Open Doors"), but even the stuff the Neptunes did on the record is pretty shitty. There'd be some cool strings, then out of nowhere some video game sounding drums; just ruined it.

I love the first NERD album, but it was over when I saw some video of Pharrell singing a song at piano, talking about being a skater.

Also, is there a label for this i pay too much for my BAPE hooide rap?

 
At 7:00 PM, Blogger Ace Cowboy said...

I actually do enjoy the Black Keys...I'm not headover heels for 'em, but I dig 'em. My buddy Lukas gave me a disc of theirs a while ago. I gotta check that out again. The Raconteurs are good, no doubt, but I can't believe the hype surrounding them. And I'm not a musical contrarian, I won't hate on them because of the hype, but I just don't think they're *as* good as everyone says.

Alluding to your post from a few weeks ago, I think there are bands in the so-called stoner rock scene that are definitely worth listening to outside of Wilco and MMJ...I have a feeling this is gonna turn into a stump speech of sorts:

I think the Benevento/Russo Duo is one of the most underrated bands in the country, and I really think Joe Russo is the best drummer on the planet. Everyone should see him drum from five feet away at least once in their lives.

I think Tea Leaf Green is doing some good things right now -- not for everyone, but they've got solid lyrics and above average (though effeminate) vocals, plus Josh Clark is a shreddddder on guitar when he gets hot.

Not quite stoner rock, but in the stoner jazz category, John Scofield and MMW have been touring, and if that can be considered a side project then they are one of the best bands in the country by far. Shit, MMW alone needs to be more on the map then they are. And Greyboy Allstars kick ass the stoner jazzy funk category.

Umphrey's McGee doesn't do it for me on CD, but holy fuck can those guys rock out with their cocks out (I seen it!). These guys are putting jamband prog rock back on the map -- Jake Cinninger is a sick guitarist and Kris Myers is a crazy drummer.

And for the Phish set, I mean, Trey might not be writing good songs, but man oh man can the current incarnation of that band still jam when its *on*. For the diehards, how can you not see him any time he's within 50 miles?

Plus, Panic and moe. are not nearly as bad as you make it -- in fact, with Jimmy Herring in Panic now, they're pretty fucking good again for the first time in a long time. String Cheese, thankfully, has thrown in the towel.

Anyway, just wanted to rant a bit. I like a handful of new bands and new music, but none of it makes me go ga ga like the rest of the bloggers. I understand the stoner set is a very small vocal minority, but I never thought it was fair that bands I like were automatically discounted because they got lumped into the jamband label.

I would like to exchange some music though -- let's take this to email. I can't find yours anywhere on this site, so start it off and email me at ace@glidemagazine.com or slacklalane@yahoo.com -- either one is fine.

End transmission.

 
At 9:15 AM, Anonymous fresh said...

Weiss: One other producer that can rap (well, until recently anyway) is Havoc of Mobb Deep.

As for Pharrell, no question he's fallen off since the late 90's.
The fact that he and Chad were able to make Noreaga and Mystikal sound like halfway decent rappers is rather impressive, though.

 
At 10:48 AM, Anonymous zilla said...

If Pharrell just stayed behind the boards like Chad Hugo, maybe he could one day make an album as incredible as Kenna's "New Sacred Cow." That's a style the Neptunes haven't used on anybody since but it was and still is impressive as hell.

The Black Keys are the shit by the way.

 
At 11:13 PM, Blogger Dave said...

you know, I agree with you on the guy's solo stuff and even lots the Neptunes' recent production work, but the new Clipse just makes all that stuff moot.

 
At 6:29 AM, Anonymous roonie said...

Two words about Pharrell's staying power - eye candy.

 
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