Featured Music: Wednesday, August 20, 2003
Killer or Filler?

Partying into the morn, rollin’ in the hip-hop, and getting all teary-eyed over a gal — a new batch of local c.d.’s for the grilling.


If you’ve spent, at a minimum, two or three minutes in any worthwhile Cowtown club listening to live local music, you know that “something” is happening. All the Nirvana/Pearl Jam/Creed clones of the past few years have traded in their bad attitudes and flannel shirts for coats of many colors whose pockets are lined with endless streams of Jagermeister, incredible melodies and riffs, and bottomless cartons of Marlboro Lights. Yes, everyone’s happy ... about “something,” and the bacchanals continue hurling us through space: I spent the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning under the spell of a local rock star, as he patiently and in great detail recounted a) his handiwork on his band’s new record and b) his experiences with the latest in hallucinogen technology, some drug that for the sake of his privacy shall go nameless (OK, I don’t remember the name). He seemed like a happy motherfucker. Either that, or I was just happy for him, the beer goggles affixed firmly on my big Italian nose.

So, in my debatably short time here in town, I’ve seen a shitload of good bands come and go, but mostly come (I can actually count on one hand the number of solid bands that have broken up over the past year and a half, and half of those were Nathan Brown projects). Anyway, weren’t we all a little sick of dudes in unwashed jeans and work boots, slaving over vintage Fenders? And weren’t we all a little tired of being afraid to let loose, of being afraid to bogart that joint a little longer than everyone within smelling distance wished, of being afraid to love everything? My two cents: The bad times are over. A new era is upon us. Nothing but good, good stuff — especially now that smart, mature, talented, inimitable songwriters and musicians have begun winning over the jaded citizenry of Fort Worth, distressed as they are with the mainstream, from The Edge to Sundance Square. People who know of Tim Locke only as a name that frequently appears in these pages are asking me when his new record’s coming out — ’cause they know “something” is there. Stumbling through a West Seventh Street bar on a typical weekend night gets me into conversations about the possibility of Woodeye breaking through — ’cause everyone knows there’s “something” there. Friends of mine in the office are asking me when Collin Herring’s playing next — ’cause they know “something” is there. “Something” is definitely happening, and — in the words of that great pseudo-jazz band Chicago — it’s only the beginning.

A good thing is that everyone seems to know that these good times won’t last — folks are embracing this fact by cutting some of the most wonderful music this town’s ever heard and living life as if every day were a summery afternoon in gay Paris in the company of Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, two crates of bourbon, and naked underwear models. But maybe it’s not that these good times won’t last; maybe it’s that these good times will become somebody else’s idea of a gold mine. So one band gets signed. Then another. Then another. Then before long, Fort Worth’s kind of like this Seattle or Murfreesboro, Tenn. Then before long, Fort Worth’s kind of like this Seattle (post-Nirvana) or Murfreesboro, Tenn. (post-Self), picked clean and left to die in the wild. That’s the danger. If I could just wrap everything up in aluminum foil, stick it in my breast pocket, and carry it around for the rest of my life, I would. If I could. If only.

What’s indisputable: These past few months have been great, the feeling all around that we’re about to see our first breakthrough artist storm the barricades protected by the praetorian guards of MTV, Rolling Stone, and the A&R dicks of rock ’n’ rolldom whose sole purpose it seems is to keep good music from entering the ambit of our hearing. I’m not giving up completely on major labels, even though I’ve heard the cries from my beer-stained brethren in local music about how major labels are washed up, through, fin, and how doing it yourself, via the internet, is the way to go. Well, the internet is great, but you have to remember the quality control provided for us by major labels — they help us separate the mediocre from the non-mediocre, have been doing it since the Stone Age. Just think: If every artist were online, how would we be able to differentiate the shitty acts and the good ones? All we’d have, when scrolling through the mp3 files, would be names. Names, names, names. Major labels are our buffers. They’re the same people who brought us Springsteen and the Beatles, you know? Nothing against doing it yourself or downloading music heavily. Just don’t forget that there remains a helluva lot of credibility in getting signed. It still means “something.”

Do the Hustla

The rap game is a different world. On this planet, you can sell a ton of records without any airplay. The reason is that club play still matters here. And here, payola is totally legal — though it’s a fact, any self-respecting urban club DJ won’t play a crappy song just because playing it earned him a fiddy spot. If he keeps spinning crappy records just to generate a little extra bread on the side, and his crowds keep thinning, then he’s not gonna have a job the next weekend. He needs to play the good shit, because playing the good shit — “breaking” artists, so to speak — will raise his profile and, in turn, raise the payola rates he can charge. It’s really not that complicated. “Wanna Be a Baller,” by Lil’ Troy, went from club hit to 97.9 monster a few years ago not only because Lil’ Troy had the right club DJ connections, but because his song was bad-ass. “Baller / Shot Caller / 20-inch blades / On the Impala / Call her / Getting laid tonight / Got the Swisha rolled tight, getting sprayed with ice,” etc. Remember that shit? That shit was dope. In this case, at least, this crazy-ass system worked. Thing is, it — unlike the rock system — works most of the time.

I don’t know how much club play the singles from this new one by Thugged Out Pimps is getting. But I do know that On T.O.P. of Our Game is underground, low-rent gangsta in refulgent colors. It’s a shame that my gangsta-lovin’ friends have been seduced by Puffy-ized rap, which is essentially pop music, ’cause T.O.P. is the shit my pals should be listening to. They’d hate it, though. There’s really nothing for them to grab on to: no rock samples, no heavy bass lines, no big hooks, no De La Soul-ish spiritual vibe. Nothing but high-hats sissing, cheesy synth lines lingering, and pissed-off guys rhyming they asses off on the Three W’s of Rap — women, weed, and weaponry. There’s absolutely nothing “mainstream” or readily accessible about this disc, which explains why this is the stuff that’s being listened to in Como and Stop 6 — it’s music by and for young black people. It’s in their language, on their terms. We’d be foolish to consider this below-average just because we don’t “get” it, or because it doesn’t conform to the standards set out by P. Diddy and his kind. It’s not any less legitimate than, say, “Pass the Courvoisier,” just ... different.

So, I’ll admit, there’s a little give and take between audiences and artists — artists are, in some ways, responding to what audiences want to hear while audiences are, in some ways, responding to what artists create. What keeps me baffled is why (!) and how (!) cursing like 2 Live Crew in a locker room still holds some appeal. Knowing now that it’s OK for cursing to happen in a truthful or sincere context, as opposed to in a gratuitous or sophomoric one, I can’t help but feel that local gangsta rappers are cursing merely to titillate new, young listeners. You know, the way we would all laugh in class when the teacher said something like “gay” or “hump.” Sex fascinated our young, not-full-grown brains. Cursing for the sake of titillating, not because it’s necessary, is what it seems like is happening here on T.O.P.’s latest. The thing that’s really screwy is that younger versions of my old chums and me would have been fascinated by this shit. It’s that well-done. A sample lyric, off “Saturday Night Lights”: “To my Funkytown thugs who never give enough love / Who got this bitch drunk and passed out, and she ready to fuck.” So. She’s passed out, yet she’s ready to “fuck”? OK, for the first time in all my years of reviewing records, I’ll acknowledge that the misogyny in rap is disgusting. Still — stay with me now — it’s not real. It’s just a bunch of guys talking shit, like (this is a stretch, but ...) characters in a movie. We don’t get mad at Joe Pesci for acting stereotypically Italian and whacking folks. I’m not sure we should become angry with the two guys who make up T.O.P. for acting in what they think is a stereotypical manner, either. But, you know, that’s just my opinion.

There’s a lot of head-bopping material here, most notably “Grade A.” A little ingenious songcraft goes a long way in this relatively short number. A few voices, in unison, recite variations on the line “We playa made, baby,” while, in between, a single voice spits a little rhyme. It’s as close to Puffy-ized rap — for which, I should admit, I’m a sucker, too — that this disc gets. My friends’ll dig it.

Now, my grass-smokin’ pals will love “Puff Puff Give,” a Quiet Storm paean to herb (at first you’ll think it’s a love song — ha!). We’ll end on these few notes: “Puff puff give, nigga, pass that shit / Ain’t no use in taking four and five drags and shit / You been holding it for a minute, ain’t nobody else hit it / So it’s puff puff give, nigga, pass that shit.” Another one: “Why you runnin’ yo’ fuckin’ mouth, you let that shit burn out?” And another: “It’s cracklin’ down to a doob, and I ain’t even get to hit it.” And finally: “Pass the weed / A human vacuum is what we don’t need.”

Say what you will. That’s some good dope. Grade: B

Save Texas — or Else!

God, I hate this part of my job: taking someone’s earnest art and looking for reasons to shit all over it. You know, I hate it so much, I’m not gonna do it this time. What I’m gonna do in reference to Rivers’ latest disc, New Meaning to Lonesome, is talk about its positive qualities and, first, how weird this guy is — in a good way. Let’s start with the generalizations: Good ol’ Rivers plays honky-Nashvegas music, he wears Texas Rangers jerseys and pearl-button shirts, and his feet likely never leave his cowboy boots. I’m assuming he voted for Dubya. OK, let’s just get crazy and say that he did. Now. The first thing a Dubya voter probably wants to hear is that every inch of Alaska will be pumped for oil. Not so Mr. Rivers. Based on track no. 1, “Let’s Save Texas,” I’m guessing Rivers is a conservationist. (Not sure where he stands on Alaska, but he’s sweet on keeping the geography of Texas the way it is. “We got the wetlands down in Galveston,” he sings, “Wildlife as far as you can see.” Gag.) The moral of the story: Big props to Rivers for his conservationist number. It takes a massive sack of gonads to alienate the mainstream country audience this way. That, I can always appreciate.

This disc has everything to satisfy a greedy KSCS music programmer: crisp production, top-shelf musicianship, and pretty straightforward songcraft. Plus, a song like Chris Isaak’s “Waiting for My Lucky Day” hits me in the gut: “I watch the sun go down in Texas / Out on the edge of town in Texas / I keep on hanging ’round in Texas / Waiting for my lucky day.” Call me a sap, but there’s no denying the lonesomeness of a lyric like that, and Rivers delivers it well, his twang not so pronounced, more Jimmy Buffet than Garth Brooks.

Maybe my affection toward this disc has something to do with a conversation I had with my girlfriend the other day. We were kidding around — and we ended the discussion with a big laugh — but something about what we said to each other stuck with me ... in a bad way. I told her, “Hey, I’m rowing the boat here,” metaphorically, ya know. How ’bout a little help” And she said, “Rowing the boat?!? You’re not even in the boat. You’re on the shore, in the truck, passed out drunk. My boat is all pretty and ready to move on, but I can’t, ’cause I’m stuck to your trailer.” We both got a good yuck outta that. Later, I heard the ballad “I Don’t Wanna Lose You,” by Rivers and Chris Waters: “I don’t wanna lose you, so I’m gonna let you go / Girl, I’d rather set you free than have you be with me / When you wanna be gone / I’m hoping that you’ll choose to come back to me on your own / I don’t wanna lose you / So I’m gonna let you go.” Of course, I told my gal she’s gonna have to use a chainsaw to unhook herself from my trailer, but I can’t say that I didn’t spend a second or two thinking about living the lyric Rivers sings. You know, sometimes a song and an emotion come together like this. I think it’s a beautiful thing. Unlike any other feeling in the world — including getting high.

(God, I am so gay.) Grade: B-

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