Interview With Dorian Ye (The Fan Who Reworked The Life of Pablo)

Brandon is a young dude who goes by the reddit name of Dorian_Ye. He sort of took the internet by storm last week by releasing a reworked version of Kanye West's "The Life of Pablo." He called his version "The Life of Paul," and sites like Complex ate it up. I honestly thought there was a genius musical intuition behind the project and figured I'd reach out and interview the dude.  So I did. Read the full unedited interview below. 

 

First off, tell me a little bit about yourself. What do you do?

23 years young and living in Pittsburgh.  I’m attending the University of Pittsburgh attempting to get my M.Ed. (Master of Education) while interning at the financial aid office at the local community college.  I’d like to be an academic advisor, which is the guy students come to with questions about classes they should take, scholarships that are available, internship opportunities, etc.

Is music something you’re currently pursuing? 

At one point in my life I thought I might’ve wanted to do something with music, but I decided I would rather work in a field that would provide me with more financial stability.  I wouldn’t wanna be an amateur musician or producer whose constantly wondering where their next paycheck is coming from and most background roles in music (i.e. mixing, staging, promoting, etc.) don’t really interest me.  Thus, I do creative projects like Paul just for fun and for Internet views.  When I was younger I’d always dreamed that I’d have thousands of people checking out stuff I’d create like music, and the power of the Internet has allowed me to accomplish this while still having a quote-unquote “real” job, so I’m basically getting the best of both worlds.

Why do this project? There are some flashes of brilliance in there. I’m curious as to what motivated you to put the time into doing this. 

One thing that a lot of people might not know is that this wasn’t my first remix of Pablo.  When the album was initially released I was disappointed in how inconsistent it was sound-wise, especially when compared to the original Waves tracklist Kanye had planned for the album that started with Famous and ended with Ultralight Beam.  Once some of the early demos for the tracks started leaking out in the weeks following Pablo’s Tidal release, I rearranged the tracks and created a new version of Pablo using the early tracklist, dubbing it “the gospel version of Pablo”.  It got a decent response on the Kanye subreddit but nowhere near the publicity that Paul has gotten.  

A couple weeks after my remix came out Kanye released the remastered version of Pablo to Spotify, Apple Music, etc.  People asked me whether or not I’d redo the gospel version with the new tracks and my answer was no: I was largely satisfied with Pablo after Kanye re-released it and felt no need for it to be “fixed”.  Months went by and I’d barely even remembered that my remix even existed.  Then in September one of my good friends on the Kanye subreddit who goes by the name MissDOA made a wonderful post for my birthday and linked the gospel version of Pablo in the post.  It reminded me that I never had done another remix using the remastered tracks and planted the seed in my mind to actually do it.  

Beyond this, my motivation for doing the project was to see what the album could sound like if Kanye had fleshed it out a little more and extended the track lengths to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy levels of maximalism.  I also wanted to place an emphasis on the original samples used for the songs on the album.  I believe that Pablo has the best sample selection of any Kanye album and I wanted the original samples to play a major part in the remix.  It was more an appreciation of the artists Kanye sampled to create the record than anything else.

Some of my favorite moments are scattered throughout. The top moment for me is definitely the tour version of Father Stretch My Hands. What was your favorite song to explore?

Father Stretch My Hands was one of the first songs I did for the project and is definitely one of my favorites as well (particularly with the addition of Pt. 3), but I think my favorite song to explore musically was All Day.  I’d argue that All Day is one of Kanye’s most underrated singles (along with Only One) and the material I had to work with on that track was pretty substantial.  The good people over at the Kanye Leaks subreddit were able to provide me with an early 2014 demo version of the track along with an unreleased remix featuring Kendrick Lamar, and the production flourishes on those versions that didn’t make it onto the single version of the track really flesh it out when compared to the original.  Also, another redditor was able to identify the intro sample to the Kendrick remix just a few days ago and I was able to download it and reincorporate it into the song, so the version of Paul that people have doesn’t even have the final version of All Day on it.  I plan on getting an update readied and hopefully out by the end of the year.

To me it seems that this project is more of an exploration of the possibilities that this album could’ve been, rather than something meant to compete or even compare to the original. Would I be correct in that assumption?

You would be 100% correct.  I made a point to emphasize that I don’t consider this album to be any better or worse than Kanye’s original.  In fact, in a lot of cases I do feel like his version is superior.  Nobody really needs a near 8 minute version of Fade or a near 9 minute version of No More Parties in LA.  Actually, had Kanye just let the samples play out mostly unedited as they are on my version I may have been disappointed with it.  Kanye has a knack for knowing when to pull back from a track and not let it overstay its welcome.  Still, there is a certain appeal in hearing these tracks when they’re blown up and stretched to their limits.  I consider this an alternative listening experience of Pablo more than anything else.

I have to admit, there are some moments that feel very messy. Do you plan on polishing those up or leaving the project as it stands? Is there anything you would’ve done differently?

Much like Kanye’s original, I plan to keep updating Paul whenever I have the opportunity to improve on the tracks.  I wound up releasing it three weeks ahead of schedule which left me little to no time to properly mix it, so I’m planning on going back and improving the mix at some point.  Someone also pointed out that the version of Pablo I used for the tracks was actually of lower sound quality than it could have been, so I’ll likely bite the bullet and purchase the ridiculously overpriced $20 320 kbps MP3 copy of the album from Kanye’s website.  

I’m also planning on editing and revising some of the songs as well.  Fade, in particular, sounded a bit overblown after I listened to it again a couple days ago; I’ll likely shorten it a bit for the next update.  Other than that, I’m guessing the only changes will mostly be additions to the songs as opposed to reductions.  But I also realize that the edits I did to songs like Famous and Waves were very hit-or-miss for some people, so I’m planning to release single edits for those tracks as well as a couple others that line up more with Kanye’s original vision for the songs.

What’s your weapon of choice as far as software?

I stitched the entire project together in Sony Vegas, which is typically video editing software.  I’m a video editor at heart and Vegas is what I am most comfortable with for editing audio.  I also used Audacity to change the tempos of certain samples to match better with the actual songs.  The downside of using Sony Vegas for the project was that there were a lot less options for audio effects than there would be in a program like Pro Tools or FL Studio.  I only really used base equalization and reverb VSTs to edit the tracks.  I’m going to try learning a professional audio interface to remaster the album at some point which should hopefully resolve some of the issues with sound quality and audio effects.

Tupac or Biggie?

To be honest, I haven’t listened to nearly as much Tupac as I probably should have at this point in my life.  I’ve only heard his first two albums, which, outside of the occasional gem (i.e. Brenda’s Got a Baby), are not considered to be Pac at his absolute peak.  I’ll probably make time to listen to Me Against the World sometime over Thanksgiving break to remedy the issue, but seeing as how I’ve heard everything from Biggie that’s worth hearing I have to give it to him by default.

Are there any other projects to expect from you in the future?

Outside of future updates to Paul, I don’t want to promise anything that I won’t be able to deliver on in the future.  Any projects that I might have coming out likely wouldn’t be music related as much as they might be video edits or song remixes that I’ll put up in the Kanye subreddit on occasion.  One such example is a version of Father Stretch My Hands that I remixed earlier this year by changing the lyrics to be referencing nothing but bleach and t-shirts; it’s called Father Bleach My T-Shirt and can be found here:

https://goo.gl/5XPxBP

There is a moment in Highlights where you spend a considerable amount of time focusing on a Carole King sample, what was the inspiration behind that?

The Carole King sample was included on an early demo of Highlights but didn’t appear on the final version Kanye released on Pablo, most likely due to sample clearance issues.  I always felt like it would have been an excellent addition to the track and wanted to include it as the intro as I felt like it pierces through your soul in the best way possible to start it off.  Plus the way it blends into the little bit I’ve got of Kanye and Thug singing over the organ before the technical “start” of the song worked a lot better than I could have ever expected it to.

What are your top 5 artists dead or alive? (doesn’t have to be hip hop)

This list can change on a whim, but as of today this is what I would rank:

1. Kanye West - Obviously. He’s the GOAT.  Enough said.

2. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys - Essentially, the Kanye West of the 1960s.  The ideas he brought to the approach of recording pop/rock music were completely unprecedented and immeasurably creative for his time.  The way he recorded his magnum opus, Pet Sounds, draws parallels to the recording of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: bring in a slew of musical and lyrical collaborators, put everyone’s ideas together and emerge with an incredible piece of work.  Unfortunately, Brian’s mental health took a turn for the worse after the release of Pet Sounds and we never really got to see what his full potential could have been.  There’s a pretty good movie from last year called Love and Mercy which details the experiences Brian went through during the 1960s (with a large emphasis on the recording of Pet Sounds) and the ensuing 20 years of mental health issues that he endured before reemerging in the public eye during the 1990s; highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of music.

3. The Avalanches – The way these guys work with samples is pretty much second to none.  They created the perfect dance record in the year 2000 with Since I Left You, 60 minutes of music composed of some 3,500 samples that simultaneously sounds like the past and the future of music perfectly blended into one.  After its release they pulled a Brian Wilson, completely disappearing for over a decade.  They finally reemerged earlier this year with their second album Wildflower, and amazingly it ended up meeting the insanely high expectations I had for it and has pretty much been my album of the year since the day of its release.  Anyone who is a fan of sample based music needs to check them out.

4. Wu-Tang Clan – Kanye would not exist without Wu-Tang.  It’s as simple as that.  In my mind they’re the greatest hip hop group of all time.  Their run from 1993 through 1997 produced more classics than most artists could even dream of creating over the course of their entire careers.  You would think that a group with 9 (and sometimes 10) members would cause most of them to get lost in the shuffle, and in the case of U-God and Cappadonna this is occasionally true, but beyond the two outliers every member of the Clan had a distinctive voice and style that sets them apart from the others.  You’ve got Method Man’s stoned charisma, Raekwon’s dynamic storytelling, Ghostface’s commanding mic presence, GZA’s intellectual lyricism, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s drunken debauchery and Inspectah Deck’s razor sharp delivery, while Masta Killa plays the underdog role to a T.  But the real key to the group was the RZA.  At his peak, his production style was second to none, and the way he was able to tailor his beats to match the members of the Clan he was working with was genius, not to mention he wasn’t a bad emcee in his own right.  There hasn’t been a group as diverse yet simultaneously consistent as Wu-Tang.

5. Wild Nothing – This is a bit of a wild card choice as the group’s music isn’t wholly original and hardly considered to be canon, but Virginia musician Jack Tatum’s solo project was the first really “indie” thing I ever got into and the music he’s released as Wild Nothing has left a lasting impact on me.  The first time I heard it I had no idea how to feel about it.  It was very dreamy, very pretty; it was significantly less masculine than anything else I was listening to at the time, but once I got over the stigma I was associating with the music in my mind I became completely obsessed with it.  It put me in a sort of waking dream state only comparably accessible through drugs.  For a time I was adamant on listening to any and all kinds of dream pop that I could get my hands on, particularly artists on the Captured Tracks record label.  Beyond my appreciation for the sound of the music, though, Jack Tatum is an excellent songwriter which sets him apart from a lot of dream pop groups that bury poor songwriting in a ton of sound effects.  The new Wild Nothing album from earlier this year is reflective of this: it isn’t dream pop at all, eschewing the group’s early style for a more natural sound, but with how strong the songwriting is it doesn’t suffer from the drop off in quality that some artists do when they stray from their signature sound.  Very underrated group that I feel deserves more attention.

Is there anything that you feel is overlooked in the world of music that listeners should be paying attention to?

There are so many great artists today that really aren’t getting their due.  Off the top of my head I can think of S.Maharba, Ricky Eat Acid, Laurel Halo, Nosaj Thing, Astronauts etc., Onra, Forest Swords, Still Corners, Teebs, Holy Other and Pure Bathing Culture.  Also, Clarence Clarity has gotten some decent press in the last couple years but he still isn’t nearly as big as I think he should be.

If you could be a fly on the wall during the making of any studio album, what would it be? 

Definitely Yeezus.  The recording sessions for that album are still pretty mysterious, especially compared to Fantasy and Pablo.  Whereas Fantasy had a full scale Complex piece on its recording and fans got a good amount of access to the Pablo sessions in the month leading up to its release, the Yeezus sessions are mostly unseen outside of a short clip of Kanye recording vocals for I Am a God with Rick Rubin.  I would have killed to hear the 3 hours of music Kanye played for Rubin in the weeks preceding the album’s release.  I can only imagine all of the cool shit that got taken out of the album in favor of the minimal album we ended up getting out of the recordings.  Even to hear a full version of I Am Not Home would be a godsend.  Honorable mention goes to Watch the Throne, specifically because we still haven’t heard the cut track Living So Italian and based off the title of that song alone I know it would have been spectacular.

What makes that album so special to you? 

You mean Yeezus?  Just the gall that Kanye, one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, had in releasing a project that was so blatantly uncommercial.  The lyric “How much do I not give a fuck?” from On Sight sums up the record perfectly: not a single fuck was given in the recording of that album.  There was no concern for radio ready singles or songs that worked in a traditional hip hop sense.  Kanye did something that felt right to him and that’s all that mattered.  Yeezus is an album that impacts you in a variety of ways, both positive and negative.  It’s hardly perfect but it doesn’t need to be.  He put something out that he knew a good portion of his fan base would not understand, something that is more in line with electronic music than hip hop, and I respect the hell out of him for that.  It clearly wasn’t a failure as it won the Pazz & Jop poll and songs like Black Skinhead, Blood on the Leaves and Bound 2 will be staples of his live shows for years to come, but a lot of people still see it as a blemish on his discography for some reason.  I am not one of those people: I’d rank it ahead of Pablo, Graduation and even 808s, which given the recent critical reevaluation of that record is something a lot of people might call foul on.  Yeezus is not something I play all of the time, but when I do I’m struck by how unique of a listening experience it is for a rap record.  People make comparisons to Death Grips and other industrial hip hop artists but I just don’t see it.  MC Ride would never have done something like Guilt Trip, or Hold My Liquor, or Bound 2, or Blood on the Leaves, or the 2nd half of New Slaves.  It might take influence from industrial and electronic music but it’s still Kanye at its core.  I feel like people will appreciate it a lot more 10 or 20 years down the line.

If you could have Kanye collaborate with one artist of your dreams, who would it be and why?

Impossible to pick just one, honestly, because there are so many possibilities.  Kanye working with Clams Casino on a track could be really special; same with Jamie xx.  Kanye and Donald Glover’s styles feel like they would mesh pretty nicely.  A Damon Albarn collaboration would be interesting too.  Thom Yorke doesn’t fuck with Ye so I doubt that would ever happen, but you never know.  Also I would love to see an actual collaboration between Kanye and Andre 3000 because let’s be honest, those 30 Hours adlibs just don’t cut it.  Beyond anything else, though, I would kill to see Kanye & Lil B work together.  It wouldn’t even need to be a musical collaboration; like, just a dual interview between Kanye and Lil B would probably move mountains.

What do you think we are getting first, The Ye/Drake collab, Cruel Winter, or Turbo Grafx?

If recent reports are to be believed the Kanye/Drake collab may be coming sooner than people think, but I’m still skeptical on that.  One rumor suggested it could be a New Year’s drop, which I don’t believe is actually going to happen since Drake has More Life coming out in a couple weeks and all of the things that have been happening with Kanye lately would make for really bad timing on it.  This is pure speculation but I’m thinking Ye + Drake in the late winter/early spring.  I’m still not 100% convinced that Cruel Winter is coming at all, but if it does I’d bet on summer or early fall.  TurboGrafx-16 probably won’t come until 2018 at the earliest.  Kanye has a history of starting to work on an album, getting overexcited for it and announcing it way in advance of release, and then having to continue to work on it along with other music & fashion projects until it ends up coming out far in advance of its originally announced release.  For all we know, we might not even get a Kanye related album in 2017.  I don’t think it’ll come to that but you never know.

Are there any producers that you look up to? I can think of many that really helped shape TLOP, even among producers who didn’t directly work on it. Is there any producer that really makes the lights go off in your head?

Mike Dean is embarrassingly underrated.  In my view he’s up with the Dres, the Premos, the RZAs and the Kanyes in the upper echelon of hip hop producers.  His ear for beats as well as his musical acumen is almost second to none in rap.  He’s been a force in hip hop for over 30 years, far longer than the vast majority of his contemporaries.  He’s credited with being one of the key innovators of the Dirty South sound back in the 80s and 90s, and with his recent work with Kanye, Travis, Frank, Desiigner and so many others he’s arguably more relevant today than he’s ever been.  That’s more than you can say for virtually every other producer who started in the 80s.  Like, I’m looking forward to Desiigner’s debut album almost solely for the patented Mike Dean Magic that’s bound to grace the record. He evolves with the times better than anybody else and, in my eyes, he will always be a legend.  

What was the most challenging aspect of creating “The Life of Paul?” 

Getting everything to blend together correctly.  A lot of the demos and samples used on Paul were of varying sound quality when compared to the Pablo tracks they were combined with.  I’m mostly satisfied with how things turned out but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.  I’m hoping that once I get an opportunity to mix the album a little better I can correct a lot of the mixing issues on the record.

What is the best Kanye album in your opinion?     

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, period. It’s my favorite album of all time, regardless of artist or genre.  It’s had a larger impact on my life than any other piece of music, mostly due to the timing: I was 17 when Fantasy dropped, a very impressionable time in anyone’s life.  At the time I was listening solely to underground and 90’s hip hop, and hearing that Kanye was recording an album with DJ Premier, Pete Rock, RZA, Q-Tip, Madlib and a slew of others was nothing short of a dream come true.  At the same time, I was getting into some non-hip hop stuff for the first time and started dating a girl who was into indie rock.  Fantasy wound up being so much bigger than the old school rap record it was originally envisioned as: it was traditional hip hop mixed with progressive rock in a way that sounded completely natural and dope as fuck.  It pushed my musical tastes into strange and unexpected directions.  I discovered artists like King Crimson, Aphex Twin and Bon Iver for the first time through Fantasy.  I did an art history minor for my undergrad and visited the MoMA because of Fantasy.  In my opinion, there’s never been a better hip hop album before or since.  I’d be pleasantly surprised if Kanye ever tops it.  It’s the defining moment of his career, and its release is a defining moment of my life.  I’m actually writing the responses for this interview on the 6th anniversary of the record’s release which is just crazy to me, I remember the day it came out like it was yesterday… Just a perfect album all around.

If you could do anything in the whole world, and money was no object, what occupation would you choose?

I would love to be one of those people who makes money off of YouTube for a living.  I already love making videos so it’d be a cinch if I could do it full time; plus some of the things that people get paid to do almost seem too good to be true.  There’s a guy whose YouTube channel is called CustomGrow420 and all he does is smoke weed on camera.  He has over a million subscribers and people send him free weed and paraphernalia.  I really can’t think of a better life than that.

Thanks so much for your time. lastly, are there any links to other work you want to plug or share with anyone who might be reading this?

I’ve got a YouTube channel where I take already existing videos and remix them to create something new.  I started making the videos in my adolescence and as a result the humor is very adolescent-oriented, very perverse; essentially I tap into the darkest areas of my psyche and try to be as offensive as I possibly can in the span of a couple minutes with them.  They’re a lil immature and I’ve been distancing myself from creating them in recent years as I’ve grown out of the humor a bit, but I’ve got a decent fan base off of them so I still upload one or two things a year just to satisfy those people.  My channel is named Squadala9001 and you can find it at YouTube.com/Squadala9001.

Glad to do the interview bro, you’ve got some awesome YouTube content and I’m honored to have done this, keep up the good work!

Audio Push's Hot 97 Freestyle Got Me Like :O

"Throw on the beats that the young kids are scared to rap on."

These young rappers didn’t want beats from DJ Premier. These young rappers wanted to be rockstars. I’m not a hater, let the kids live. Those who are too concerned with trying to get these kids to be something other than themselves are stuck in the past and will fade away. That said… this is hip hop, and you better damn believe that you better be coming with that A-Grade competition, snatching necklaces and running jewels when spitting these bars. Audio Push came out of the Inland Empire with guns blazing… like, sawed off shotguns , I think I saw one of them using Lil Uzi Vert as an actual Uzi, and eating Lil Yachty’s Hair like a bag of flaming hot cheetos. Make a billion “Broccoli’s” with D.R.A.M. but you better be making it the best damn sing-song tune about vegetables you can possibly make, because these kids are coming for your neck. You can be the sound of the day, or the sound of a generation… time will tell. 

Like I said, I’m not hating. This freestyle just got the fire burning in my chest. Let these kids make whatever kinda music they want, but I will be supporting anyone going hard any day too. If they wanna shake the game up, rip tendons with their syllables, splatter brains with their delivery, let it happen man. This is the Wild Wild West… anyone can become yesterday’s news. Who knows… Audio Push might be yesterday’s news waiting to happen, but they sound like they’re fighting with all their might to be tomorrow’s future. That’s all that matters. Jut go for broke. 

*Steps off soapbox*

The Art of Bill Sienkiewicz

I’ve been saving the art of Bill Sienkiewicz to a folder on my desktop ever since admiring his recent work on one of the latest Marvel Hip Hop covers. His latest is a take on King Mez’s “Long Live The King” album re-fitted to feature Black Panther. It works almost too well, as if Bill himself thought of the idea the whole time… the great part about these hip hop Marvel covers recently is how well they marry with the characters they are paired with. 

The people over at bleedingcool.com did an awesome blog post that just featured the below ink sketches to show that this was all the man needed to get to the finished album cover. 

Bill can be unorthodox in his comic art, often using oil paintings, collage, mimeograph and other forms. But honestly, I don’t feel like just writing on and on, let the pictures speak for themselves and give you a good kick in the face. Make sure to pick up your teeth on the way out. 

 

Nx Worries New Single "Lyk Dis" Is Soulful Eroticism At It's Finest

Sidechain whipping around the speakers, leaving gashes the size of Slick Rick’s pendants in our eardrum canals… Knxwledge goes in with his production on Lyk Dis with Anderson .Paak soothing us with his soul cries. From old to new, .Paak always shines at marrying old soul with modern RnB styles. At 1m 30s his melody is clearly 90s inspired as well as the refrain “Everything you do, oh when you do it.” 

The warbly sample, cliche’d as all hell, beckoning a sexual groove is hypnotic enough to demand respect, it simply works. The kick drum clips most notably on it’s second hit of every beat, but with Knxwledge, such over the top compression is always welcome. With no deviation from the main loop, aside for a measure where it lets the string sample sing a little longer, it’s clear that Anderson is becoming a master of melody as he clearly carries the beat along with him and not the other way around. 

Lyk Dis is a soulful song of eroticism that is sure to ease an evening commute and set the tone for a special evening with that special someone.

Paul Dini Showed Me Why We Love Batman

It’s Batman day. If you don’t like comics… I’m sorry, because I do. I’ve decided that I’m going on a trip down fandom lane today. It only seemed appropriate that i start by giving props to the men who completely reinvented the way we see Batman to this day… Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. This duo brought to us the vibrant Batman Animated Series that filled our televisions with wonder and justice in the 90s. From the art deco/noir look to the serialized dramatizaitons, these two breathed life into the caped crusader in a way that was way more than us kids deserved. It’s only now that I realize how spoiled we were. On any given day we were treated to a faithful adaptation of the Dark Knight that treated the source material with absolute respect and gravitas when necessary. There was that piercing score that was reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s score for the Tim Burton films, along with the greatest performance of The Joker to ever be. Mark Hammil is Luke Skywalker to most, but he is most affectionally, the joker, to me.

And of course, we can't forget the inclusion of Harley Quinn, birthed from the genius of Paul Dini himself, who has gone on to become an icon all her own. 

Their universe, dedicated to the Dark Knight is far superior to what Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan created, by a long shot. One of the greatest works to come from the universe, however is a meta-true life narrative written by none other than Paul Dini himself. Prior to the animated movie “Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm” being completed, Paul Dini was brutally mugged one night while walking home from a date. He was at a rather low point in his life, suffering from loneliness, depression, and a horrible habit of self harm.

The aftermath...

The aftermath...

Most of us knew nothing about this, to be fair, most of us didn’t care. We were just little kids who put no thought into the fact that there were real, live, flesh and blood people that made Batman.

Poison Ivy always had the best bedside manner.

Poison Ivy always had the best bedside manner.

It’s actually kind of baffling to me how much we take for granted that there are people waking up, every single morning, to write about someone dressed in a funky costume, kicking ass, only to clock out at the end of the day and go back to their regular jobs. There’s actually something really beautiful about that. How a man or a woman could escape reality and create a world where justice is enacted and the bad and the wickedly ugly are put away forever. There must be a gleeful satisfaction in that type of work. But there was a period of time where Paul Dini did not think so. 

Dini even imagined what it would have been like for him, if Batman was there.

Dini even imagined what it would have been like for him, if Batman was there.

When he was recovering from the carnage and havoc wreaked on his face, Dini found himself with a gnawing pain that only got louder as time went on. HIs productivity was at zero, and he felt afraid. The police were very little help to him as far as bringing his muggers to justice, and the muggers had not only beat him to a pulp, but laughed and mocked him as they did so. It’s not like his self esteem was at any sort of a high at the point that his skull was getting cracked in either. No, with every crunch of cheekbone, and every squish of swelling tissue, Dini began to doubt if there were any real heroes in the world at all. Where was the crusader for him? He devoted his whole life to making kids believe in a hero when times got tough. Well, times were pretty damn tough at that moment, and there was not so much as a passerby to play looky-loo.

Dini many years later wrote about the darkness he suffered in an enchanting book titled “Dark Night: A True Batman Story.” In it, he chronicles his life in one of the most creative autobiographies I’ve ever read. With the help of the Looney Toons, real life industry stories, and Batman’s rogues gallery, we are taken on a surreal journey through the accomplishments and demons of Paul Dini’s life. He brings it down to our level, peeling the layers back on his insecurities and failures, while finding joy in the characters that he breathed life info. In his darkest moments, they are his guides, they are the voices that keep him from going insane.

None of these characters should be doctors. Sheesh.

None of these characters should be doctors. Sheesh.

It’s a remarkable read that reminds us that sometimes the most heroic thing we can do, is get to work when everything in this world is telling us to just stay stagnant and wallow in self doubt. Dini’s book reminds us that modern mythology is as much about catharsis as it is about entertainment. So to me, the legacy of Batman is less about a man in a suit and more about our human need to illustrate what our ideals of justice and heroism look like. I will also take time to showcase some of the wonderful art of Bruce Timm, but it only seemed fitting to set the stage by acknowledging the master writer, Paul Dini, without him, Batman would still be who he is, but with just a little less oomph! 

Chance Played Out A Lot of Rapper's Fantasies on Ellen

 

Pillaging a record label has to be the pipe dream of a rolodex full of artists. Running up to reception, sounding like designer, “Git Git Git! Brrrrrraaap!” Telling everyone to pay up, even though none of those assistants have anything to do with you not getting paid… hell, if you’re playing this fantasy in your mind, you probably haven’t been paid in a while and you just need lunch money at this point. 

But Chance is over here, happy as all hell though... no mean mugging, no pistol whipping. This is just raucous joy. Freedom is in his hands and “this is his part… nobody else speak.” To be honest I didn’t think we’d get an independent artist this side of Macklemore to do as well as Chance has. The precedent that this has set is and will be considered historic. Currently, labels are already trying to figure out what the hell to do with kids like Chance. If Chance The Rapper doesn’t want what “Generic Records” has to offer, then Generic Records now has to figure out what in the hell Chance wants. And it’s that kind of power that artists haven’t had before.

There is already a clear generational gap between the artists who had to make radio friendly pop hits at the demand of their label and the artists who do as they please. And the crazy part is, the gap isn’t that wide. New trails are being blazed and everyone who has been playing it the old way is trying to put up their best poker face and pretend that this isn’t scaring the ever-living shit out of them. 

But there have been casualties along the way. The sobering bit about this performance is the fact that we have to deal with two roads here… the first is Chano’s road of independence. Here he’s kicked ass, given Satan a swirly, is still not selling his mixtape no matter how much they sound like albums, and has Apple paying him god knows how much. For all we know, he’s probably been asked to sell his soul a billion times, but the kid just won’t budge. He’s got his heart boxed up and shut tighter than Pandora’s… on the other end, we have Weezy. No shade to throw at the man, he’s a legend, no taking that away from him... but damn, if he ain’t being treated like a chump. No artist of his stature should have to deal with the shady business dealings that he has, and yet here we are, it’s like we’re watching a free man perform next to his brother in shackles.

But we still get some optimism for Wayne as he says that he’s gonna let the labels rob him like Ryan Lochte… which means he won’t in case you’ve been living under a rock this summer. But, in the words of DJ Khaled… I don’t think THEY wanted you to see this performance. Chance even says that he was turned down multiple times for this specific performance until Ellen finally said yes. I don’t think THEY wanted you to see Chance and Wayne up on the same stage together, seeing where two extremes can take you. You can be a caged songbird or you can be a free agent… it was clear, right there on that stage. The crazy thing is, not everyone is gonna know where they fall. Everyone wants to have the power of a free agent, be able to have everyone trying to accommodate your demands and seduce you with fame and riches… but too many people have chains and cages waiting. Choose wisely. 

 

Free Weezy tho. 

"Cudi and Kanye Is For The Children"

I wasn’t going to write about this. Was thinking to myself, “don’t do it man, you already write about Kanye too much on your blog, stop stanning and write something else.” For those who think I write too much about Kanye 1. Not Sorry 2. I’ve got one more major piece about him coming up in my video essay series and you can stop whining because I will write about other things too. But I’ve got to get this off my chest. I don’t want to live in a world where Kanye and Kid Cudi have beef. It isn’t fun to watch, and there is zero entertainment factor. I don’t wanna hear Ye diss tracks, I don’t want to hear Cudi diss tracks. I highly doubt that either of them would do that, but at the same time if you would’ve asked me about the other things that I would highly doubt happening, this beef would’ve been one of them. 

And for what? Hey, maybe Kanye is in the wrong here, maybe he did hurt little brother Cudi’s feelings. But c’mon, can’t we keep this out of the public eye? Not one of us fans has a single stake in the matter except for the fact that we might not be getting more music from these two any time soon, and if that happens… well that’s a damn shame, because every kid right now in hip hop needs to thank Cudi and Kanye, for damn near everything. Anybody with their wack “tiny tim” singing held up by the crutches of autotune, thank Kanye and Cudi. They’’re the only reason you’re not getting laughed off stage. Anybody who thinks they were the first people to make it cool and mainstream to be sad in hip hop and sing melodies that sound like you’re perpetually crying, nah fam… you thank Cudi and Ye for that.

Man I remember what it was like, when I first listened to Pursuit of Happiness, I was a depressed-ass little kid with a bunch of insecurities. When I say I had a bunch of them… bruh, my insecurities had insecurities, I had anxieties trying to size themselves up to my other fears like “yo, why am I not worth being worried about?! Be sad lil homie! Yeah, go kick rocks if you ain’t gonna recognize where your insomnia comes from, thaaaat’s right, Inferiority Complex right here! Reppin’ Freud all day!”  

So while I had anxiety disorders fighting a turf war in my head, selling bad thoughts on the corner like crack, all I had was that music. Man that was my medicine, no lie. Anyone who knows me in real life knows that this music has probably saved my life. 2Pac would roll down the street and do a drive-by on my demons for me. Slim Shady would bust out that chainsaw and and hand me a hatchet and we’d go monster hunting… But the thing was… I never felt as strong as these guys… When the music stopped, I just didn’t feel at home in my own skin. No one killed my demons. No one gentrified the ghetto of my mind. The gutters still had piss flowing down them. I just hated where I was in life, I didn’t like being scared, I didn’t like being sad. I felt weak… I just wanted to be happy. What was a kid to do?

I don’t know how I found it, but it was like finding the holy grail… like the actual holy grail… from “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.” Remember at the end of the movie when there were all those crazy, gaudy cups and only one of them was the Holy Grail? And there’s that one dude who drank from the glittering chalice of gold and jewels but then he drank it and turned into a craisin? Then Harrison Ford stepped over that corpse and was like, “Bruh… Jesus didn’t have gold to make cups… homie was a carpenter!” So he found that dusty clay cup and drank the holy water.

There were two songs that really helped get me  through my over-inflated self doubts and fears… Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness” and Kanye’s “Welcome To Heartbreak” These two songs were the first songs on a mainstream level at the time that were really speaking to how I felt without posturing. It was okay to feel sad sometimes, no need to run away from it. I think I spent most of my childhood trying to run from fears only to look over my shoulder and see they were bigger and badder than ever. I also learned that you could listen to “sad” music that didn’t necessarily feel sad. There was a joy and wonder to the production of those two songs,  and Cudi’s vocals on each of the hooks sounded so damn soothing. It was like honey tea on a sore throat. My fav music was hip hop, I knew I could’ve gotten this sentimental content in other genres, but I loved hip hop too much to spend too much time elsewhere. Kanye and Cudi were filling emotional voids with their music. 

“I’m on the pursuit of Happiness and I know, 

everything that glitters ain’t always gonna be gold,

I’ll be fine, once I get it… I’ll be good.” 

Like I said… Medicine. You know you heard that melody when reading those lyrics. 

“My friend showed me pictures of his kids/And all i could show him was pictures of my cribs.”

 

I related to Ye and Cudi. I related to being surrounded by every reason to be happy and still feeling hollow inside. I was like the Tin Man, just knocking on my chest hearing echoes. Somewhere along the way I found my heart, and I think the music helped in paving the yellow brick road that took me there.

There’s kids out there, kids that need the music. So seeing this back and forth doesn’t make me pick a side, it doesn’t make me want to see someone win… we all lose. I’m not gonna promote a black man tearing another black man down, so I have no opinion on who should do what other then I hope they reconcile. I hope we have more “Beautiful mornings” to hear and more music for these kids to hum along to when they feel alone. To Cudi and Kanye, Listen to the kids bro!

Kanye's Greek Tragedy

I’ve been doing a lot of research into Kanye’s live shows recently (new video essay on the way soon) and I realized that Kanye never did a tour for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy… That’s actually kind of crazy when you think about it. The best that we got from him was that Coachella performance. I remember where I was, in college watching it when I should’ve been studying. The thing I remembered the most about it was the giant background that stood behind him. A giant relief sculpture that was a replica of A small part of the east frieze of the Pergamon Altar. The real Pergamon Altar was built during the reign of Freek King Emends II in the 2nd century BC. It’s located in the acropolis of the ancient Greek City of Pergamon in Asia Minor… Yes, I just wikipedia’d it’s location, but in case you wanna go globe trotting for it, thank me later. 

The interesting aspect of the sculpture is the narrative. According to Max Kunze “Der Pergamonaltar. Seine Geschichte Entdeckung und Reconstruction:”  Athena, the city goddess of Pergamon, breaks the Giant Alkyoneus’ contact to the earth, from which the mother of the Giants, Gaia, emerges. According to legend, Alkyoneus was immortal only as long as he touched the ground, where the power of his mother could flow through him. The eastern frieze concludes with Ares, the god of war, who goes into battle with a chariot and pair of horses. His horses rear up in front of a winged Giant.

The parallel here to Kanye’s life is most interesting is the fact that in the story Alkyoneus was only immortal as long as he touched the ground, because it was from the ground where the power of his mother could flow within him. Complex stated it was likely Kanye honoring his mother Donda. What makes this so great to me though is that all of this went without explanation from the man himself. If nobody watching the show knew anything about Ancient Greek art, people would probably assume that the man was just trying to be artistic for its own sake.

The album was about magnitude and ego, and here was an art piece that definitely projected that feeling, but with a much more tender subtext. Here was a man who saw himself as a god amongst men but still receiving his strength from his mother’s love. In the mythology Gaia is the very personification of the earth and the mother of all life and the who also gave birth to the Titans who themselves were the parents of many Olympian gods. It’s touching to see an artist still speak to the goodness of his mother in such subtle, yet fascinating ways.

The Greatest Verse 2Pac Ever Wrote

Well this is pretty damn eerie. I knew I was gonna write about Tupac today. I was listening to Me Against The World this morning… I log in to my computer and I see that today is the 20th anniversary of his death. Talk about Divine Inspiration.

Tupac is in my top 5 dead or alive, easily. Pac’s influence is unparalleled in hip hop, and I don’t care if you can’t recite more than 5 songs from him, he was great, you should listen to his albums. I think there was a period were it became cliche to be a fan of Tupac, sort of the way that junior high kids thought they were experts of rock music because their older brother introduced them to Stairway To Heaven. In some ways that cliche still lives on, but now enough time has passed that you can meet a kid who’s never listened to a single one of his albums. 

The funny thing about Pac though, is that he’s not necessarily known as being one of the best lyricists ever. I mean you’ve got Nas, Biggie, Jay, Em, 3 Stacks, they’re all better lyricists than 2Pac. When I see lyricist, I’m talking about a wordsmith, one who prides himself in the nuances and technicalities of lyric writing. But Pac has his moments. His finest moment, in my opinion is his song “If I Die 2Night”

It’s a hell of an intro to his album “Me Against The World.” In the song, Pac spits the best verse of his entire career. Period. It encapsulates everything about him while showing a dexterity in his lyricism that should shut up anyone who claims he wasn’t a great writer. 

"They say p*ssy and paper is poetry power and pistols

Plottin on murderin motherf****s 'fore they get you

Picturin pitiful punk niggaz coppin pleas

Puffin weed as I position myself to clock G's

My enemies scatter in suicidal situations

Never to witness the wicked shit that they was facin

Pockets is packed with presidents, pursue your riches

Evadin the playa hatin tricks, while hittin switches

Bi***s is bad-mouth, cause brawlin motherf***ers is bold

But y'all some hoes, the game should be sewed

I'm sick of psychotic society somebody save me

Addicted to drama so even mama couldn't raise me

Even the preacher and all my teachers couldn't reach me

I run in the streets and puffin weed wit my peeps

I'm duckin the cop, I hit the weed as I'm clutchin my glock

Niggaz is hot when I hit the block, what if I die tonight?"

2Pac would be right at home in today’s landscape of music. His style of rapping was more musical than most at the time of his reign, and there were many times in which you could tell he was more concerned with executing a better melodic structure than a technical syllabic rhyming structure. For example, Biggie had an impeccable flow with internal rhyme but without much melody, The delivery was more staccato and on the beat with heavy punch on the end of lines

 

From “Juicy” (caps to signal syllable emphasis)

Super Nintendo, Sega GeneSIS!

When I was dead broke man I couldn’t picture THIS!”

 

Compared to Pac (extra letters to match flow style) 

From “So Many Tears” 

"Back in elementary, I thrived on misery

Left me alone I grew up amongst a dyin breed

Inside my mind couldn't find a place to rest

until I got that Thuuug Life tatted on my chest

Tell me can you feeel me? I'm not livin in the past, you wanna laaast

Be tha first to blaast, remember Kato"

A lot of times Pac would stretch the middle of lines almost like he was lightly pushing on a vocal whammy bar. The change in pitch would exclusively be used for emphasis on words to drive the point home and bring deeper emotion to the song.

But his verse on If I Die 2Nite marries his technicality and emotional navigation of his lyrics the best. The most impressive part about it is how long he sustains consistent alliteration throughout the verse. All of the lines easily roll off the tongue this way and make the very harsh subject matter of the words sound even more rhythmic and easier to stomach. 

My favorite line “I’m sick of psychotic society, somebody save me,” embodies the song for me. The entire thesis of the song can be found in the line. We witness the paranoia beginning to build as it became a constant theme of his music. It also sheds light on the cynicism he directs towards the world at large, while still trying to enlighten the listener to accept that there is something wrong with society. He calls for someone to save him, acknowledging that the injustices of the world are drowning him and no matter what his image may say about him, he is not above succumbing to it. It was only the first of many songs foretelling his imminent death, but none of the others strive to dazzle you as much as this one. This is acrobatics on a tight rope without a net, as he beckons us to nod our head and smile at his skill, while calling us to empathize with his fears. 

R.I.P. Always

How He Makes The Beat Pump - Knxwledge's Sidechain Heavy

I’ve been listening to a lot of beats lately. Just beats, no rhyming. Sometimes you just don’t wanna deal with lyrics. I also think J Dilla is a god and prefer to listen only to his instrumentals. “The Shining” is a great album, but I know I’m not in the minority in wanting to just listen to his beats. 

I’ve been exploring and trying to listen to more producers who may not be getting any notable love. I plan on sharing my findings here, but today I want to talk about a specific preference that was guiding one of my listening sessions.

I was listening to a producer who I will not name, because I do think he is talented and don’t think my criticism comes from anything other than a temporary personal preference. As I was playing his beats which relied much more on melody and instrumentation, I noticed that the beats were a bit airy to me. It had a sort of otherworldly, ethereal feeling at times, so much so that I felt a sonic void. My ears didn’t feel like they were eating anything more than some light pita bread. But I wanted that steak man. Wasn’t trying to diet. Not today. 

I’ve known about “Knxwledge” for a while now. He’s a producer and one half of “Nx Worries” a duo including Anderson .Paak and himself. He’s on Stones Throw records. He was also featured on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly,” producing the song “Momma”

"Momma" has a very distinct sloppy sound to it. It rattles with metallic cowbell like production and a heavy baseline with punchy kicks that feel like they are punching through ballistic gel. 

The jazz samples also jingle on down very nicely, precipitating through the harsher elements like a drainpipe.

But anyways, I wasn’t listening to Momma… I mean I am now that I’m writing about it. But I went over to Apple Music and just searched “Knxwledge” And immediately started playing The first track off of his “Buttrskotch” project. I was instantly in the zone (If that sounded like an ad, it wasn’t.)  It’s like that feeling you get when you’re eating mom’s home cooking, and she makes that pasta that you haven’t had in a while, but when you bite into it, you’re like “Holy sh*t! I forgot how good that was!” If you can’t relate, then I’m sorry that your mother is a horrible cook and you couldn’t use your imagination. 

But the pumping kick and bass really coursed through and into my ears like a heartbeat, and I’m not trying to be lyrical when I write that as much as a heartbeat is the closest thing I can compare it too. A lot of his beats have this “pulse” to it that really drives it. I knew it had something to do with the way it was mixed but I didn’t know there was a name for it. It’s called “Sidechain Compression.”

Basically, in a very rudimentary explanation, what Knxwledge does is allow the output of a track determine the variable action of a compressor on a completely different track. To break it down even further… Let’s say you were mixing a vocal track, but you wanted the voice track to not feel overwhelmed by the music, with sidechaining you would have a compressor react to the audio waveform of the vocal track, so when the voice gets louder the compression is more pronounced, basically allowing the voice to sort of “push around” the sound that’s around it. 

I will link to a couple videos below that explain it with much more expertise than I could.

But basically this compression is what gives Knowledge’s beats his “pulsing” and “pumping” feel. Now mind you, beat makers have been doing this forever and Knxwledge has not created nor innovated this technique. Basically what beat makers like him do is apply the sidechain effect to the kick drum and it perforates through the music around it affected by the compressor. For me, it’s an incredibly satisfying sound and really makes everything sound more full. This is all preference for me, but it’s a nice little trick that makes the music almost feel more tangible. The pulse of the beat with this effect now demands my attention and I am listening. 

 

Check out these links videos for more info on sidechain compression.

Fresh Beats - "Penthouse" By Wun Two

I've been vibing to the lush beats of Wun Two lately to calm my nerves. Check out his 2014 album "Penthouse" at the link below. It's just some simple soothing boom bap to listen to while sipping on some coffee or driving home at night. The way he flips samples 

Link to full length album on iTunes: https://itun.es/us/UOsG4

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/5MWhs2N3eO78ppIYmRUzmH