Mike Jones Who Is Mike Jones? (Swishahouse/Asylum/Warner Bros.) Listen to "Still Tippin'."
For this Houston MC, shameless self-promotion doesn't get in the way of art—it's an art unto itself. Jones is as remarkable for his unorthodox marketing schemes as for his surprisingly limber mush-mouth. He got his start custom-writing songs for local strippers, generating a regional buzz one lap dance at a time; next, he gave fans his phone number and invited them to call him. On his major label debut, he turns his regular name into a memorable brand with the call-and-response catchphrase, "Mike Jones! Who? Mike Jones!" (He says his name no fewer than 98 times in all.) Like a DJ cutting records to replay his favorite lines, Jones finds an ingenious way to pare down his workload: When he's proud of a rhyme, he doesn't bother to write another, he simply says it again. His breakout single, "Still Tippin'," is steeped in the signature slow-motion sonics of Houston rap—the sludgy, menacing beat sounds like a warped cassette tape, playing on a deck that's running out of juice.
Eddie Argos, the singer for the snide London punks Art Brut, is the kind of guy who believes his jokes get funnier the more you hear them. With, say, Carrot Top, this would be torture, but Argos has a knack for unlikely, infectious one-liners, which he delivers in an engagingly tone-deaf, consonant-obliterating bark. He also excels at finding comedy in the quotidian: Among his preoccupations are bedroom-performance anxiety, confusing Italian currency, and starting a band. "Formed a band! We formed a band! Look at us! We formed a band!" he announces on (what else?) "Formed a Band," a jubilant sendup of rock pretension and the sharpest song here. On "Modern Art," his band sounds ramshackle and engine-tight all at once. "Modern art! Makes me! Want to rock out!" Argos howls over and over, describing the near-orgasmic experience of ... walking through the Tate?
The Diplomats More Than Music (Diplomat/Koch) Listen to "Somebody Gotta Die Tonight."
When Cam'ron debuted in 1998, he was an unapologetic brute. His attitude toward women was belligerently retrograde, he found few subjects as engrossing as his own wealth, and he stubbornly ignored the traditional trappings of rap virtuosity. Whereas most MC's privilege speed and polysyllabic dazzle, Cam'ron paraded AAAA rhyme schemes and droning cadences that resembled skipping records (on one song, he "rhymed" the phrase "me too" five times in a row). Seven years later, he's proven this aesthetic is just as experimental as it is crude and turned it into a school. Each member of his Harlem-based Diplomats crew—the luminaries are the aggressive Juelz Santana and cool-headed J.R. Writer—delights in seeing how many times he can repeat the same word, whether it's a homonym rhymed with itself or just plain gibberish. On "Somebody Gotta Die Tonight," Cam'ron buries a brag within a string of typically nonsensical couplets: "Keep heat, creep creep, leap leap, three jeeps, beep beep." It's a gangsta rap gone nursery rhyme.
Minotaur Shock Maritime (4AD) Listen to "Muesli."
There's something similarly childlike about the first, and most beautiful, song on David Edwards' new album. With "Muesli," the Bristol-based electronic musician who records as Minotaur Shock pays homage to the undulating, repeated phrases of mid-'70s Philip Glass. The first sound we hear is a lone, curious hornpipe climbing tentatively up the scale. This melody is a shape-shifter—like Glass before him, Edwards subjects it to slight, incremental variations—but the hornpipe remains the song's central element, repeating as the instrumentation gradually expands to include tambourine, xylophones, chimes, and accordions. With gorgeous imperceptibility, the song mutates from spare to lush in three minutes. Too bad it's a trick Edwards doesn't repeat—"Muesli" sounds nothing like the stuttering dance and soporific chill-out beats that fill the rest of Maritime.
Ol' Dirty Bastard The Definitive Ol' Dirty Bastard Story (Elektra/Rhino) Listen to "Shimmy Shimmy Ya."
Russell Jones released just two albums before drugs killed him last November, so this retrospective has more commemorative significance than service value. It does, however, highlight how different producers approached ODB's paranoid, bilious, bluesy, funky, scatological, and, yes, brilliant microphone antics. It's tempting to say that Jones grew increasingly unhinged over time—his arrest record certainly corroborates that view—except he sounded resolutely unhinged from day one. His great 1995 single "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" demonstrates this. Unlike the Neptunes, who would later set ODB's vocal chaos against taut, glossy pop, the producer RZA builds ODB a funhouse with warped floorboards: Beneath skittering drums and a comical piano line on "Shimmy," a two-note bass line adds faint menace. ODB burps and bellows his way through the first verse, proudly comparing himself to Norman Bates. The second verse simply repeats the first, but backward. Maybe one usable verse was all RZA had—or maybe Dirty was more avant-garde than we give him credit for.
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