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With the advent of digital music, the concept of album art may seem a little outdated. But, judging by the backlash over the questionable art on the cover of Ab-Soul’s forthcoming project These Days…, album art isn’t completely dead yet.
Even though it’s not dead yet, that doesn’t mean lots of people haven’t done their best, intentionally or not, to murder it over the years. I’m not talking about so-bad-it’s-good masterpieces like the cover of Big Bear’s Doin Thangs. I’m talking about album covers with no redeeming qualities that were slapped on top of projects by otherwise talented artists. As you take in these five breathtaking pieces of art, try to keep in mind how at no point in the production process did anyone recognize how bad they were and insist something else should make the cover.
Generally speaking, skits are annoying. They always seem to come up on shuffle, they’re frequently gross (I’m looking at you, Big Sean… why would you ever think people would want to listen to what you put on “Freaky?”) and they aren’t usually pleasant to listen to. Unless the album is a concept album with a story that progresses because of the skits—as is the case in “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City”—or if you have Tracy Morgan cracking jokes, like he does on “Wu-Massacre”—then I’d usually say they only hurt an album.
It’s been one year and seven months since Kendrick Lamar dropped “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” and proved he has at least one million fans. If you’re one of them, then you know the struggle of being a fan of an artist with only a few album length projects to his name. You know “Section .80” and “Overly Dedicated” front to back and copped his EP but even that isn’t enough Kendrick for you. Admit it: it might be time to branch out a little.
And by branch out, I obviously mean to more Kendrick. Here are ten of his best verses that weren’t on his own albums:
10. 1 Train – A$AP Rocky ft. Big KRIT, Action Bronson, Danny Brown and Yelawolf
It seems like everybody thinks a different artist had the best verse on this track. Okay, nobody thinks Action Bronson killed it, but an argument could be made for everyone else—and don’t tell me not to consider Yelawolf. I mean come on, “Ain’t been a rapper this cold since Tupac was froze / and thawed out for a spot date at a Coachella show” is a great line. But Kendrick’s offering here is great as well, maybe not the best on the song, but still a solid contribution.
9. Fragile – Tech N9ne
Kendrick matches Tech N9ne’s rapid fire delivery and delivers a verse, as usual, that brilliantly coincides with the theme of the song. Making a song about artists’ fragile egos is an unusual choice for the typical “I love haters” attitude you usually see in hip-hop, so this song is an interesting change of pace.
8. The City – Game
The strange thing about this song is how Kendrick’s verse just kind of got tacked on the end. It was good enough for Game to pull a line out of it for the hook, but not good enough to play before the beat cuts out I guess. Still, Kendrick’s flowing a cappella is a great way to end a song.
7. Black Lip Bastard (Remix) – Ab-Soul ft. Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q
Kendrick’s verse for this Black Hippy remix has a line that goes, “Look inside of my parking garage and see a collage of every person I despised from the moment I turned five,” and he doesn’t drop that vindictive tone for the rest of the verse. The power all four bring on songs like this is what gets everybody’s hopes up about a Black Hippy album. In fact, there is so much power in this song that you may have to rent a temporary power supply to handle it all.
6. Really Be – YG
It was fitting for Kendrick to appear on YG’s “My Krazy Life” since some people think the album could be considered a companion to GKMC called “Gangsta Kid Mad City”. Kendrick delivers a verse here that shows he’s still a good kid, but even he is not immune to temptation when he gets stressed out.
5. Blessed – Schoolboy Q
This is one of Schoolboy Q’s most introspective songs and Kendrick helps out with a similarly reflective verse delivered with a unique flow. He ends the song on an inspirational note with lines like,”You reject these niggas that neglect your respect / For the progress of a baby step, my nigga.”
4. Collard Greens – Schoolboy Q
And in this other collab with Schoolboy, Kendrick shows he feels just as at home on the party tracks as he is on the introspective ones. You know it’s a great feature when you find yourself just listening to the song waiting for Kendrick to come in. Check out Kendrick flexing his bilingual capabilities here. Maybe a whole song in Spanish is in the works?
3. Control – Big Sean ft. Jay Electronica
I know, I know, nearly every other list in the world would have this verse at number one, but I still think it’s really overrated because of the hype Kendrick’s “disses” generated. How is saying you’re trying to be better than someone else a diss? Plus, he delivers this verse, as great as it is, with a bizarre, sustained half-yell. It’s still an incredible feature and be sure to stick around for the criminally underrated Jay Electronica verse that follows it.
2. Jealous – Fredo Santana
I have this one in my iTunes as Kendrick Lamar ft. Fredo Santana, because Kendrick absolutely owns this song. He begins this verse talking about how heartbroken he was to learn one of his best friends from Compton just got murdered, “I got worry on my brain, I been gone all summer / Just to fly back home and find out y’all done killed my little brother,” and still manages to end it with some uplifting lines.
1. Nosetalgia – Pusha T
The most impressive thing about this feature is how Kendrick figured out a way to make the subject matter of his verse consistent with Pusha T’s. Pusha T raps almost exclusively about dealing cocaine and Kendrick wasn’t about to start pretending he sold coke after making an entire album about being a good kid. So how does he do it? By crafting an extended metaphor that links his bars to bricks, and delivering it in a way that flawlessly complements Pusha T’s own stellar opening. As an added bonus, the song has one of the best videos of the last five years.
One of the joys of listening to hip-hop is recognizing when a new song references an old one. It’s as if artists like to reward loyal listeners of the genre by letting them in on a series of inside jokes. But while hip-hop is usually mostly self-referential, there are artists like Kanye West who aren’t afraid to go outside the genre to find samples for their tracks. And when I say outside hip-hop, I don’t mean cribbing bits of Al Green or Otis Redding. Everybody samples soul and R&B. I’m talking about songs from entire genres you’ve never heard of.
Lucky for you, Kanye has heard of them. In fact, when you start looking at his page on WhoSampled, it seems like there isn’t anything the man hasn’t heard of. Here are seven of the wildest examples of how far Kanye will go to get that sound he wants:
1. “Mercy” Samples a Jamaican Dancehall Song.
“Mercy” was ubiquitous in the summer of 2012, but I bet there are only a handful of people who understand the words of the hook without looking them up and even less that recognized what it was from. The famous, nearly unintelligible lines, come from a 1986 song called “Dust a Soundboy” by Super Beagle. Listening to “Dust a Soundboy” reveals that “Mercy” sped up the original lines making the singer, Fuzzy Jones, and his Jamaican accent even harder to understand. Super Beagle himself has heard “Mercy” and says he appreciates someone like Kanye sampling his song, saying “It’s a good feeling, and I recommend and endorse it.”
2. “Niggas in Paris” Samples a Recording of a Baptism
What, you thought those background shouts of “Yeah!” were ad-libbed by someone in the studio? Nope, Kanye already heard the perfect yell he needed from a recording of a baptism off of a “The Sounds of the South” record. You can hear the shouts that show up four seconds into “Niggas in Paris” seven seconds into the baptism recording.
3. “New Slaves” Samples a Hungarian Rock Band From the ‘60s.
“New Slaves,” like so many tracks on “Yeezus,” swifts gears dramatically part way through, giving the listener the feeling of having listened to two very different tracks in one. This sample shows up during one such switch, when Kanye is done rapping about racism and Frank Ocean is done mumble-singing. The sample is presented without much modification. It comes from thirty seconds into a song called “Gyöngyhajú Lány” by an old Hungarian band called Omega. Who knows how Kanye found it, but let’s be glad he did, since it provides a smooth ending to the otherwise intense “New Slaves” that works as the sonic equivalent of a post-coital cigarette.
4. The Chant From “Power” Is From a Song Called “Afromerica”
“Power” is now played at sporting events across the country. Entire stadiums sing along with its wordless chant. Few, if any, of those people know that the chant is originally from nine seconds into a song called “Afromerica” by Continent Number 6. I’m so sure few people know that because there doesn’t seem to be any mention of the song on the internet except in relation to Kanye sampling it.
5. “I Am a God” Samples a Song From a ‘70s Bollywood Movie
This sample, maybe more than all the others, shows how there is nowhere Kanye won’t go for a song. While other producers are digging through crates of the same old James Brown records, he’s watching Bollywood musicals from the ‘70s. The sample comes 1:54 into this song from the movie, Seeta Aur Geeta, and it can first be heard four seconds into “I Am a God.”
6. That Reoccurring Tune on “Watch the Throne” Is From an Italian Chamber Rock Band
This sample is the short melody that gets played either at the very beginning or the very end of the album version of four tracks off of “Watch the Throne”: “Illest Motherfucker Alive,” “No Church in the Wild,” “New Day,” and “Welcome to the Jungle.” The sample is lifted directly from the 2:28 mark of a song called “Tristessa” by Orchestra Njervudarov. You might be familiar with this one if you listen to a lot of Italian jazz-rock records from the ‘70s that sold few copies and were never reissued on vinyl or CD.
7. The Piano from “New God Flow” Is From a Psychedelic Brazilian Song
You might have felt like a savvy listener for recognizing the hook on “New God Flow” as a sample from Ghostface Killah’s “Mighty Healthy.” But that sample isn’t crazy, it’s just awesome. No, the crazier part is the piano playing underneath the loop of Ghost’s refrain. That’s scooped from 1:22 seconds into a song called “Bôdas De Sangue” by Marcos Valle. Marcos Valle is actually a fairly popular musician in South America, so maybe Kanye heard the song on one of his international vacations.
Like it or not, video games have carved a place for themselves in the mainstream. More people are playing games now than ever before, elevating it to one of the world’s most treasured past times and one of the best ways to immerse ourselves in visceral combat or captivating stories.
For all of its progress, though, the video game industry still fails miserably in a few significant ways. Below are five of the things that video games still do poorly.
Maybe I’ve been spoiled by awesome TV shows like Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones, but I’ve lost a lot of respect for franchises that treat morality like a coin flip. We may decide for ourselves whether a given course of action is “right” or not, but it’s just that: a personal choice.
For the most part, morality in video games exists in a sort of shadow world, where everything is frustratingly black and white. For example: do you save the bus full of innocent civilians, or do you let them fall off the bridge because you need to pursue the villain?
The problem lies not in the fact that the choice exists, but in the way game insists on painting you in either a positive or negative light afterward, turning a difficult moral choice into little more than the addition or removal of digital karma points.
Even games like Mass Effect, which are built around moral choices, are guilty of this kind of clumsy dichotomy. So far, the most morally ambiguous game I’ve had the pleasure of playing is Telltale Games’ excellent Walking Dead series.
It seems to be one of the unwritten laws of the universe that licensed video games need to be phoned-in crap from lousy developers. By “licensed” we mean a video game based on a film, comic book, or television show. There is a long history of terrible licensed games, and it looks right now like there’s no end in sight.
Thankfully, there’s a small handful of developers who seem committed to reversing this trend. The aforementioned Airtight Games is among them, as is Rocksteady, the makers of the Batman Arkham series.
There was a time when we seemed to be blaming video games for the reckless driving habits of teenagers. Now we blame them every time some unbalanced, disenchanted kid shoots up a school. Neither argument holds much water for me. Frankly, if your child can’t tell the difference between real life and fantasy, then your failures as a parent have nothing at all to do with video games.
The funny thing is, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some impressionable kid played a round of Mario Kart or stole a car in Grand Theft Auto and then wrapped their mother’s very real Camry around a telephone pole. Have you ever driven a motorcycle in GTA? It’s a crash course (pun intended) in frustration. With space-age technology going into the physics engines of modern video games, it’s downright hilarious that driving mechanics in video games still have so little to do with reality.
If you’re reading this right now, you’ve almost certainly seen all of the Star Wars movies. Many times, most likely. Even if it’s been years since you saw them, I’ll bet you could whistle at least one of John Williams’ iconic themes if you had to.
Those movies are the perfect example of how intrinsically linked the orchestral score was with what we were seeing onscreen. The music became as much a part of the experience as the characters.
Video games have yet to catch up with movies in that regard. There are plenty of film scores that I could listen to again and again on their own (The Dark Knight trilogy comes to mind, along with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies). Video game soundtracks, though, are terribly lacking in this respect. Only recently have developers taken the hint and begun to hire world-class talent, as when Airtight Games tapped The Walking Dead’’s Bear McCreary to score Dark Void or when BioWare borrowed Clint Mansell for Mass Effect 3.
Women in video games have historically been under- or misrepresented. It’s no secret that the gaming community is mostly comprised of men (this isn’t sexist – it’s true), though that number has been inching closer towards a 50-50 split for years now.
For a time, that fact accounted for the well-endowed, scantily-clad caricatures that, until recently, nearly every video game female held to. Stand-outs included Alex Vance from Half-Life 2, Jade from Beyond Good and Evil and Morrigan from Dragon Age. Aside from that, strong female characters are still woefully absent.
People like Sony’s Shannon Studstill are leading the charge toward a more enlightened view of women in video games. Calling it sexism isn’t untrue, but it puts a wholly unnecessary label on something that should come as naturally as breathing. Just remember the immortal words of George R.R. Martin when he was asked why he had so many great female characters in his books: “You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.”
Having received formal training as a creative writer, you might say that I’ve got a proverbial horse in this race. What I’m about to say is either a genuinely uncommon piece of insight or something so obvious that nobody bothers pointing it out anymore. Here it is:
Film directors get way too much blame for bad movies and entirely too much credit for good ones. In comparison, screenwriters are criminally overlooked, unless we’re talking about one of the industry’s do-it-all auteurs like Joss Whedon, Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino or the Cohen brothers.
With remarkable predictability, it’s the directors who make public apologies for films that get critically panned, and yet it’s those same directors who embark on the talk show circuit to get congratulated about carrying out their remarkable vision. There are a number of reasons for this – some of them practical, some less so. Here are five of them.
1. They’re Household Names
The biggest reason for this trend is simple precedent and/or tradition. For whatever reason, directors are, and have always been, household names. Maybe they’re inherently more photogenic than screenwriters? I really don’t know.
What’s your favorite movie? If you had a gun to your head, could you say who wrote it? How about, just as an example, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial? Everybody in the world knows that Steven Spielberg directed it, but how many could tell you that it was written by Melissa Mathison? Probably none but the most dedicated film buffs. I’m just as guilty; I had to look it up.
2. It’s a Failure of Marketing
Do you remember Man of Steel – the Superman reboot of 2013? Just about all of the pre-release promotional material drew significant attention to the fact that it was produced by Christopher Nolan and directed by Zack Snyder – both significant talents in the industry, but arguably not the people most instrumental in the shaping of the film’s story.
That responsibility fell to David S. Goyer, who also wrote Dark City, the Blade films and all three of the films in the Dark Knight trilogy. Despite a seriously impressive résumé, he still played second fiddle when Man of Steel came out.
3. Directors are Egotistical
There, I said it. I know there are probably countless exceptions, but it’s hard not recognize that the mystique of The Director is not so much a cult of personality as an empire of personality.
Take, for example, James Cameron. He’s helmed some of the most recognizable and highest-grossing films ever made, but do you know how many of those he’s actually written? Of the 35 films he’s been involved with since 1978, he wrote only 19. A respectable number by any measure, but it still represents the sort of industry-wide oversight that’s now become a pattern.
How about George Lucas? He’s the most recognizable name attached to the Star Wars films, but he had rather little involvement in writing either The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi – arguably the two strongest installments in the franchise.
4. There’s Only One Director
The movie we see on the screen is the product of countless hours of work, provided by nearly innumerable and highly trained men and women. In other words, there’s a reason why modern movie credits are nearly as long as the feature itself.
The screenplay and the cinematography is largely a joint effort and is more often than not a product of significant collaboration. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, Marc Forster’s World War Z and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire were all written (or re-written) by multiple screenwriters.
There’s only one director per film, however – a fact that, for better or worse, makes them the most obvious figurehead when a movie is well received, as well as the most convenient lightning rod if the film tanks. There are simply too many names attached to any one movie, making it only too easy for the public, and even critics who know better, to grab hold of the director’s name as a convenient repository for either accolades or condemnation.
5. We Let Them
It might be useless to decry this pattern as “good” or “bad” or anything other than an observable fact. It simply is. A great deal of the problem is that the average moviegoer doesn’t really seem that interested in the names behind the films they enjoy; they walk out, tell their friends they either liked or didn’t like it, and then they move on. Only the promise of an after-credits scene keeps audiences in their seats after the film ends.
Again, there are plenty of exceptions, but by and large, there doesn’t seem to be any real inquiry into the sheer crucible of talent that goes into creating a modern movie. It’s a great deal easier to attach our affections to the four or five members or our favorite bands, or to the single author of the books we read. It seems a lot more to ask that people take the time to remember the names behind the scenes of their favorite films.
Everyone knows that Hollywood has started running out of ideas for movies. Just about every film to come out in the past few years has either been a remake, sequel or adaption of a book. But it’s time for filmmakers to look elsewhere for their ideas.
That’s right, I’m talking about music. And not just any music. I’m talking about rap. You may not realize it, but there are some incredible movie ideas lying hidden in some of the most popular rap songs, songs that tell stories that can easily translate to film. Here are just five examples:
1. “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio
“Gangsta’s Paradise” is nothing if not a classic, which is why it has the potential to be a perfect movie. The song itself focuses on the struggles of living the life of a “gangsta” fighting to survive in the ghetto. If it were made into a film, it could easily shed light on the hardship and dangers of such a lifestyle. I imagine a tragic ending involving the murder of a favorite character, a sure way to get viewers to really empathize with the “paradise” some people are forced to live in.
2. “Crazy Rap” by Afroman (better known as “Colt 45”)
Everyone knows and loves this hilariously dirty song by Afroman, though they’ll never admit it to their parents. The song has Afroman telling his friends about a bunch of his crazy experiences, one of which include being chased by a member of the KKK when he is found hooking up with the man’s daughter. This song could easily be transformed into a comedy that follows a young man and his friends on their hilarious sexual escapades. But it will certainly have to be rated R to include most of the scenes Afroman describes in his lyrics.
3. “Regulate” by Warren G and Nate Dogg
This song, a classic from the West Coast’s hip-hop scene, tells the tale of a night when Warren is confronted by a gang of gun-wielding miscreants, and Nate, who is out chasing beautiful girls he finds while driving, gets to his friend too late. A film version of “Regulate” could take that general idea and rewrite it into a longer narrative, or it could also recount a single night. The film would revolve around two friends, one who is distracted by pretty girls and the chance of getting lucky while the other is undergoing a trial of some sort, most likely involving getting into trouble with a local gang.
Although one protagonist is able to help his friend with the challenges he faces, his distractions keep him occupied until it is too late to do anything. An ending that has the troubled character failing due to his friend’s distractions will impart an essential lesson to viewers: focus on what is important, rather than what is fun and fleeting.
4. “Kim” by Eminem
If you’ve ever listened to Eminem’s music, you’ll know that his songs are one of two things: unnecessarily dirty or overly personal. If he’s not singing a song to be funny, he’s sharing deep feelings about his own, personal struggles, such as his feelings toward his daughters and maternal figures. The song “Kim” falls into the latter category, going into elaborate detail about his horrible relationship with Kim, the mother of his daughter.
At some points, the song gets very dark, getting to the point where he fantasizes about slitting her throat. This could easily turn into a drama or psychological thriller about a dysfunctional relationship where the man suffers from dark desires about murdering his wife. I imagine the character fighting to keep his feelings under control, possibly by developing a drinking habit that lands him in rehab.
5. “Niggas Bleed” by The Notorious B.I.G.
If you listen to this song, you might actually think the idea was taken straight from a movie—that’s how good it works! This song is a crime story full of guns, twists, and a gruesome fight scene at the conclusion. What more could you want in a film?
Adrienne is a freelance writer and designer obsessed with music and social media. She’s always looking for new ways to look at the stories around us. See more of her work by connecting with @adrienneerin on Twitter.