Sunday, November 28, 2010

Book Review: 33 1/3 #52 Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste

A few years ago I wrote record reviews for a small music website that doesn't exist anymore. For whatever reason, the editors had this bizarre policy against the use of first person in our reviews. For most of the time I wrote for this site, none of them really enforced the rule, though I tried to keep my authorial intrusions subtle. For the last year, or so, of the site's existence, the editors started cracking down on writing ourselves into our reviews. I never really got a good explanation as to why. Even in freshman composition courses many instructors are moving away from the hard and fast rule that the first person has no place in academic writing. Let's be honest--the entire question is a bit of a sham anyway, isn't it? When we write essays or reviews or conference papers, we're expressing our own ideas, and the impulse to avoid first person grows out of a misguided notion to make our ideas seem more objective than they actually are. If we're to think about our writing as entering into a larger conversation, doesn't it only make sense that our written words connect back to our selves? Shouldn't we be highlighting our subjectivity so as to more clearly delineate the space in which this conversation is taking place? Our faux-objective ideas don't just drift from our bodies to play with other disembodied ideas in some academic arena, no. These conversations are happening between people and the more we begin to accept this, the better off we'll all be. Carl Wilson makes a similar point in his impressive entry in the 33 1/3 series, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. For anyone who might be reading this review who isn't at least familiar with this book (I'm guessing no one), here is the premise: Carl Wilson, like many rock critic types, hates Celine Dion, but rather than writing a book about how awful her music is, he uses his own taste as a gateway into an exploration of how tastes are made, how tastes are relational, and why so many people sincerely love Celine Dion. It's a bold premise, to be sure, and Wilson pays it off at every turn, but there are two moments in particular--not surprisingly as the book enters its home stretch after Wilson has laid a solid foundational understanding of Dion, her work, and her reception--that stand out as being particularly important.

The first (well, actually its the second in the book, but it's the one I'm going to talk about first) is something that Wilson argues--both implicitly and explicitly--throughout the book, but which really comes to full fruition in his penultimate chapter, a traditional record review of a hypothetical re-issue of Let's Talk About Love. Throughout the review, Wilson at times plays the part of the traditional music critic, talking about producers and particular moves that Dion and her team made throughout the album. But then something funny happens--as the review progresses, Wilson integrates more of himself into his critique. This leads to his telling of the one time "My Heart Will Go On," made him cry--when it was used in the episode of The Gilmore Girls when Michelle's dog dies and Zack plays the song at said dog's funeral. At first, this is an incredibly bizarre move for something that is meant to be a "traditional" record review. Here we are, reading about George Martin's production on "The Reason," and the bland ubiquity of "My Heart Will Go On," and suddenly, we encounter a page long synopsis of an episode from a defunct TV show and how Dion's song, in that context, made the author cry. Once the initial shock of such an out-of-place bit of authorial intrusion subsides, I became convinced that this is one of the most brilliant moves I have ever encountered in a record review. Through his "intrusion," Wilson captures exactly what "My Heart Will Go On," is to many, many people, while making clear his own resistance to the song. It is through the inclusion of his personal experience that we, the readers, are allowed to understand that, yes, this song is over-the-top schmaltz, but there's something to it, and one day it might just sneak the fuck up on you and stuff its fist in your gut over and over again until your a sniveling mess on the floor. Over the last decade, I've read countless message board complaints about music reviews that get too personal. to hell with those complaints. Music reviews can only be personal. We need a point of reference to understand how a writer is critiquing and rating an album. This is why we follow particular writers instead of websites, why we trust certain friends' opinions over others, and why an idea like record label allegiance exists. Without the writer's ethos, all we are left with is false objectivity, writers' attempts to universalize that which can not be universalized.

The other point that Wilson spends a great deal of time on that I'd like to briefly mention (I was going to say more, but I've gone on too long, already) is his semi-defense of sentimentality. In fiction workshops, we toss this word around like a racial slur. If something is sentimental, it's bad, it's trite, it's Hallmark, it's Hollywood. Just last week I was commenting on a particular type of sentimentality in an excellent draft of a story written by a close friend, and I got these looks as if I was high to even suggest the piece was sentimental. Admittedly, my use of the word came about because of what I was reading in Wilson's book. After developing a sound working definition of sentimentality, then debriefing us on key figures and texts in the debate about sentimentality, Wilson decides that maybe, just maybe, sentimentality has gotten a bit of a bad rap:

Perhaps the dream content of the sentimental is today in need of liberation, the way that in the early twentieth century, Freud and the surrealists realized western society needed to bare and scratch the sexual, violent underbelly of concsiousness. With inhibitions against them removed, the tender sentiments might unveil their unsuspected splendors. (133)

And reading this, I sense the immediate tug of truth. I think of strange moments from my life, from my interactions with culture, where texts that are lame, cheesy, manipulative--they, well my body up with something like tears. The sensation is deep and rich and sometimes scary. It goes like this: I'm watching this beginning of this fucking Harry Potter movie (spoiler alert?) and the girl wizard erases herself from her parents' lives--waves her wand and is gone from their memories and photographs. I like the Harry Potter movies, but I've never been all that invested in them, but for whatever reason, this sentimental moment guts me. I shudder and laugh because I'm afraid I might cry. This is why I know Wilson is on to something here.

Really, I've gone on far longer than necessary about this book. It's already the most talked about book in the 33 1/3 series, and the most loved. I can't really add to that except to say--everyone who loves this book has good reason to love it. I read a blurb on some website or another saying something along the lines of, "I wish this book could be assigned to every incoming college freshman." As soon as I am able, I will assign this book.

Up next will be reviewing Joe Bonomo's recent volume on AC/DC's Highway to Hell.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Year End List Happenings

Dear Friends of PoMo Jukebox,

It's almost the time of year when the internet is full of blogs and websites listing their favorite albums of the year. Usually, these lists either come from individuals, or the combined lists of several individuals. We here at the 'box like lists that are the result of a lot of smaller lists averaged together as they convey a broader sense of consensus. This presents us with a problem--there are only 3 of us who contribute here with any regularity.

As such, we're opening our year end list process to all of you. If you'd like to contribute to our year end list with a list of your own, helping to make our own list bigger and more interesting, here is what you need to know:

Due Date: 12/1/10
Submission method: You can submit your list as an email, or as an attachment by emailing us at wedestroymyths _at_ gm__l.c_m (you know how to fix that up). Please make sure to include the artist and title of each album.

Lists: Your list should include at least 5 albums, but no more than 25. Any more than that will not be counted. Please rank albums in order of preference (1 being your favorite, the lowest number being your least favorite). For unranked lists, we'll tally the number of total points for the number of albums listed, and distribute those points equally to each album on said list.

Methodology: On each list, the scoring will look like this:

#1 album - 35 points
#2 - 30
#3 - 26
#4 - 23
#5 - 21
#6 - 20
#7 - 19
#8-25 etc... etc...

Ties will be broken by numbers of votes an album receives.

Once the list is tallied, we may ask individuals for blurbs of albums we aren't as familiar with.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)"

Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)" is such a dynamic and challenging song that it's literally impossible to write about (at least in the United States). In fact, parts of this text have been redacted by the government, who invoked the infamous Too Soon Clause, an obscure part of the USA-PATRIOT Act of 2001, to legally censor the apparently offending passages. So I hope this will not be too difficult to read.

For decades, the Secret League of Wealthy Ass Female Feminists had conspired to make a massively popular song about having their CENSORED CENSORED. They had met severe resistance, however, from the pious yet hypocritically lecherous Super Sausage Team of Money Printing Gentleman, who thought discussing CENSORED CENSORED was in poor taste. Ironically, this was the same Team who allowed The Beatles' "Please Please Me" to be a huge hit in 1963. In that song, John Lennon sings, during the bridge, "I do all the pleasin' with you / It's so hard to reason with you / Oh yeah, why do you make me blue?" Clearly, Lennon is singing about how he CENSORED CENSORED on his female love-interest who refuses to CENSORED, leaving him with an annoyingly painful case of CENSORED CENSORED. Within days of its release, teenage girls around the world were screaming and CENSORED CENSORED for their favorite Beatle no matter where they were. The Super Sausage Team of Money Printing Gentleman was please please pleased (forgive the pun), and they decided to print more money and get the older gentlemen on the team to public slander the lovable Moptops to fulfill the dynamics of Marx and Hegel's dialectic.

Fast forward to 2002. The United States was still emotionally reeling from the terrorist attacks in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001 that took over 3,000 lives. A little over six months after the tragedy, the Secret League decided to stick it to the man while he was down, with his massively CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED metaphorically CENSORED in New York City. Their secret plan: release Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)" to a wounded public that needed to forget about the tragic events of that day and hear a brilliant, witty song about a woman demanding that her CENSORED and CENSORED get CENSORED.

The plan worked effectively. Khia's song, which begins rather minimally with simple percussion and speakerbox-rattlin' bass, quickly transforms itself into serious, polyrhythmic, sexual anthem Marvin Gaye would have been jealous of. Khia's insistence that her man "put your neck into it" and "to suck it off til I shake" is completely direct. At first, it appears that she is demanding that this objectified male (much to the chagrin of the Super Sausage Team of Money Printing Gentleman, who had historically only been concerned about their own pleasure) lick her neck, her back, her "pussy" (i.e. feline, or kitty cat), and her "crack" (i.e. her stash of cocaine-infused with baking soda-rocks). But that makes no sense. Cats clean themselves by licking. Cats already hate being washed by humans, tongue or no. And why would you lick a crack rock when you're supposed to smoke it (or so I've read) to get the desired two-minute high? As the song slowly builds, it becomes apparent what she is really telling this soon-to-be-duped Lothario is to CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED and CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED until she's "makin' faces 'n stuff." This brings a whole new meaning to the phrase CENSORED CENSORED. When she tells her male love interest to "get on your knees," she proceeds to liberate all CENSORED from the tyranny of the Super Sausage Team which had insured that rap music over the previous fifteen years would be male-dominated. While two big CENSORED in the CENSORED were nothing but CENSORED in the heart of CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED, Americans of all shapes and genders of consenting age could now get licked wherever they wanted and get on their knees and lick whatever they wanted, except for that kitty cat. There's nothing more embarrassing and potentially incriminating than a face full of claw-marks!


Monday, November 15, 2010

Our 100th post!

We're going to be gearing up for our year end album list. Keep your eyes peeled and ear to the ground as we'll be calling on our readers for help.

Friday, November 12, 2010

"We're Not Above Reviewing Leaks": Kanye West - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

On 2007's Graduation, Kanye West seemed to have learned something important about making great albums: focus is key. Unfortunately, that album suffered from a soft second-half and, despite the album's focus and unified sound never managed to reach the heights of West's first two albums. And let's talk about those albums for a moment--The College Dropout and Late Registration are both fine albums, classics even, but they suffer from too many skits and lame jokes that don't quite add up to anything. Kanye's first two albums, it seems, are prime examples of made-for-iPod albums and the song-is-God mentality of many contemporary music fans. Fortunate for us and Kanye, most of the songs are good enough that we keep going back and sitting through the fluff to get to the meaty stuff. Then of course, in 2008, Kanye released 808's and Heartbreaks and album full of drum machines and autotune. An album about loss and heartache and misogyny. Okay, sure, misogyny isn't anything new to hip hop, but the confessional nature of 808's and Heartbreak made the violence and hatred a little more real than was comfortable. Unfortunate, as sonically, this was easily Kanye's most unified, engaging moment.

So why the history lesson? Well, it's because the dirty version of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy made it's way on to the internet last night, and I'm going to make a pretty bold claim about how it stacks up to the Kanon. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, pound for pound, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is Kanye West's best album. But how can that be, you say? It doesn't have the firepower of those first two albums' highlights. While "Power," "Runaway," and "Devil in a New Dress," are all stand-outs, they don't quite match the immediacy of old jams like "Spaceship," "Through a Wire," "Jesus Walks," "Golddigger," "Touch the Sky,"...etc... get the point. So how can anyone possible say that MBDTF is Kanye's best album? Because it is a tight, focused album in which every song pops on its own, but
which flows as a unified whole. The dirty guitars and distorted vocals of the Nuggets-esque "Gorgeous" are exquisitely crashed by the percussive chants of "Power," which ends on a King Crimson sample that gives way to the quiet elegance of "All of the Lights (Interlude)" which explodes into it's own magnified echo that is "All of the Lights," the actual song. The album's pacing and transitions are impeccable. Despite the long run times of most of the tracks ("Runaway" is 9 minutes long), each song's moving parts keep us moving and pushes the minutes by faster than they have any right to move.

As for thematic content--this is a lot of album to digest, and I'm not sure I'm ready to do this heavy lifting yet. But I'll offer this: as we might have guessed, MBDTF is an album about celebrity, about indulgence, but mostly about self-interrogation. We still get those misogynistic moments ("I slapped my girl/she call the feds")but rather than coming from a place of anger, they're now rooted in odd moments of self-loathing. "Runaway" is probably the best example of this, in which West famously notes that he "sent this bitch a picture of [his] dick." And while this line is dark, and weird, and dripping with sexual harassment, because the rest of the song is fairly self-critical ("Baby I got a plan/Runaway as fast as you can") the end result is almost cathartic. We get a sense that West is trying to exorcise his demons and while he isn't always successful, by drawing this battle out in big, vibrant strokes for everyone to see he has made one of the most impressive hip hop albums of the last ten years.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy will never be confused with a quiet or small album. To borrow a phrase from the album, this thing is a "motherfuckin' monster." It's big and brash and exhilarating--everything hip hop can and should be. Hell--it's everything pop music can be. And maybe that's why MBDTF is such a success, it feels like another shift for pop music, a move beyond the current mainstream toward a bigger, fuller idea of what the mainstream is. As such, MBDTF is a flat-out masterpiece and will be hard to top one most year-end lists, and will most likely be in the top 5 conversations 9 years from now when we're all older and border and making out best of the 10's lists. Welcome back, Kanye.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Late to the Party: Vulcan's "Meet Your Ghost" (1981)

Vulcan's self-released 1981 album Meet Your Ghost is another one of those legendary vanity recordings that has long been sought after by hardcore vinylhounds. What makes this particularly hard-to-find LP so intriguing is how out of time it sounds. Though it is generally considered to be an example of psychedelic rock, this description is inadequate and really only pertains to the "E.X.P."-like "Prelude" which opens the record (as well as its dedication, in the liner notes, to Jimi Hendrix). While its influences clearly draw from 1960s psychedelic rock, it is, at heart, a bar-rock album, the kind of music one could enjoy on a Saturday night, drinking one cheap domestic beer after another, at practically any roadhouse in America. In and of itself, this doesn't strike one as particularly interesting, because there are thousands of capable, hard-working, but mediocre bands that play every night throughout the country. What makes this record so different is its extremely lo-fi production quality.

Well before "lo-fi" was a calculated aesthetic, Vulcan, fronted by Spencer, Iowa musician Lyle Steece, seemingly patched together this album from cassette tapes recorded in cramped garages and local clubs because, presumably, this is all they could afford. As a result, Steece's guitar, the central musical focus of these recordings, is wildly distorted, his power chords and solos rendered almost-inaudibly fuzzy or highly compressed. The combined effect of these rudimentary recording conditions is a sound that at times foreshadows the fuzz-drenched, catchy riffs of late 1980s/early 1990s grunge music as well as the type of heavy metal pioneered by groups like Kyuss and Boris. The chronology of the album's release attests to Lyle Steece's limited budget. Approximately 500 copies were pressed in 1981, many without cover art (according to the liner notes to the 2010 reissue, it was originally titled Hard As Rock [Volume 1]), and credited to "Lyle Steece: of Vulcan." Interestingly, the record has since been bootlegged numerous times on vinyl.

So what's all the fuss about? Well, for many listeners, Meet Your Ghost will hardly pass the smell test. As I have already noted, the sound-quality is amateurish at best, its source-tapes likely normal bias TDK C-90 cassettes. Numerous times throughout the record, the instruments are slightly out of tune, tape cut-outs are clearly audible, bum notes are hit, notes are missed, and the rhythm section falls out of sync with Steece. Steece is at best an average vocalist. All of these things alone might turn off listeners. Despite these rough edges, what makes this record so fun is, along with the (probably unintentional) aforementioned dirty distortion of the guitar throughout the LP, Lyle Steece's guitar workouts. Nearly all of the tracks on the album are anchored by Steece's lead guitar playing, which is sturdy and searing, though far from being virtuosic. His commitment to the material is unquestionable, especially as he plays through some of his backing group's mistakes. At its best, Meet Your Ghost is like much of the mainstream guitar-oriented rock of the time, except Steece's exuberance far outdistances his bloated corporate-rock peers. Several of the tracks are hypnotically groovy, especially the proto-grunge pulse of "Lightning," the horn-throwin' majesty of "Untitled Instrumental" (which opens a rumble that drone-masters like Earth and Sunn O))) hadn't come close to dreaming about yet), or the album's sizzling eight-minute highlight, "One Nighter." This is the kind of rock music you can listen to at a party, talking to friends and barely paying any mind to, or the kind you can bang your head to alone in nothing but your underwear on some un-social weeknight. Meet Your Ghost is like that tape of the band your cousin's in that she recorded on her $20 boombox, but way better. Clearly, there are limitations to the quality of a release like this, but for those willing to give it a try, it makes for a very refreshing listening experience.

Meet Your Ghost has been re-issued by Lysergic Sound Distributors in a limited, numbered edition of 600 on 12" vinyl. This re-issue contains an entire second disc of previously unreleased material. Though none of this material is as strong as nine tracks that make up the original release, it is nearly as entertaining. The boasted psychedelic qualities of Vulcan's music are on far greater display on the bonus tracks, especially on "Nightmare," "Raven," the instrumental track "The Devil's Birthday Party," and (yet another pseudo-"E.X.P."eriment) on "Interlude/Drugs Can Kill" (whose latter half shows the folkier side of Lyle Steece).

Below is a YouTube clip of "Untitled Instrumental":

Copies can be purchased at the online store Forced Exposure.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Songs that Changed the Landscape of Human Thought and Understanding: Mike Reno and Ann Wilson's "Almost Paradise"

Ever since the first moments when humans were able to realize that life on Earth can sometimes be a severe pain in the ass, they have tried to imagine PARADISE. For the Fourteenth Century Italian poet Dante Alighieri, "paradiso" was the ten spheres of Heaven. Similarly, John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) concerns the fall of man from Paradise, the Biblical Garden of Eden, because of that big-time jerk and perpetual muse to heavy metal musicians everywhere: Satan. Milton writes, "To all delight of human sense exposed, / In narrow room, Nature's whole wealth, yea more, / A Heaven on Earth: For blissful Paradise / Of God the garden was, by him in the east / Of Eden planted." Sounds much better than this window-less office where I write this on the company's dime. Still, in the historical moments following the invention of the light bulb--and, henceforth, all great ideas--many musicians have tried to describe paradise for us in song. Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses, in their song "Paradise City," describes it is a place "Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty." This could be nice. But what if one is allergic to grass and doesn't particularly fancy pretty girls? Then it would be a nightmare. For Meat Loaf, on his epic cut "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," paradise is bangin' in the car when you're seventeen, preferably as a longtime baseball color-commentator provides innuendo-laden play-by-play. Because of abstinence-only education, though, this is no longer a possibility for seventeen year-olds. Since paradise is inestimable, we can only approximate it. It took two great titans of song, Mike Reno of Loverboy and Ann Wilson of Heart, to bring us to this simple but profound realization. Thanks to their song "Almost Paradise," we now have a firmer understanding of this thing poets and philosophers have been trying to describe to us for centuries.

For nearly three decades, the mysteries of Mike Reno and Ann Wilson's "Almost Paradise" have puzzled literary critics. It was long thought that paradise in the song referred to being an oppressed white teenager in a small town who overcomes a variety of obstacles in order to dance and listen to rock music with impunity. But years of scrutiny have revealed that it is about a man and a woman, presumably, who love each other something fierce and can "see forever" when they look into each others' eyes. Now that they "hold the future in their hands," they realize the love they share is not paradise, but "almost paradise." This realization, though, brings with it another, more profound one: that we can only reach paradise when we die. How stupid is that? Reno notes, "in your arms salvation's not so far away." Then, Wilson, now recognizing Reno as her magic man, chimes in, "it's getting closer, closer every day." Reno and Wilson's voices fuse into a sweaty bandana of sweetness. Even if they concede the point that paradise on Earth is unattainable, they persevere knowing their compatible and complementary love for each other is good enough, and that when they die, they can dance all they want [pending they: a) were decent enough human beings to be granted some sort of beneficent afterlife; or, b) invest in the rather expensive technology that will enable their crusty, feeble, old, decaying, dead bodies to dance forever]. Either way, by proving that our mortal selves can only arrive at a place called "Almost Paradise," what they really manage to do is create a living paradise ... FOR OUR EARS!

Here's the video for this unparalleled piece of brutally brilliant music:

Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Review: 33 1/3 #64 Illmatic

As most of you know by now, one of my biggest consistent critiques of Continuum's 33 1/3 series rests in many of the books' piecemeal approach to their subject matter. Instead of providing a focused, unified analysis of an album through a particular lens, many books in the series work like buckshot. These books work from a mess of scattered ideas in the form of half-formed mini-analyses, histories, and interviews. Thankfully, these weaker books are the exceptions rather than the rule, and with Matthew Gasteier's book on Nas's Illmatic, we get another fine example of the rule. Rather than trying to tell his readers a little bit about everything related to Illmatic, Gasteier focuses his effort on a searching analysis of hip hop's various narratives.

In a series of chapters named after the album's various tensions ("Youth/Experience," "Death/Survival," "Fantasy/Reality," "Tradition/Revolution" etc...), Gasteier expertly blends historical accounts of New York hip hop and details of Nas's life and rise to hip hop fame in service of his literary reading of Illmatic as a sort of hip hop coming of age story, or in Gasteier's own words, "a portrait of the artist as a young black man" (29). Gasteier's reading of Illmatic relies heavily on the idea of narrative. In particular, the author focuses on identifying ways that Nas buys into that coming-of-age narrative while at the same time subverting the dominant narrative of 90's urban culture: "Hip hop, because of its obsession with the 'before' picture of its stars, depends almost entirely on the origin story" (30). Gasteier's discussion of origin stories in hip hop sheds light on the way the hip hop narrative works, and why so many people find it so appealing--the narrative is about authenticity and escape to a better life. Gasteier's discussion of inner-city violence--he points out that, in the late 90's "15-year-old black males in Washington D.C. had a staggering 1 in 12 chance of being murdered by the time they were 45" (36)--furthers his treatment of this theme through the assertion that "While there is certainly a great deal of violent and masculine posturing in hip hop, it is balanced with a deep reverence for the dead, the constant presence of those who have passed, and a strong if commercially muted commitment to ending the cycle of violence" (36). Although Gasteier's reading of Illmatic and hip hop in general sometimes feels like the thoughts of an outsider looking in, his characterization of the many tensions running through the album and genre help provide the art form with an often times overlooked gravity. Maybe that gravity is overlooked because it's taken for granted, or because we're desensitized to it, or because of sheer ignorance.

Following through on the promise of the context he provides, Gasteier ultimately makes some extremely optimistic claims about hip hop's ability to transform socio-economic realities through its decades of consciousness-raising:
Once [the contradiction that we are individuals with dreams, stifled by social, historical, and political bindings] is recognized, it does not seem so hard to understand where Nas's persona comes from, and how easily it can shift and bend at will. Nor does it seem unlikely to imagine that all of those kids who do understand that contradiction, no matter where they come from and how easily they personally can achieve the American dream, would have a perspective on their country that is far different from their parents'. This is the true revolution of hip hop, the one that has yet to play itself out. (80)

While I appreciate Gasteier's optimism, I find this assertion a bit difficult to completely buy into, especially considering, as Gasteier also points out, that much of mainstream hip hop has shifted away from realism to escapism. To these ends, Gasteier's Illmatic almost functions as the naively optimistic companion to Nas's Illmatic in that they both pull at the threads of hard-lived lives in a celebration of survival, only Nas comes off sounding world-weary and a bit desperate, while Gasteier sounds starry-eyed and hopeful. There's nothing wrong with hope or optimism, but Gasteier's reading, here, almost seems to undercut Illmatic's intensity and realism. That is to say, while Gasteier's analysis is expert, the conclusion ultimately draws from it feels a little too pat, too easy--the feel-good answer to Nas's (and hip hop's) perplexing questions.