Sunday, April 19, 2009

Heavy Rotation

Over the past few days, I have had a few songs on heavy rotation. Most are remixes that I got from some blog or the other, many from okayplayer. Check em out:

KiD CuDi ft Kanye & Common - I Poker Face (Lady Gaga sample)
I don't really know anything about KiD CuDi, but I have been hearing a lot of chatter around him on the internet. Common and Kanye guest spots made this track a good candidate of somewhere to start. More than anything, I really like the production and the Lady Gaga sample. Those things make this song, in my opinion. I don't know anything about Lady Gaga either, but after this song, I'd be interested in finding out more. One of my friends said, "This song locks Lady Gaga as the MIA for 2009." I've had this song on constant repeat.

Focus ft. Royce Da 5'9", Phonte of Little Brother, and Stat Quo of D12 - Homage to Premier
A song like this has been a long time in the making and long overdue. Focus scratches in samples of a bunch of songs that Premier produced. Stat Quo's verse takes the titles from songs Premier has worked on and incorporates them into his rhymes, a la GZA's Labels. He does it so seamlessly (much better than GZA) that if you weren't familiar with Premier's discography, you'd probably miss most of the references. Despite that, my favorite verse on the track goes to Phonte. Here's a snippet:

I understand we ain't back in the old days,
but youngins be looking at my n#%&@ Preem funny like he's one of the OJs
No sense of history, see Chris Martin in the credits, they be thinkin it's the n#%&@ from Coldplay
so I gotta school em and remind these toddlers that hip hop started in the days of yonder
any fool with an S950 can make beats but this man took it and redefined a genre
who else can make the Group Home sound like pros
then make Christina Aguilera sound like soul

Mos Def - Life in Marvelous Times

Mos Def hasn't been the same since Black on Both Sides or his Black Star days. I still like his new stuff, but it's not the same (I can't wait for the Black Star concert at the end of May). Unfortunately, this song is not a return to those days, but it does make me look forward to his next album. He obviously still knows what it takes to make a good song: good production and good lyrcis. This song has both. He thinks he can beat anyone in the game, including Jay-Z and Lil Wayne; this next album is his chance to prove it.

Mos Def - Brooklyn (Go Hard) ft MIA
From "Brookly, we go hard" to "Swagger like us" to "Paper planes," it seems like MIA is being sampled all over the place. These are some of my favorites.

See Also: MIA ft. Jay-Z and Kanye - Swagger Like Paper (Mick Boogie remix)
See Also: MIA ft. Jay-Z, Notorious BIG, Kanye - Brooklyn (Go Hard)

J.Dilla ft. Black Thought - Reality Check
Certain rhyme styles work better with certain production styles. Particular MCs work better with particular producers. Black Thought was meant to rock this beat. This song is a teaser from a new album called Jay $tay Paid, which will also feature DOOM, Raekwon, etc over Dilla beats. The project is mixed and arranged by Pete Rock. I CANNOT wait!

See Also: Common - Pimpin' (prod. by Dilla)

Royce Da 5'9" - Shake This
I like songs where the production builds up in tempo and intensity before reaching a climax, and then starting all over again. Nas did this the best on his "One Mic," but Royce does it well here too. After the last couple songs that have hit the internet, I'm looking forward to his next album Bar Exam 3.

See Also: Royce Da 5'9" - Slaughter

Zion I ft. Talib Kweli - Gotsta Chill (Temperature remix)
Two of my favorites from both coasts get together on this one. I really like the production, and both MCs spit hard lyrics.

See Also: Zion I ft. The Grouch - One (Santogold Starstruck remix)

Street Sweeper - Clap for the Killers
Established MC Boots Riley of The Coup and guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine are joining together to form the group Street Sweeper. The first two tracks make me anticipate more.

See Also: Street Sweeper - The Oath

UPDATE: KiD CuDi just released a new mixtape tape. Check it out here. Mine's downloading now.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Modern Marvel

This post is going to be about many things which I enjoy and the convergence of them all. Those things are trading in the stock market, social media, and ...

My infatuation with Marvel began early in my childhood. I loved reading Marvel comics. In particular, I was a big fan of the X-Men, but I also read Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, and some others. Like many other kids, I enjoyed the fantasy land which the comics would let me discover. I had the toys (and maybe still do?). I watched the X-Men cartoon show religiously on Saturday mornings. The X-Men arcade game was always a favorite with my cousins and me whenever we went to Chuck E Cheese or Pistol Pete's Pizza, especially since it was a six player game. I remember wasting all my quarters playing that game alongside Terence, Shawn, Angelo, and Gilbert. Damn you, Sidney, for coming along so late ... we needed a sixth! I even began to collect Marvel trading cards. Whenever I want over to Shawn and Gilbert's house, you could find me in front of their TV playing X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse on their SNES. Yeah, I loved X-Men and Marvel.

However, sometime in the late 90s, I all but forget about all that. Then again, I think for most of that period, the company went dormant too.

That all changed in 2000 though. Even though they released Blade in 1998, it was in 2000 with the release of X-Men when they truly started making moves in the movie industry. That movie got my love for Marvel going again. Fortunately, they didn't stop there and released many more blockbusters, including the sequels to X-Men, Spiderman and its sequel, and the two Fantastic Four movies. Now don't get me wrong, not all of the movies that Marvel has released have been good, but I believe most of them have been.

Let's pause for a second and switch topics. Around mid 2005, I was making money and no longer saving aggressively for a condo downpayment. I had to do something with the little money I was saving. I decided to enter the stock market. Since this whole investment thing was new to me, I asked my brother for some advice. He recommended I invest in companies and industries, which I knew, and he offered a few suggestions. I believe Marvel (MVL) was one of those. I knew nothing about the company's financials or fundamentals, but I bought some shares anyway. Not really knowing what I was doing, I sold them about a year later at a slight loss.

I began reading a lot of books on investing and was learning a ton. Unfortunately, during that learning period, I lost a buncha money, like with my initial shares of MVL. I was now picking stocks with more understanding and actual reasons to justify my selections. Marvel came up in a stock screen I use often. I did a lot of research and bought shares of MVL again in February 2008 around $25. Currently just under 40% of Marvel's outstanding shares are owned by people at the company (that is not normal for a public company). That fact makes me feel comfortable that the executives at the company have motives (at least somewhat) in line with my interests as a stockholder since they are stockholders too.

This was also around the time that Marvel announced they would start producing their own films. All of the movies mentioned above were not produced by Marvel, but instead the company licensed the characters to companies like 20th Century Fox and Sony Pictures. While these movies posed little financial risk to Marvel, they did not receive the majority of the profits for them either. Producing their own movies would allow them to keep most of the profits from blockbuster movies for themselves, but then again, they would have to foot the bill for the failed ones too. In addition to the risks/rewards associated with producing films themselves, Marvel would have to put up a lot of money upfront while the movies were being made.

This is when, in my opinion, Marvel made a brilliant move financially. They secured a $525 million loan to finance the production of their first ten movies. Here's the good part: they used, as collateral for that loan, the theatrical rights to the characters used in those ten films. Basically, what that means is if a film flops and they can't repay the loan, they lose the theatrical rights that character. Let me say that again, if the movie fails, the only thing Marvel loses is the rights to make more movies of that character ... whose film already failed. Sounds like a win-win to me. The second Hulk movie showed that it's difficult to take a character from a failed movie and do it all over again. That's only the downside (if you can call if that): if the film does well, they reap all the profits.

Marvel first independently produced movie Iron Man was a huge success. Their second independently produced film Hulk was released in June, and though it didn't do nearly as well as Iron Man, it was still considered a relative success. Investors whole-heartedly agreed with the success of the two films. A few month after its release, the stock price was around $35. I couldn't complain about a good 40% gain in around 6 months and sold most of my shares of MVL.

Despite the fact that they are not releasing another movie themselves until 2010, there's a lot to be excited about. More importantly, I feel they are doing building the excitement. A new movie based on Wolverine is coming out soon. This is not produced directly by Marvel, but it's enough to fill the void for now because in 2010 the real stuff gets going. In 2010, they will be releasing a sequel to Iron Man and a Thor movie. 2011 will give us a Captain America film and an Avengers film. If you know anything about Marvel, you know that Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America are all part of the superhero super group Avengers. See where this is going? Building upon the success of Iron Man and Hulk, and the hoped-for success of Thor and Captain America, Avengers will be monumental. They're already doing a spectacular job tying the movies together.
For casual fans, these may not mean much, but for someone like me, it's makes me long for the new movies NOW!

These new movies and antipation of movies to come has renewed my infatuation with Marvel. Back to MVL ... the recent economic conditions has sunken the stock price back to around $25. At that price, I scooped up some more shares. My thinking is if it was able to reach $35 on just Iron Man and Hulk, I think in these times, it could do that again with Iron Man 2 and Thor (hopefully more). I know I will probably have wait till mid 2010 to see those numbers again, but I think the patience will pay off.

On a different note, as many of you know, I am getting more and more into Twitter these days (you can follow me here). I may be a little biased, but I honestly believe that Marvel is one of the best brands making use of twitter. They are both informative and engaging. If you shoot them a tweet, they will usually reply. They also keep you up to date with what's going on with Marvel from new comics to new trailers to interviews with writers. All that aside, the main reason I think they are doing well is being they have succeeded in convincing me to purchase their product. I like following Zappos tweets, but I haven't bought any shoes from them yet nor do I have any plans to.

At some point this weekend, I am going to sign up for Marvel's Digital Subscription. The subscription will basically give me access to thousands of past issues of Marvel comics. The first appearances of Hulk and Iron Man, the first X-Men comic ever, the death of Captain America, or Spiderman meeting Obama will all be at my disposable. At $5 a month, you can't complain either. Plus I justify the cost to myself by saying it's helping my investment in MVL.

I have a new problem though. In line with my last post, Marvel, with their digital subscriptions, has created a long tail of comics. Where do I begin? Well, I'm going to begin with X-Men ... but where to go from there?
  • the death of Captain America?
  • the New Avengers?
  • the Civil War?
  • Iron Man's Demon in a Bottle?
  • something else entirely?
I'm open to suggestions. What do you think I should I read next?

Unfortuately for all of you (and me), we have to wait a few months before any new Marvel movies come out, but until then, you can read the issue of Spiderman when he meets Barack Obama here as a free preview (for now, at least) of their digital subscription (I recommend Smart Panels). When you're done with, here's something else to keep you going.

Disclaimer: None of the above should be interpreted as a recommendation for action in the stock market.
Disclosure: The author is long Marvel (MVL).

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Much Too Much

I just started reading The Long Tail by Chris Anderson, and the book got me thinking more of something that has been simmering in my head for awhile now. I am a big fan of the direction in which the world is moving right now. Information flows freely and to anyone. Distribution channels are everywhere. People can get at any and everything ...

... but why would you want to? I sometimes wonder if it's all beginning to be too much. I've been thinking about this more lately with how it relates to music distribution. I have infinitely more access to different and new music. There are numerous sites and blogs, which have mixtapes and albums of a bunch of different artists. The numbers are staggering ... to the point where it's almost paralyzing. What's the difference between a Charles Hamilton and a Kid Cudi? Who's Drake? Termanology? 88-Keys? What about 6th Sense or Jay Electronica?

Sadly, I don't have the time or patience to listen to all those artists and evaluate for myself. So what do I do? Normally, I rely on the recommendations of people whose taste I know is like my own. Unfortunately, I think many of those people are in the same boat as I am.

I'm a huge fan of Pandora as a music recommendation engine, and since it's release, the similar iTunes Genius has been impressive. Unfortunately, I don't think either handles emerging artists like the ones mentioned above well. So what's a music fan to do? I don't really have an answer.

Do you?

As for the artists above, I've heard at least some songs of all of them but don't think I would recommend every one ... mostly because the jury is still out for me. There are also a bunch of other artists who I've heard of but haven't yet listened to. I'm really impressed with Jay Electronica so far. I really enjoyed 88-Key's The Death of Adam. There are a few tracks by 6th Sense and Termanology that I really like.

I guess for now, I'll just keep listening and hope for the recommendations of others ... ohh, and of course, eagerly await new releases by old favorites (new Roots and Ozomatli coming out).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Do It For Hip Hop

Around 2000, Common had recently dropped Like Water For Chocolate. Ludacris was topping the charts with singles from his Back for the First Time album. Kanye was producing songs for the likes of Jay-Z and Talib Kweli but was also showing signs that he wanted to rap as well.

Like Water For Chocolate was one of my favorite albums of the year and is still one of my favorite Common albums. On the other hand, I would almost cringe whenever I heard songs like "Southern Hospitality." I was not a fan of the southern rap sound and grouped Ludacris together with Masta P and the No Limit family. I also dreaded the thought of Kanye rapping. I didn't have anything against his flows. I didn't think they were bad, but they were nothing great. I thought Kanye was a great producer, and I felt that rapping would detract from his producing.

Fast forward to today. All three artists have released new albums in the past few weeks. Kanye released his 808s and Heartbreak. Ludacris put out Theater of the Mind, and Common just dropped Universal Mind Control. I think all three are good albums, but back in 2000, I never would have guessed that Luda's new album would (at least on first listen) be my favorite of the three.

A few quick thoughts about the albums:
Kanye West's 808s and Heartbreaks:
My first reaction to this album was disappointment. I really like the production on most of the songs, but the entire album is Kanye singing (or auto-tuning?). The album has grown on me a lot since. Awhile back, I didn't think Kanye should rap. He's proved me wrong and turned into a good MC. In a few years, will I feel the same about his singing?

Ludacris' Theater of the Mind:
I really like a lot of the songs on this album. He has a lot of good guest spots on the album, but at the same time he showcases his skills too. His style and flow has really evolved since the "Southern Hospitality" days, and I've liked his last few albums. His track "Do the Right Thang" with Common sounds more like a Common track than many (most?) of the songs off Universal Mind Control. My favorite DJ Premier produces a hot track "MVP," and both Jay-Z and Nas spit verses on "I Do It for Hip Hop." Does anyone else thinks it's odd to hear both Nas and Jay-Z on the same song saying that they are the best MC out, given their history?

Common's Universal Mind Control:
I probably don't hold any other MC out right now to higher standards than I do for Common. Maybe that means I think he is the best MC still making music ... maybe not. He's definitely up there on that list. Off the top of my head, Black Thought and MURS would be toward the top of that list too. That being sad, I was hoping for more from this album. Right now, I don't think Universal Mind Control is as good as Finding Forever, and it's definitely not as good as Be, but I still think it's a good album. There are a lot of tracks ("Changes," "Gladiator," and "What a World") on the album that I really like, but on a whole I think there is a little too much of the Neptunes synth sound for me.

Now I got to go give Q-Tip's new The Renaissance a listen. I've been hearing good things about this one.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Jackin' for Beats

For all of you who know your hip hop history, you know that hip hop was born with samples. Hip hop started with DJs flipping back and forth between the "break" section of disco, funk, and soul records. Back then, hip hop was more mixing different music, and no one was calling it their own original work.

Eventually the samples became a little more subtle, and there were rhymes on top of them. DJs and producers would take small snippets of multiple songs and put them together to make their own musical arrangement. Sometimes the samples were recognizable, but often they weren't. I remember DJ Premier talking about using Jimi Hendrix in his production. He said taking a guitar riff would be too obvious, and instead, he would take an obscure drum beat and make it his own.

Of course, there is (and probably will always be) producers like Puffy (or P Diddy or Sean Combs or Diddy or whatever he is called today) who will take other people's music and use it unchanged, calling it his own.

The best producers will get you digging in the crates trying to figure out what they used to get a particular little piece of sound. There have been countless times I have been with Terence or Shawn or Jay and hear something on the radio. Our ears will perk up, and we'll be like, "Who used that?" If I can't figure it out right away, it will eat at me ... and eat at me ... and eat at me ... until I figure it out.

Anyway, I recently came across this article listing out what the author thinks are the 8 most over-used samples in hip hop. Before I read the article, I tried my guess at what I thought would be on the list. I only got James Brown's Funky President right. I thought that Apache would be on the list and am REALLY surprised that it's not.

What do you guys think?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


For all you guys out there with girlfriends (or trying to get one), here's an easy tip to score some major points.

Make them chocolate cake. Check out this recipe I came across at Wired. It's super easy ... I mean, come on, I did it. It turned out well too. For added bonus, make sure to get some ice cream to go on top.

Arch loved it.

Cheat on you

I am not sure what the most ridiculous part of this article is, but there are plenty worthy candidates to chose from.

Make sure you read the Apple Support thread.

Straight comedy (well except for the ruined marriage part).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Next Movement

Say it ain't so.

UPDATE: The youtube video was taken down. I guess you will actually have to read the article now.

UPDATE 2: I guess someone really does not want this news getting out because the article has now been taken down from okayplayer. You can now read about it here.