Tag Archives: hip hop

12. The Lonely Island – ‘Turtleneck & Chain’ Review

Over the past few years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard at least one song by the dudes who call themselves The Lonely Island. The comedy troupe have become media sensations, primarily through the Internet, thanks to their wacky, satirical hip hop songs, such as ‘Jizz In My Pants’, ‘Like A Boss’, Emmy Award-winning ‘Dick In A Box’, and the Grammy Award-nominated ‘I’m On A Boat’. Poking fun at the genre’s cliches and creating bizarre skits are what they do best, and their second album, Turtleneck & Chain, follows a similar formula to 2009’s hilarious Incredibad: provide a truckload of laughs, and make music videos that are guaranteed to spread like wildfire over video-sharing sites, such as Youtube.

Rockin' the 'Turtleneck & Chain' on the album cover

The struggle with creating comedy skits like these is the visual aspect. Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer are primarily writers for the famous ‘Saturday Night Live’ TV show, and their ‘Digital Shorts’ segment for that show was the beginning of The Lonely Island’s rise to prominence. Instead of performing their skits live, they’d create music videos, posing as ‘real’ hip hop artists, or just everyday guys rapping about mundane things. The undeniably catchy songs always seemed to work best when paired with a video, and although the trend continues, many songs still work well as stand-alone parodies.

The layers of sarcasm, wit and fake machismo are a lot thicker this time round due to their increased popularity, definitely buoyed by the fact that they were nominated in an actual rap/hip hop Grammy Award category, and not a comedy one; a bit of irony not lost on them. Album-opener ‘We’re Back!’ addresses that issue head-on, where verses alternate between excessive bragging about their importance in the rap industry and…erectile dysfunction and how small and deformed their penises are, all whilst sounding like a normal mainstream hip hop song. The juxtapositioning of the subject matter is just pure genius.

The ubiquitous lead single ‘I Just Had Sex’ (featuring R&B crooner Akon) is by far the album’s highlight. Never has a song about the pure, unbridled joy of having sex ever been put down in such a catchy, awkward manner. Akon (totally in on the joke) belts out a real sing-a-long chorus, and the must-see music video features sexy Hollywood A-listers Jessica Alba and Blake Lively as Jorma and Andy’s love interests. To be honest, I must’ve watched it about 50 times, and it’s no surprise that it now has nearly 90 million views on Youtube.

Some memorable scenes from the 'I Just Had Sex' music video

The celebrity guest stars on the album really put in some great performances. Michael Bolton’s scene-stealing appearance on ‘Jack Sparrow’ will endear him to a whole new generation of younger fans, whose radar the crooner probably had no chance of ever showing up on. Previous Mother’s Day homage from 2009, ‘Motherlover’, featuring close friend of the gang Justin Timberlake, appears on this album, and it’s a well-executed slow jam and a sequel to Timberlake’s other contribution from Incredibad, ‘Dick In A Box’. The absurd premise: both him and Andy’s characters’ mothers are left unsatisfied in bed for various reasons, so why don’t they give each other’s mother the best Mother’s Day present ever? I’ll leave it up to you to work out what that present is!

Nicky Minaj, the female rap phenomenon of the past year, appears on an anthem for all the creepy guys out there (‘The Creep’), and she provides her own female viewpoint on creepiness, which in true off-the-wall Minaj style, is much the same as the guys’! The only other appearance from a legitimate rapper is Snoop Dogg on the title track, who surprisingly does not seem to be in on the joke as he sleepwalks through a repetitive, mildly humourous song. ‘After Party’, featuring Santigold on the chorus, really caught me off-guard with its somewhat-poignant lyrics and subdued electro beats. But it’s back to straight-up humour with Rihanna’s ‘Shy Ronnie 2: Ronnie & Clyde’, a decent track about a bank robber too shy to speak up in front of his forceful female accomplice. It’s quite difficult to follow without watching the music video though. Her hypnotic vocals really do sound funny uttering phrases such as “No one in the bank can hear you/Use your outside voice” and “Just imagine everyone’s naked/Uh oh!/Boner alert, he really pictured them naked”.

All the songs are roughly under 3 minutes, and some ideas work just long enough before they start getting tiring. ‘Rocky’ and ‘Trouble On Dookie Island’ are adequate narratives, but they don’t match the quality of Incredibad‘s many story-related tracks. Album-closer ‘No Homo’ takes the common phrase that heterosexual guys say to make sure they’re not coming across as gay, and amplifies the idea to ludicrous levels; one of the album’s many ‘did they just say that?’ moments.

Once again, these dudes have put together a well-written, funny album, which is what one would hope a trio of successful comedy writers would be able to do. But for them to weasel their way into popular culture with legimately-good hip hop music, which, based on the beats and manner of delivery, could pass off as anything the rap industry churns out weekly – now that’s something to be impressed by.

Just don’t take them too seriously…

Tracklisting:

  1. We’re Back!
  2. Mama
  3. I Just Had Sex (feat Akon)
  4. Jack Sparrow (feat Michael Bolton)
  5. Attracted To Us (feat Beck)
  6. Rocky
  7. My Mic (Interlude)
  8. Turtleneck & Chain (feat Snoop Dogg)
  9. Shy Ronnie 2: Ronnie & Clyde (feat Rihanna)
  10. Trouble On Dookie Island
  11. Falcor vs Atreyu (Classy Skit #1)
  12. Motherlover (feat Justin Timberlake)
  13. The Creep (feat Nicky Minaj & John Waters)
  14. Watch Me Do Me (Classy Skit #2)
  15. Threw It On The Ground
  16. Japan
  17. After Party (feat Santigold)
  18. No Homo
  19. No Homo (Outro)

Release date: 10 May 2011

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11. Immortal Technique, One Of Hip Hop’s Revolutionaries

My view on hip hop/rap changed completely after I heard Immortal Technique for the first time. Before that fateful evening, my interests in the genre were not fervent or far-reaching. I liked a couple of songs and only a few artists appealed to me as a teenage white male. It was but a passing acquaintance.

Then, one night in my first year of university, I was hanging out in my next-door neighbour Josh’s dorm room. He was an avid hip hop fan, and whilst I was there, decided to play this song called ‘Dance With The Devil’. All he said was “just listen to this, dude”. No introduction…

6 minutes, 50 seconds later, and both of us just sat there, staring at the walls in dead silence. The song had consumed all of my emotions, and I couldn’t speak. Very rarely have I ever experienced that sense of shock after hearing a song, before or since that moment. Immortal Technique captivated me, and I needed to hear more.

Immortal Technique doing what he does best: spit fire on the mic

Immortal Technique (one person, real name Felipe Coronel) is a rapper with substance. Too often nowadays, over-saturated commercial radio dumbs down genres of music so that they’re suitable to be spoonfed to the masses. Sadly, hip hop suffers greatly from this problem, and many potential fans, especially white people (in my opinion), are put off by what is in the popular consciousness. I continue to feel that way too, but after my exposure to artists like I-T, I’ve learnt to dig deeper and find what alternative, often underground, hip hop has to offer.

Since he remains underground (i.e. not signed to any major record label), Immortal Technique is free to spout forth whatever he feels like saying, with intense passion and fervor, and some subject matter that most mainstream artists wouldn’t dare touch. Being of Afro-Peruvian heritage, having been born in a military hospital in Peru’s capital Lima, he feels a close bond with the Central and South American nations, as well as the Latino community at large. He grew up in Harlem, New York and saw much of the street life that is mentioned in most hip hop songs. However, the dangerous life he lived in his teenage years caught up with him, and he spent a year in jail for multiple assault-related offenses after his short time at university.

His time in incarceration was when he started to write down his thoughts, hone his songwriting skills, and begin to research Latin American history. Once out of jail, he pursued hip hop, and soon his reputation become one of a ‘battle MC’ – one who is known for his skills in defeating others in freestyle rap battles. He has taken much of this ferocious style of rapping, and channelled it into three studio albums (Revolutionary,Vol. 1 & 2, and The 3rd World,  all released between 2001 and  2008), as well as many mixtapes, which have captured live freestyles and song fragments in stream-of-consciousness form.

Covers of all three Immortal Technique studio albums

On the surface, Immortal Technique comes off as a rabid pit bull, barking out caustic verses, that at a superficial level, could come across as just for shock value. But very soon, one realises that his rhymes are extremely intelligent, well-written and diverse. His songs touch on a range of topics, such as politics & the government, crime, free speech, love, socio-economics, empowerment of the powerless, world history, poverty, the music industry and propaganda. Others just showcase his ridiculously good skills on the mic, as he battle-raps a generic foe, schooling the fool with hilarious, ballsy and brutal rhymes. When such potent lyrics are delivered with a rugged flow like his, each track is like a slap in the face, urging you to wake up and take a look at the world around you.

"Immortal Technique will rip a rapper to pieces indecently" - A lyric from one of his songs

The proof is in the pudding, and I-T delivers it in lethal amounts. I’ve cherry-picked some of his best:

On ‘The 4th Branch’, he hypothesizes that the media is the fourth branch of the government (after the executive, legislative and judicial ones), and controls how we as the population think:

“It’s like MK-ULTRA, controlling your brain
Suggestive thinking, causing your perspective to change
They wanna rearrange the whole point of view of the ghetto
The fourth branch of the government, want us to settle
A bandana full of glittering, generality
Fighting for freedom and fighting terror, but what’s reality?
Read about the history of the place that we live in
And stop letting corporate news tell lies to your children”

Over a delicate guitar-driven arrangement, he speaks of moving on from past mistakes in ‘Leaving The Past’ (a good song of his to start with):

“You swallow propaganda like a birth control pill
sellin’ your soul to the eye on the back of the dollar bill
But that will never be me, ‘cos I am leavin’ the past
like an abused wife with the kids, leavin’ your ass
Like a drug addict clean and sober, leavin’ the stash
unbreakable, Technique leavin’ the plane crash
I’m out with the black box and I refuse to return
I spit reality, instead of what you usually learn
and I refuse to be concerned with condescending advice
‘cos I am the only motherf***er that could change my life

Tech assumes the role of a hip hop martyr in the riveting ‘Internally Bleeding’, with some powerful, poignant, disturbing yet profound messages. Once again, I’ll let his lyrics do the talking:

“My mother told me that placing my faith in God was the answer
But then I hated God, ‘cos he gave my mother cancer
Killing us slow like the Feds did to the Blank Panthers
The genesis of genocide is like a Pagan religion
Carefully hidden, woven into the holidays of a Christian
I had a vision of nuclear holocaust on top of me
And this is prophecy, the words that I speak from my lungs
The severed head of John the Baptist speaking in tongues
Like Che Guevara, my soliloquies speak to a gun
Paint in slow motion, like trees that reach for the sun”

In addition to philosophical rants like the above two, he weaves together intricate narratives on a few of what I think are his standout tracks. ‘Peruvian Cocaine’ is a grandiose, character-driven portrait of how cocaine travels from South to North America. Each verse features a different character, as well as rapper (all together seven), in the story, right from the lowly worker in the fields, and through the path of drug dealers, border officials and undercover cops. It’s on-par with Eminem in terms of story-telling ability, and delivers a thought-provoking message too.

Then there are the double-header jaw-droppers: ‘You Never Know’ and the afore-mentioned ‘Dance With The Devil’. Both tug at the heartstrings; the former gently and tearfully as I-T bares his soul for a bit and falls in love (“the type of Latina I’d sit and contemplate marriage with), and the latter  metaphorically wrenching those strings like a rock ‘n roll guitarist.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this recommendation/discussion: THAT song. I’d hate to ruin the surprise of the ending, but it follows the story of a young man’s descent into the darkness of gangster life. The beat is as cold as the character William’s heart, complete with a haunting piano loop that sends chills down my spine every time I hear it. Tech delivers each line with an urgent precision, and hopefully by the end of it, you as the listener have learnt as much from it as the rapper himself has. This is his magnum opus.

Unwrapping his music is like peeling apart an onion; a very large and layered one. I hope that by peeling away the first few layers, you have been enticed into going deeper into the music of one hip hop’s true revolutionaries. He maintains the spirit that much of early hip hop was founded on: story-telling, social awareness and an emphasis on wordplay and performance.

Immortal Technique: an MC and poet that I believe can be spoken of in the same hushed tones as the likes of Biggie, Tupac and Eminem…

Viva La Revolución!

Recommended listening (in this order, too, if you think that you might be inclined to get scared away!):

  • ‘Caught In A Hustle’ (from Black Cargo Mixtape)
  • ‘Leaving The Past’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘The 4th Branch’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘Peruvian Cocaine’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘The Prophecy’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 1)
  • ‘Internally Bleeding’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘Industrial Revolution’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘The 3rd World’ (from The 3rd World)
  • ‘You Never Know’ (from Revolutionary, Vol. 2)
  • ‘Dance With The Devil (from Revolutionary, Vol. 1)