Sunday, December 31, 2006


1. Record more sounds
2. Take more pictures
3. Listen to more country music**
4. Get nicer with computers
5. Exercise more**
6. Impeach the president
7. Call more people on the phone
8. Get a job

**Also a resolution in 2006

Yr turn: what resolutions you got? Don't tell me you don't believe in New Year's resolutions. You do too.


Saddam Hussein was hanged for ordering the murders of hundreds of Shia Iraqis in Dujail in 1982. But what about everyone else he killed? This post by Garance Franke-Ruta makes the argument against a speedy death sentence for an ex-dictator:
Rather than a full measure of truth and reconciliation, Iraqis got just one short prosecution, followed by the death of their tormentor. And he was executed for crimes against the Shia, not what he did to the Kurds. Today, Washington Kurdish Institute president Najmaldin Karim makes the same point in The New York Times: "we have not had full justice. Saddam Hussein did not confront the full horror of his crimes."
And the Iraqi people got only a fraction of his crimes enumerated in its legal record.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Since 2003, 46 of Chicago's 50 aldermen have voted with Mayor Daley more than 75 percent of the time. And when something big comes up like a vote on whether Daley should be fighting the Shakman decree in court, a suspicious number turn up missing. Some legislative body we've got here. Here are the data, from Dick Simpson of UIC.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Nas shouts out to Harold Washington in this song "Blunt Ashes" on Hip Hop is Dead. I'm not quite sure what he is getting at, but "sabotaging them" is a good rhyme with "Washington"...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Obama's VP

Yeah yeah I'm getting ahead of myself, whatever. Let's just say Barack Obama receives the Democrats' nomination for president in 2008. His major electoral liability will be his relative inexperience, particularly on foreign policy. So he probably wouldn't want to choose a VP candidate who is also young and inexperienced, which means John Edwards--a likely second-place finisher in primaries--is out.

But then who? When I look at the field of Dem candidates, I find myself wondering if Obama's best choice for VP might not be Joe Biden. Well? Obama wants someone older, with a strong grasp on foreign policy. Biden has been around forever and when the next Congress opens he'll be chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--and he'll be doing the right things with the position. His political skills aren't quite as strong as his resume, but they're probably stronger than Wesley Clark's, who is the only other Dem candidate with real foreign policy bona fides. (Well, there's Hillary, but something tells me she'd choose Senate Majority Leader over VP.) And Biden's plan to partition Iraq is as good a withdrawal plan as we've got.

Am I crazy? And if so: Who else is there?
I didn't know Gerald Ford appointed Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, now probably the court's most liberal member. Thanks, Gerald.
Hearings, oversight, investigations, subpoenas all on their way. Damn right the White House is "preparing to play defense."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Who doesn't?

Pandas like porn.

Rahm redux

Ryan Lizza's feature story on Rahm Emanuel in the new GQ is a little leaner and more politics-focused than the massive Chicago Tribune profile by Naftali Bendavid that came out just after the election. But it's the same guy: Rahm still curses a lot, still raises mad skrilla and still takes back the House. And my impression is about the same as before.

Lizza's story does provide some new backstory into Emanuel's fight with DNC chair Howard Dean, who at a crucial moment had to be cajoled and begged into kicking down a paltry $2.4 million to fund competitive races, and who even then insisted that the money be funneled through the state parties rather than going directly to the DCCC. According to a Dean aide Lizza spoke to, "Governor Dean had concerns that Rahm was going to spend it all on TV." And that was a concern...why?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Old, weird Christmas

...and to all a good night. (Images from here.)
In time for Christmas: K Sanneh's top ten list...
By request, I'm reposting the mp3 of the Lupe Fiasco non-album bonus track "Pimp Hand"...

Friday, December 22, 2006

My review of To Air is Human, a behind-the-scenes exposé of the high-flying world of professional air guitar, is now up at Stop Smiling.
Obama tied with Edwards for first place in Iowa polls.

And on Tapped, Mark Schmitt tries adjusting polls for name-recognition:
In the Newsweek poll, 81% percent say they know "A lot" or "some" about Clinton. Of Obama, only 41% say they know a lot or some, and only 14% say, "a lot," vs 45% who know a lot about Senator Clinton.

So this is a forty percentage point gap in basic ID and awareness. Yet it translates into only a four to seven-point drop-off in support, against the better-known Republicans. The top-line story here was that Clinton beats McCain 50-43 while Obama loses 43-45. But the more interesting thing is that the drop-off from Clinton to the unknown Obama is only seven percentage points, and only four against Giuliani. (That's the Newsweek poll; the CNN poll has the Clinton match-ups tighter, but the Clinton-to-Obama dropoff is about the same 4-6 points.) At 43%, Obama is actually outperforming his name recognition.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tiny Mix Tapes top 20 album covers of the year is good fun again this year. And I've actually heard one or two of the albums...
Jake translates for Pitchfork. Too easy? Nah...

Daley endorses Obama, but so what

First Barack Obama hires Mayor Daley's brother as a campaign adviser, and now Daley says he'll support Obama in the Dem primaries. How about that.

But also, big deal. What difference does this make to Obama? Help him ward off a late Hillary surge in Hyde Park or something?

Daley's endorsement doesn't help Obama, who's more likely looking for support from the mayors of Des Moines or Las Vegas or New Hampshire (is there a mayor of New Hampshire?). But it may help Daley pick up a few more black votes in February's municipal elections, and that's probably why it was leaked by one of Daley's people.

Obama is a clean pol, and he was never a machine hack. But in Illinois he's never styled himself a reformer, either. The Daley machine helped to get him into the Illinois legislature, so he wasn't about bucking the established political order--even if the established political order is an anachronistic 19th century patronage model. His depressing show of support for Todd Stroger was inevitable, I guess, and also a reminder that Obama is still a politician, making political calculations.

He's a national politician now, and on the big national issues his policy judgment seems very sound. (There's also that charisma thing, a positive trait in someone running for president.) His legislative record has been about a lot more than just city jobs, so being pals with Daley has apparently allowed him to advance other priorities. Still, it's hard not to wish that he'd start using his newer, bigger soapbox to clean up his own city.

"Judgment" and "appearance"

TNR's Conor Clarke on Obama/Rezko [subscriber only]:
This story certainly raises lots of interesting questions about Obama's relationship with Rezko. Why did Obama get the house at below-market value when Rita Rezko paid the asking price? Why were both deals closed on the same day? And--most scandalously--did Obama and Rezko have a pay-for-play deal of the sort that can get you an indictment and lose you a career? Disappointingly, these questions have answers that are boring, uncontroversial, and well-known: The house had been on the market for months, the seller required that the sales be closed on the same day, and there still isn't any evidence that Obama has ridden to Rezko's rescue--he actually opposed gambling interests that would have made Rezko a pretty penny, and, since the indictment, he has donated the developer's campaign contributions to charity.

Which is why everyone resorts to talk about "judgment" and "appearance." And, sure, appearances can actually be useful, insofar as the appearance of impropriety is sometimes evidence of a real-live, slam-dunk, actual impropriety (if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, et cetera). And, of course, presidential candidates should be held to a higher level of scrutiny. But a higher level of scrutiny does not mean a different standard of guilt: In this case, journalists have followed the smoke and haven't found the fire. At that point, accusing someone of something that looks wrong stops making sense.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Poplicks has the "best quotes of 2006"...
Re: Pitchfork's top albums: Well, whatever. Our guesses were close but not correct. Q. Will anyone care at all about The Knife this time next year? Is that part of the point or something?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Are blogs peaking? Man I hope so because there's too many biters in this blogging game. My blogstyle has been bitten more times than Doritos. Bloggers try to be like AMillionMonkeys, they get toppled like the prime minister of Thailand.

The $35.8 billion crop farmers aren't allowed to grow

Eric Bailey of the L.A. Times writes up a new study that says marijuana production is a $35.8 billion per year domestic industry, making it the largest cash crop in the United States by some margin.

The full study is available here, executive summary here. The numbers come from taking the U.S. State Department's estimate that 10,000 metric tons of pot was grown in the U.S. in 2005 and applying low estimates of market value for that amount of the drug.

There are also state-by-state breakdowns. Marijuana is the top cash crop in 12 states, including California, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida and Oregon. It is one of the top five cash crops in 39 states.

Remind me: Why is it better for society if all this is illegal?
Polar bears.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Posner: Ban trans fats!

Here's a curveball: Judge Richard Posner supports the NYC trans-fats ban.

My friend Saxdrop is on record opposing all regulation of food, for Chicago-School reasons Posner explains at the top of his post: it's inefficient for government to regulate something like this, the market will take care of it just fine.

But Poser adds the following dimensions: a.) Cost of information--most people don't know what trans fats are, and many would stop eating them if they did, b.) banning trans fats will reduce the number of people who die of heart disease, and c.) the costs of banning trans fats are not great.

Crunching numbers for his "very crude cost-benefit analysis," Posner introduces me to an economic concept that is very odd to me, the "economic estimate of the value of an American life (an estimate based on behavior toward risk, behavior that reveals the cost that the average American is willing to pay to reduce the risk of death)." It's $7 million.
"In a country like ours, no public institution, or the people who operate it, can be above public debate."

-- Warren E. Burger, former U.S. chief justice

"I am the most accessible person you have ever met in public life."

-- Richard M. Daley

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Friday, December 15, 2006

Pimpin all over the world

The World on Bulgarian gangsta rapper Vanko 1, who apparently bought his way out of jail after getting convicted for pimping.

Here's a Vanko 1 video that is pretty much what you would expect from a Bulgarian gangsta rapper. Well except for the Jew's harp sample going boing boing on the track, that is unexpected.
Slate's John Dickerson on the Obama/Rezko land deal: [T]here's nothing here so far that seems politically life threatening.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Exactly. McCain's call for more troops in Iraq was disingenuous from the start. If Bush actually tries to do it, that is a political disaster for McCain. Sending more troops will not work.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Daley: Democracy is a joke to me

Speaking to the Chicago Defender, Mayor Daley gets a good laugh out of the idea of debating his opponent, Bill "Dock" Walls. Like what's the point?, everybody already knows I'm mayor.

I like Walls's response:
"He won't say no to me easily. We'll be like pop-up ads," Walls told the Defender. "We'll just pop up periodically. No place is out-of-bounds."
In other news, I have put in a myspace friend request to Bill "Dock" Walls. Not that it means I've made up my mind. If Dorothy Brown gets a myspace page I will be friends with her too.

More best music of 2006

Worst song: "My Humps." No contest, unless it's "Fergalicious."

Overrated: "Promiscuous." The rare Timbaland misstep.

Records I haven't heard but would/will probably like: Ys by Joanna Newsome, Hip-Hop is Dead by Nas, Modern Times by Bob Dylan, More Fish by Ghostface Killah.

Best food of 2006: Hot wings.

Best bubblegum pop: "Me & U" by Cassie

Not 'best' exactly, but not bad bubblegum pop: "Stars are Blind" by Paris Hilton

Best songs:

30. "Get Your Hustle On" by Juvenile
29. "Think I'm in Love" by Beck
28. "Do You Wanna Ride" by Jay-Z
27. "Not Ready to Make Nice" by the Dixie Chicks
26. "Shoulder Lean" by Young Dro featuring T.I.
25. "Stuntin' Like My Daddy" by Birdman and Lil Wayne
24. / 23. "My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion" and "Mr. Ambulance Driver" by the Flaming Lips
22. "Hips Don't Lie" by Shakira and Wyclef
21. "I'm Straight" by T.I. featuring B.G. and Young Jeezy
20. "Georgia Bush" by Lil Wayne w/ DJ Drama
19. "Fake Tales of San Francisco" by the Arctic Monkeys
18. "Springfield" by Sufjan Stevens
17. / 16. "Ring the Alarm" and "Irreplaceable" by Beyonce
15. "Get a Light" by Snoop Dogg featuring Damien Marley
14. / 13. "You Know Who" and "What You Know" by T.I.
12. "Wamp Wamp" by Clipse
11. "Morris Brown" by Outkast
10. "Ain't No Other Man" by Christina Aguilera
9. "Wolf Like Me" by TV on the Radio
8. "Crazy" by Gnarls Barkley
7. "Be Without You" by Mary J Blige
6. "Jungle Love" by J Dilla featuring Guilty Simpson and MED
5. "Bossy" by Kelis
4. / 3. "SexyBack" and "My Love" by Justin Timberlake
2. "Kick, Push" by Lupe Fiasco
1. "Chips Ahoy!" by the Hold Steady

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

How Sam Brownback became Mr. Religious Right

Noam Scheiber with a long piece on Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback's moderate days [subscriber only, email me if you want to read the whole thing], and how Brownback transformed himself from a social moderate into America's leading social conservative pol.

It all started in 1994 when a religious conservative challenged him from the right in a Republican primary:
Brownback's opponent, Bennie, was about as pro-life as you could get without earning yourself a restraining order. He had no trouble winning the [Kansasans for Life] endorsement. This, in turn, formed the backbone of his campaign strategy. In every tiny Kansas town Bennie rolled into, dozens of KFL activists would turn up: 25 people in Erie (population 1,200); 50 in Burlington (population 2,700)--all of them to see a no-name with no chance of winning. After Bennie charged through his stump speech, the activists would fan out along the local streets, distributing literature and planting yard signs. It was like having a political operation thousands of workers strong.

From Brownback's perspective, it was also a nightmare. Before the congressional race, Brownback had never really had to justify his abortion views. Now he was getting an earful practically every time he stumped for a vote. There were days when it looked like the whole thing might slip away.
By 1995, he's made the leap:
Brownback was done being a Gingrich Revolutionary. He sat down with Paul Ryan, his then-chief of staff, and told him as much. "It's one thing to introduce legislation to cut taxes, like 50 other members of the Senate. It's another thing to make a material difference in this country, or in Africa," says Ryan. "No one else was doing this, fighting the culture war. ... That's the calculation he made."
An underserved political niche market. I don't exactly doubt the sincerity of Brownback's beliefs, and I don't think Scheiber does either. But it's the kind of story that illuminates the way self-interest can cross-pollinate with true belief, particularly for an ambitious politician.

P.S. ... I do think Brownback has a legitimate shot at the 2008 Republican nomination--you know, depending. His policies that aren't abortion or gay marriage are kind of sane. He has allied with Barack Obama on Darfur and HIV, he's reconsidering his support for the death penalty, and he's the only Republican I know of who's endorsed Joseph Biden's plan to partition Iraq. That's a lot of common ground with liberals, even if he comes to it from a different place:
What Sam Brownback clearly wants to talk about--what he thinks people need to know about--are the issues you might store in a mental file called "Judgment Day." The Judgment Day file begins with standard culture-war causes like gay marriage and abortion. But it is a sprawling file, and, before long, it sprawls to such far-flung locales as Sudan and the Congo, where Brownback wants to stop genocide and human trafficking. "We're a great nation," Brownback says. His voice is still composed, but now there's a firmness that wasn't there before. "And I believe, in my heart, that for our greatness to continue, our goodness must continue."
My feature story about the Internet and the courts has been posted at On the Docket.

Pitchfork's best album of the year

It's not too soon to place bets. My guess: Boys and Girls in America by the Hold Steady. Alternate pick: Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio. Clipse in the top five.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Wait, stop the presses, Richard M. Daley is running for mayor? What a surprise... You know what else I heard? I heard Fidel Castro announced today that, health permitting, he's planning to run again for president of Cuba...

Best albums of 2006

Hey why not, it's list season. I'll start!

Two disclaimers: 1.) My real favorite album of 2006 was released at the very end of 2005. It is Lil Wayne's Tha Carter II, and it's the album that announced Wayne as the flame-spitting word-nerd ex-child star. Since then he's released a string of mixtapes, remixes and freestyles and he is really at the top of the game. 2.) I haven't heard the new Young Jeezy record, which could belong on here, who knows. And presumably there are other 2006 records I missed that I would've loved.

Full speed ahead:

15. Two/Three, Dabrye
Rap tracks and instrumentals from the Detroit-based Prefuse 73-protégé. Unlike Prefuse, Dabrye knows how to mold beats around his vocalists, and when to step back.

My review here.

14. Return to Cookie Mountain, TV on the Radio

13. Doctor’s Advocate, The Game
Getting kicked out of G Unit and losing the support of Dr. Dre made Game a better rapper. On this album he pairs old-school g-funk beats with conflicted, confessional rhymes. As on Eminem's good albums, Doctor's Advocate is as interesting for what the rapper's words unintentionally reveal about himself as for what he purposely lays bare.

12. Restless, Trae
Dark, depressive Houston rap, a sort of counterpoint to the manic optimism of last year's Houston boom.

11. Whatever People Say I am, That's What I'm Not, Arctic Monkeys

10. The Breakthrough, Mary J Blige

9. Dedication 2, Lil Wayne w/ DJ Drama [mixtape]

8. Kelis was Here, Kelis
More protean and less personality-forward than fellow divas Beyonce or Mary J, I love the overstuffed versatility of Kelis was Here: some Missy-influenced space-rap, some neo-soul, some radio-bait and "Bossy," one of the year's best singles.

My review here.

7. Food & Liquor, Lupe Fiasco

6. Fishscale, Ghostface Killah

5. FutureSex/LoveSounds, Justin Timberlake
Timbaland. Timberlake. Classic.

My review here.

4. Boys and Girls in America, The Hold Steady

3. King, T.I.

2. Hell Hath No Fury, Clipse

My review here.

1. Donuts, J Dilla
Taken as a whole, Dilla's last collection of beats is like a retrospective of the best ideas of one of rap's best producers ever. Few of the tracks run beyond two minutes, but nearly every one contains some sample or sequence that is both jarring and perfectly integrated. Dilla's style was always less ostentatious than other superstar producers', but Donuts proves it was never less intricate. R.I.P. Jay Dee.
Re: That Gwen Stefani song sampling "Lonely Goatherd" from The Sound of Music: You will think you hate it at first, but soon enough you'll realize it is so shameless that it actually kind of becomes good again, in a way...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Just found this interview with David Simon on The Fader, along with these other interviews with The Wire cast members that have been running all week. But no time to read them now since the season finale starts in one minute. More later...

UPDATE [12:30am 12/11] ... Well that season finale felt in some ways more like a midpoint than the other season-ending chapters have. But many of the important storylines reached an end, and others are well-positioned for the beginning of season five. Remind me again when season five will start? What, not next week?

Hurricane Katrina's tragic effect on Chicago-area events planners

I am taking some temp jobs during break to save up a few bucks before I go to D.C. Tonight I did one of those jobs, taking tickets at some giant corporation's holiday party.

Before we started, the other temps and I sat around in a small conference room while one of the women from the events-planning agency told us what we'd be doing and filled us in a little bit about the party. It had a Mardi Gras theme, she explained to us, because last year the company had cancelled the event, instead donating the money that would've been spent on the party to aid for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The following is a true quote. She really said this, really:
The company donated all the money to Hurricane Katrina, which sounds like a really nice thing. But for events planners and for people in the hospitality industry, it wasn't so good. For a lot of the planners, the hotel staff and for folks like you all who are using this to earn money as your livelihood, they didn't have that opportunity. And this party is one of the biggest clients of the year.
At least she kept perspective about the whole thing!

The best I could muster was to say, "Well, good thing there wasn't a hurricane this year." But I did talk about her behind her back with the other temps immediately after she left the room, and for the rest of the evening.

That has got to set some kind of world record for self-absorption, doesn't it?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Bookslut guest-blogger Elizabeth Merrick loves The Wire, too, calling it her "favorite novel of the year." Mine too! Other Merrick entries, with interesting analysis and useful links, can be found here and here.

Revolt against the tyranny of Apple's iPod-battery-replacement program

By the end, my iPod's battery could barely hold a charge for the length of a 30-minute train ride.

I thought I'd have to send my iPod back to Apple and pay them $66 and be without it for two weeks or however long it was going to take them to sent me a new one. And I thought, man, that is going to suck.

Friends, there's a better way. I bought my replacement battery through Ipod Battery Depot for like twenty bucks. They sent me a repair kit in the mail, complete with a couple of very small teflon screwdrivers and instructions on how to take apart your iPod and install the new battery. That's some D.I.Y. shit there. I must say I'm quite pleased with the results: I have a working, full-charge battery, I paid less and didn't have to give up my iPod, plus I got to see what the device's guts look like. A solution I recommend to all.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Andre Royo, who plays Bubbles on The Wire, interviewed by the AP...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

My sister points me to this piece about suburban poverty. Urban areas and suburbs aren't as separate now as they once were, and although the share of people living in poverty is still higher in cities, the number of poor people is now more in the suburbs...
Go download Snoop Dogg's "Get a Light," which features Damian Marley and production by Timbaland. It is the truth. You know there are at least three great songs on every Snoop Dogg album, right?...
As of last night at about 1am, I am really, really, really done with all my assignments for this quarter.

Here's my final feature story, written with Hilary Masell Oswald, about public corruption investigations. I have a couple of medium-interesting SCOTUS-related features that will go up on On the Docket eventually, I'll probably link to them at some point...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New Nas video

"Shine on 'Em"

Feds arrest one Avon Barksdale in Chicago; is a Marlo Stanfield waiting in the wings?

Look, if the available options are a.) a bunch of petty shakedowns of streetcorner dealers and possession-arrests of fiends, b.) no-knock raids that kill old women in their homes, or c.) large, well-organized stings that net high-level leaders of drug gangs, well put me down for that last one. If we must fight a drug war, we may as well fight it intelligently.

Assuming the feds are correct when they say they've got the Supreme Inca of the Latin Kings, that's good news and I'm happy to see Ace King locked up. And if Andrew Traver of the Chicago ATF is correct and these arrests "pretty much decapitated the Latin Kings on the South Side," that's good news, too.

Still, I am wondering: Will these arrests actually reduce the amount of cocaine trafficked in this city? Isn't the group most likely to be having a party tonight the Vice Lords, or some other rival gang? And for just how long does Andrew Traver suppose the Latin Kings will stay decapitated?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Kos on Obama's advantage in the primaries. (Discussed by us here.) He thinks Edwards and Richardson will draw more votes that Hillary in Nevada, which upon reflection makes sense.

The only plausible challenger to Obama Kos can see is Al Gore, and I'm not sure Gore is up for it...

Playing catch-up

  • Cass Sunstein on the significance of Barack Obama's World AIDS Day speech at Rick Warren's megachurch. All four aspects Sunstein points to are important; I may be most impressed with the third one he flags:
    Third, he spoke quite candidly about his substantive disagreements with some members of his audience; he didn't evade or pander.
    True, and significant to a party who most recently nominated John Kerry for president. Sunstein also correctly notes that other Dems "have spoken of their own religious beliefs, but with palpable awkwardness; Obama shows no awkwardness at all." This is outreach we need.

    Full text of the speech here.

  • But did you know he smokes?

  • In 1968, Fidel Castro gave a speech that lasted 12 hours. But he is seriously ailing now. I'm one of the people who believes Castro knows that U.S. sanctions are what allow him to keep his grip on power--and that whenever talk turned to loosening them he'd execute poets or commit whatever other human rights atrocities just to make sure they didn't go away. Maybe soon, they will.

  • So long, jackass.

The veteran and the Young Turks

Jay-Z -- Kingdom Come

Kingdom Come is not as bad as you've heard. But it is not very good.

As a blockbuster rap release, it served its purpose, selling more than three-quarters of a million records the week it came out. At press time it's still Billboard's #1 album in several categories.

But like other sorts of blockbusters, it's unsubtle, it's too eager to please and in between moments of greatness it can be slow and awkward. There are a string of songs on the album's second half that fall flat, and -- worse -- songs throughout (including lead single "Show Me What You Got") that are merely mediocre.

So why can't I quite bring myself to hate Kingdom Come?

There is Jay's flow, its distinctive cadence and eloquent directness that is still appealing no matter what. There are the shining beats from Just Blaze and Dr. Dre (by the way, where's Timbaland?), the subliminal hits at 50 Cent ("I'm afraid of the future/ Y'all respect the one who got shot, I respect the shooter") and some funny ad-libs. The good tracks are very good -- "Oh My God," "30 Something," the Kanye West-produced "Do You Wanna Ride" -- and Jay's personal story and ability to boast remain entertaining.

And you know, the track contributed by Chris Martin of Coldplay is not terrible. But the problem with Kingdom Come is that it's the sort of album that ends with a beat contributed by Coldplay's Chris Martin, and it's big and epic, strings and such, the self-consciously big finish.

Maybe now that he's gone ahead and come out of retirement, Jay-Z's next album will be more graceful and less self-conscious. Or maybe his comeback really will turn out to be like Jordan's: disappointing, anti-climactic, a little embarrassing.

Clipse -- Hell Hath No Fury

The most disturbing line on an album full of them is Malice's claim, in the menacing "Wamp Wamp," that his crew is "deep like the Hutu, you cockroaches." The identification with Rwandan genocidaires, who referred to Tutsis as cockroaches, would be merely appalling, but there is a twist: Malice pronounces the word cockroaches in the Cuban accent of every rapper's favorite bad guy, Scarface's Tony Montana.

Linking the romanticized antiheroism of Tony Montana-figures with the dirt, turmoil and moral decay of real-life outlaws is what Clipse is all about. Pusha T's and Malice's narratives are dense with not only similes and multisyllabic rhymes but also irony, moral commentary and rich literary detail. We're used to rappers creating larger-than-life characters out of a street-dealer persona, but we're not so accustomed to the use of stark, troubling psychological realism in these portrayals.

Hell Hath No Fury is full of lines that double back on themselves to betray guilt or doubt, like the impermanence understood in the chorus to "Ride Around Shining": "All I wanna do is ride around shining while I can afford it." The rappers can be disarmingly direct ("And I don't know how them other niggas built/ And I don't know if ever they feel guilt") or Nabokovian in their layers of puns and allusions, as in this couplet from "Keys Open Doors": "I yell 're-up' til I'm locked like Mumia/ and get cross state with the grace of Maria."

Also, these Neptunes beats are incredibly good, empty and minimalist and without the neodisco glimmer that hasn't quite been working for them for several years. Seriously, when is the last time a Neptunes beat sounded hard? More of these, please.

On Kingdom Come, when Jay-Z boasts about vacationing in San Tropez and considers buying a house in Rome, we know that he's talking about San Tropez and Rome. By contrast, in Clipse's "Ain't Cha," amid some flossing about Gucci parkas and whatnot, Malice offers that he'll be "off somewhere mixing vodkas/ in a far-off land where they shake maracas and shit." That last bit introduces an abstract quality that throws the whole fantasy into doubt, as if the rapper doesn't have any real plans to vacation anywhere but on his own corner.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Short hiatus. Back Tuesday.

Friday, December 01, 2006