Tuesday, February 22, 2011


"Front cover the The Fader for you lame haters"

I’m a fan of Anthony Fantano. His reviews of avant-garde, post-rock, noise, and similar genres show a vast knowledge of music and a deep understanding of how these genres can be enjoyable. I, however, have found that this review of Lil B’s recent album Angel’s Exodus pushes so many of my buttons that I cannot go without ranting about it.

To begin, I can understand not liking Lil B. His production quality is not great, technically speaking he’s an good to horrible
rapper etc. I, also, am not necessarily the biggest fan of this release, although I think that says more about rap music’s relationship to the album format than anything about Lil B. What is wrong with this review is not the rating, but the tone.

Fantano does almost all of his reviews with an LP hanging behind him, usually a highly regarded one from the genre being discussed. When he reviews rap albums, I have seen two albums gracing his wall: Dre’s The Chronic and Madvillian’s Madvilliany. While these are very different albums from very different contexts, the way that they relate to his reviews is very telling. The Chronic sets the 1990’s as the grand point of reference for good rap music. I know that Anthony does not like gangsta rap lyricism, so I’m assuming that this album is often behind him because of its insane production value, in appreciation of Dre’s well known perfectionism. In other words, Fantano has already set the field of play. In some sense the presence of The Chronic says, this album will be evaluated in terms of production, which may or may not be its merit. This is both a refusal to evaluate an album holistically as well as a refusal to evaluate an album based on its own perceived merits. I think that Fantano’s appreciation of lo-fi albums would show this to be an inconsistency.

More importantly, the album hanging behind him here is Madvilliany, a great album, but a very telling choice. Fantano’s title as indie music critic leads us to assume that he approaches all music through a lens that turns from the mainstream. The fact that this album is hanging behind him just shows us what that lens is for this genre, a sort of high-minded and rather unuseful rap intellectualism that really has no bearing on the independent rap at hand. Both albums that he uses in rap reviews are evidence of his criteria of evaluation, and unfortunately, these criteria just don’t apply to what makes Lil B a good musician. While Lil B has, in fact, sometimes been compared to MF Doom, much of this youtube/bedroom/indie/youth/postbased/cloud rap movement that is taking over the blogs these days consists of a willingness to disassociate oneself with the standards of what makes rapping and producing.

This sentiment, then, clashes pretty heavily with Fantano’s conviction that the album’s best track’s are its bonus tracks, where Lil B “rides the beat” like a “real rapper.” To ride the beat implies a consistent flow but what “real rapper” seems to mean is only that Anthony is already not taking the album seriously. While Anthony always includes humorous elements in his reviews, this review shows a certain amount of condescension that is not at all normal.

This attitude is most present when he talks about the album’s lack of “cooking” tracks. Lil B’s music can mostly be divided into serious, technique heavy tracks and so-called “ignorant” party tracks, otherwise known as “cooking songs," referring to their signature dance, which Fantano mimes briefly. Which category of Based music is better is highly argued on the internet, many touting his serious tracks as best seemingly because they show that Lil B is actually a "good rapper" to nay-sayers. Although I enjoy both, I tend to tilt towards the “cooking” side, simply because its Lil B doing what he does best: being ridiculous, fun, subtle, and overly sincere, a physical embodiment of what Jesse Thorn would call “the new sincerity.”

When Fantano calls B out for not including party songs, he could be seen as playing to this sentiment if only he wasn't saying it with such sarcasm. By questioning where the “woo”s and “swag”s are, he’s basically just taking a jab at anyone who may take this music seriously. Essentially, Anthony makes Lil B sound stupid by intentionally taking the piss out of his own highly impassionate attempts to find something good about the album. When he compliment’s B for being “real”, his tone doesn’t suggest that he actually finds merit in this, but rather that he'll give him a break because Lil B clearly just doesn’t know better, that its not his fault because he just lacks the self-awareness to make good music. This intentional dismissal of the aspects of music that usually lead people to appreciate it just shows an unwillingness to investigate thoroughly what is a rapidly mounting popular movement. In other words, Fantano’s attempt to treat this music with critical eyes just makes him look ignorant instead.

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