Thursday, May 21, 2009

All Grownsed Up

So I had an idea for a Monster Matchup for tonight but realized many readers might not get what I was talking about. Instead, my matchup ("Takeover" by Jay-Z vs. "Dre Day" by Dr. Dre) illustrates a change in my musical taste. Back in '93, The Chronic was the truth. Before Dr. Dre's solo debut, white suburban kids like me hadn't yet caught on to gangsta rap because N.W.A. was a little too hardcore in name and song titles for us to feel comfortable. We were listening to Hammer and Vanilla Ice and Fresh Prince. Yeah, I wish I could go back seventeen years and slap the s*** out of myself. Then, "Nuthin' But A 'G' Thang" started getting play on MTV and we were hooked. It had the driving horns (we had little idea who Parliament was, so it sounded new), the lyrics that made us feel like we were from the streets, the video with its sex and forties and bouncing cars. We were sold and Dre revolutionized rap by selling to us. Real rap hit the mainstream and our entire culture was transformed. The Chronic was the truth, a mainstay on any list of best albums my friends and I would make. I had no doubt at the time, and for years after, that it would be the best rap album I would ever hear.

But, times inevitably change. On September 11, 2001 (no, I'm not going to talk about that), Jay-Z released The Blueprint. None of us follow-whatever-MTV-says-is-the-mainstream white kids had really paid attention to east coast rap outside of the Notorious B.I.G., so we missed out on the classics; we were only nominally familiar with Wu-Tang Clan and we hadn't listened to Nas' Illmatic at all. All of a sudden, hip-hop would totally change for us. I had heard Jay-Z on Jermaine Dupri's "Money Ain't A Thang" and his own "Hard Knock Life", but I recall driving down the street and hearing, for the first time, "Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the eighth wonder of the world, the flow of the century...," and then that Kanye-produced sample from "I Want You Back". I had to get that album immediately. That was the year I started grad school and I listened to that CD a billion times as I drove myself back and forth from work to school and got pumped up for exams. I still had The Chronic, but it was "U Don't Know" and "Izzo" and "Takeover" that I listened to over and over and over again.

That change has continued to the point that, as I look back, I much prefer The Blueprint to The Chronic. It's a more mature album, cleaner production, a more varied sound. It makes me reflect on how my tastes have changed so much as I've grown older. There was a time when I vowed that I would watch Saturday morning cartoons forever, but now -- my Duck Tales spree last weekend notwithstanding -- I much prefer History Channel. I've been to a number of punk concerts in a wide variety of venues, but now I'd take the masterfully produced Viva La Vida over anything new from Rancid. I still love watching cheesy bad movies, but not as much as Woody Allen ones (Vicky Cristina Barcelona is fantastic) or even certain foreign films (like Walk On Water, Paradise Now, or Y Tu Mama Tambien). I'm older, I have more responsibility. Times change and while we often romanticize our childhood, we also have to admit that we are significantly different people than we once were. Not a bad thing.

As for the matchup (how can I not)? The sample on "Takeover" is so much better than the music on "Dre Day", thanks to Kanye's producing abilities and newer technology, but you have to give Dre credit for not using samples. Dre is way nastier towards Eazy-E in his song, but Jay-Z is more scathing without being as vulgar by attacking Nas' talent directly. As I mentioned before, I like The Blueprint more than The Chronic. But then you think about the fact that "Dre Day" had Snoop's famous "Bow-wow-wow-yipee-yo-yipee-yay" lines... I was going to make a point of calling it a tie and say that young me would like Dre and Snoop better while older me likes Jay-Z better. But older me is writing this. So screw you, young me, I'm going with "Takeover" after all.

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