REVIEWS -- APRIL 14, 2000

  Big Punisher f/Donell Jones – It’s So Hard
     (**½)  What’s so hard? All 200 square-feet of Big Pun’s rigor-mortis-gripped corpse, of course. I’d written this guy off from the beginning (I mean, come on, “I’m not a player, I just fuck a lot”?), because – no kidding – he looked just like Jabba the Hutt. His head and neck were pyramid-shaped. But “It’s So Hard” is actually not a bad song or video – the guy had a flow, and as the post-mortem equivalent of “I’ll Be Missing You,” this is actually effective without seeming disingenuous or overly sappy. He’s unnecessarily romanticized, yeah, and the video opens with a Forrest Gump feather floating through the air atop a photo montage of Pun. Aside from a little pre-death footage, it’s all shots of neighborhood people grooving to his beat, thanking Christ they can visit the Sizzler again. An endless string of stars (Jennifer Lopez, Missy Elliott, Busta, Bone Thugs, Puff, L.L. Cool J, Xhibit, et al) pays respects, holding candles and looking upward. It rings true, from some reason. –Andrew Hicks

Mary J. Blige – Give Me You 
     (*½)  In the intro, Mary is an impossibly accessorized mid-level executive leaving a message for her baby daddy. (“It would mean so much to the kids if you could show tonight.”) I liked “All That I Can Say,” the first single from Mary, and rolled my eyes at the Elton-sample antics of the follow-up, “Deep Inside.” I was holding out hope that the third single might redeem it. Not a chance. “Give Me You” is a bland, Diane Warren-esque ballad (“I don’t need all the things that money buys / All I need is right there in your eyes”) with an uninteresting video to accompany it. Mary sings from the office, from the library, from a school play – this is the most domesticated R+B video I’ve ever seen. Would I be spoiling things if I revealed that, a) Mary’s baby daddy does show and, b) it does mean a lot to the kids? –AH

Toni Braxton – He Wasn’t Man Enough
     (**)  Jesus, there’s a name I haven’t heard in about three years. Haven’t thought about either, to be honest. That’s probably going to be Toni’s biggest obstacle this time around – everyone’s moved on to Lauryn Hill and Destiny’s Child, and music really doesn’t need a torch-soul singer who can unite the teens and the adult-contemporary crowd. We’ve got Ricky Martin and Christina Aguilera for that. But here’s Toni anyway, intoning her name in an intro shout-out, trying to dance and show off her stomach like Aaliyah and reassuring us that she absolutely, positively doesn’t want no scrubs. Oh, and from time to time, we’re treated to a feline-looking anime Toni – these are clips, of course, from her motion-picture debut in Braxtémon: The First Movie. Hey, better luck next time, Toni. If there is a next time… --AH

Cypress Hill – (Rock) Superstar
     (***)  Cypress Hill is back? Kickass. And now, seven years after their big hit, they’ve decided to come hard with their expose on rock stardom. Actually, they don’t really come hard so much as try to enlighten us on the pain of being a musician in the corporate world. The backlash that comes, say, when you don’t have a hit for seven years. But “(Rock) Superstar” is a pretty cool video from Dean Karr (Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me”), less a big-budget production than a stripped-back, badass atmosphere video in the vein of recent efforts from Ice Cube (the giant skull in the background is a dead giveaway) and Public Enemy (everything seems dark and disembodied). Best sequence: the endless cascading rows of deskbound music execs and agents. I hope this video actually goes somewhere. –AH

Fenix TX – All My Fault
     (**)  The cogs of the MTV self-promotion machine are whirring once again. The channel’s new TV movie, Jailbait (it accurately describes the target audience, at least), is sold courtesy of this slacker video whose musicians seem to have nothing better to do than sit around and watch clips from the movie. It’s like Green Day’s “Longview,” only very, very corporate. Half the video exists in this living room (and, yes, there is idle cereal consumption going on); the other half takes place in the blue-tinted, strobe-light universe of bland performance videos. The idea? This band is performing in the room next to the slacker apartment, and in the end, the walls are broken down, Run D.M.C.-style. This is punk so popped out it’s not even in the same league as Blink 182. –AH

Groove Armada – I See You Baby (Fatboy Slim remix)
     (***)  Okay, it’s definitely no “Body Movin’,” but this Fatboy Slim remix of “I See You Baby” isn’t a half-bad poptronica listen, either. And after this, “Mr. Flatbeat” and “Ooh La La,” I’m convinced some of the most fun and original videos right now are coming from these all-synth acts. This video concerns a bored night security guard who seemingly has cameras set up everywhere in his building, all of them capturing the vigorous ass-shaking of rented models who haunt the bathrooms and hallways. All the while, the guard is so vigorously happy and energetic, it’s almost creepy. This one’s worth your time if you can catch it. –AH

Ice Cube f/Krayzie Bone – Until We Rich
     (***)  Think about it – when was the last time we got a slow, smooth jam from Ice Cube? Probably not in five years or so, and it’s the Cube of songs like “It Was a Good Day” and “You Know How We Do It,” so I’m more or less obligated to like “Until We Rich” by default. It makes me wonder if his Peace Disc album might actually be worth something – from the lazy bass line, rhythm guitar licks and vocals from Krayzie Bone, things look promising. This is one of those videos that takes place almost entirely on the top of a building, with Cube decked out in white and Krayzie taking up the primary-color slack. There are wistful childhood clips from the classroom and sporting goods store (?), while Cube cautions our nation’s shorties to focus on grabbing up money instead of killing each other. The eventual goal? To “wipe our ass with twenties.” If you want to sponsor Cube in his quest, send your tax-deductible donation (two-ply only) to: Ice Cube, P.O. Box 6969, Compton, CA, 90211. The people in charge will see that your donation is forwarded to Ice Cube’s enormous Brentwood mansion. –AH

Jay-Z f/U.G.K. – Big Pimpin’ (Milk Box version)
     (*½)  I guess Jay-Z’s strategy is total market saturation, video after video after video – one has barely outlived its “Spankin’ New” status before the next comes along. “Big Pimpin’” is built around an odd Caribbean sample, all flutes and bongos, and it sees Jay-Z enjoying his own Haitian Mardi Gras, awash in honies and homies. And, yes, this white-letterboxed video also includes an extended scene with Jay-Z on his very own Carnival cruise. (“Yo, if they could see me now / Up on this muthafuckin’ cruise ship…”) Then his 15-minute on-the-clock break is up, and he has to go back to swabbing the deck. But it’s fun while it lasts, eh, Jay? –AH

P.O.D. – Southtown
     (**)  I’m not exactly sure what P.O.D. means, but I’m guessing the D stands for “disciples.” Yeah, these boys are Christian but, shhh, don’t tell MTV. The cable giant probably thinks P.O.D. is just one more watered-down record company response to Limp Bizkit and Korn. They pretty much are, except for that occasional reference to “one love in Jesus,” but the video at least transcends its shoestring budget by keeping the camera moving, switching from color to B&W and back and including plenty of gritty but thoroughly family-friendly shots of the streets and skaters of L.A. I don’t care how many tattoos you have; you can’t be much of a badass if you actually profess to like the Left Behind tribulation novels, as one of these guys did in a recent Rolling Stone. –AH

Supergrass – Pumping on Your Stereo
     (***½)  This week boasts what it probably the highest number of positive reviews I’ve given in any normal week. Do you see any boy-band crap among these ranks? This Supergrass effort, from Britain’s Hammer and Tongs (who brought us my favorite video of last year, Blur’s “Coffee and TV”), is the week’s best. You don’t have to be tripping to enjoy “Pumping on Your Stereo,” but it wouldn’t hurt. The members of Supergrass – which sounds a little like early Rolling Stones crossed with the Black Crowes and Oasis – are given supernaturally proportioned body extensions. The drum player’s impossibly spidery legs extend over and beyond his kit, the guitar player’s hands are blown up to four or five times their original size, and the keyboard player has a serious giraffe neck. To make matters stranger, from time to time, the actual band members become disemblodied from their foam extensions, so e.g. it appears a person is dangling his own head from an enormous arm. Like I said, you don’t have to be tripping, but… --AH

Classic Videos

A Tribe Called Quest – Award Tour (1993)
     (***)  I found a sweet but short Tribe video compilation for five bucks at a local pawn shop – it had all the videos from Midnight Marauders and The Low-End Theory, including this hip-hop classic. I can’t say enough cool things about the song, with its thickly layered (and almost buried) jazz structure and transcendental key-organ, but the video doesn’t completely add up. That might be why I’ve never seen it on MTV or BET, but it’s still quite competent. Like Lauryn and Bob Marley’s recent “Turn Your Lights Down Low,” the camera is constantly and steadily rotating, but here, the rappers are on the same platform, so the background slowly spins by. And it’s filmed in such a rich brown-and-white color that I can forgive the director for putting the entire thing inside a tacky, omnipresent gold picture frame. Worth the five bucks, to be sure. –AH


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