Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beats of the Decade

Let's clear a thing or two up before I start. These are certainly NOT my favorite songs of the decade, just the best rap instrumentals since the year 2000... in one man's eyes. Debate is welcome - encouraged, in fact. Also, I should point out that this was an incredibly difficult task. I could have listed 200 and been content. I went with 10 though... first, the honorable mentions:

Dirt Off Ya Shoulder - Timbaland (Jay-Z) - 2004
I Got My Locs On - JR Rotem (Ice Cube and Young Jeezy) - 2008
'Till I Collapse - Eminem (Eminem) - 2001
Chevy Ridin' High - Dre (Rick Ross, The Game) - 2005
Draped Up - Messy Marv (Bun B) - 2004
Higher - Dr. Dre (The Game) - 2004
Brooklyn (We Go Hard) - Kanye West (Jay-Z and Santogold) - 2008
Swagger Like Us - Kanye West (T.I., Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil' Wayne) - 2007
Dreams - Kanye West (The Game) - 2004
We Major - Kanye West (Kanye West, Nas) - 2005
Black Republican - L.E.S. (Nas, Jay-Z) - 2005
So Fresh, So Clean - Organized Noize (OutKast) - 2000
Won't Let You Down - Kane Beatz (Chamillionaire) - 2007
Gone - Kanye West (Kanye West, Cam'Ron and Consequence) - 2005
What Up, What's Haapnin' - Drumma Boy (T.I.) - 2008
My Block - Nashiem Myrick and Lee Stone (Scarface) - 2003
Get You Some - Dr. Dre (Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip, Marsha Ambrosius) - 2006
Dope Boys - 1500 or Nothin', DJ Quik (Game and Travis Barker) - 2008

Now, the top 10:

10. B.O.B. - Earthtone III (OutKast) - 2000
Dear God,

Please let there be another OutKast album. Soon. Please. It's probably the greatest shit ever. Seriously. Thanks.


9. 99 Problems - Rick Rubin (Jay-Z) 2004
The guitar riff is unbelievable, and 500 times better in concert, when Jay does his big boy shows with a real band, than in digital/disc form. The scratching is a perfect accent to the drums and guitar riff, making this a beat you'll hear for 50 years.

8. Jesus Walks - Kanye West (Kanye West) - 2004
It might be the best rap song of all-time. If you can make a song questioning the philosophical approach to religion... and have PEOPLE PLAY IT IN CLUBS... you've made a fucking incredible song. The choral backdrop is perfectly executed, the drums aren't so fierce that they overpower the lyrics, and the layered secondary drum loop accents the entire track perfectly.

7. Cannon - Don Cannon (T.I. and Lil' Wayne) - 2006
Don Cannon's beats have giant titanium balls that graze the pavement when they walk through the gates of Hell. This song samples Tecmo Super Bowl for God's sake. How fucking awesome is that?

6. Made You Look - Salaam Remi (Nas) - 2002
BOOM! A gunshot, and you're off. The echoing "Bravehearts" grows into a roar before Nasir Jones destroys this ridiculous beat. Once again, an echo on a synth used to perfection. The nuances of sound are accentuated perfectly by Salaam Remi on this beat -- the scratches that have a gradually ascending volume are awesome, the reverse-action after the gunshots in the hook, etc. Timeless hip-hop.

5. Breathe - Just Blaze (Fabolous) - 2004
Just Blaze continues to have some of the sickest keys in the world, and this may be the best example of that. The echo of the vocal sample is flawless, and provides an eerie depth that gives the MC an accent to his lyrics, but not a dominating voice he has to work to overcome. The first time I heard this song, I think I listened to it a dozen times. And I can't stand Fabolous.

4. What You Know - Wonder (T.I.) - 2006
This song is fucking brilliant. There's a reason why it was played to death - the combination of the rumbling bass that reverberates throughout the track, flawless synths and sick hook made it one of my favorite rap singles of all-time. This song also reminds me of about 75 fantastic, friend-and-female-filled, inebriated nights in college.

3. Diamonds From Sierra Leone (Remix) - Kanye West (Kanye West, Jay-Z) - 2005
The first time I heard the OG version of this, I think I hit repeat a dozen times. The sample at the beginning is the perfect tease for the horns and synths that 'Ye drops before letting the drums do their work. The song sounds fit for a concert hall in a genre of strip club producers. The "Hold One Up" sample cut into the verses is brilliantly executed, as well. Lupe Fiasco's version of this song is one of my favorite songs of all-time.

2. It's Okay (One Blood) - Reefa (The Game) - 2005
The best sample of the decade, HANDS DOWN. Maybe the best bass line, too. This shit was so gruesome, it made your speakers bleed melted plastic, and you didn't mind the smell. Anytime a beat doesn't need a hook because the sample is so vicious, it really doesn't matter what is rapped over it. And Game didn't disrespect it, either - it's probably his best song.

1. Grindin' - The Neptunes (Clipse) - 2002
The sheer brilliance... is in its simplicity. The crispness of the drums, simple bass pattern, and incessant resonating clap provide the quintessential backdrop for a verse. The basic instrumental addition in the hook is just enough to put it over the top. It's the rare beat that gets rapped over 10 million times by 10 million different emcees, and one never gets sick of hearing it. My number 1.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Who's the Best to Never Win a Major?

Update: This was updated and put on

Underneath yesterday’s most prominent storyline at Turnberry, another was brewing. Several players who had never won a Major – Lee Westwood included – circled the top of the leaderboard with chances to take home the Claret Jug. Stewart Cink, though probably not at the top of that list yesterday morning, eliminated that possible label for good Sunday. The answer to the question “Who’s the best without a major?” has seemingly been Sergio Garcia for the past several years, but several players have thrown their names into this unenviable ring. So let’s statistically assess this question, and try to come up with an answer.

I’ve come up with a formula that combines PGA TOUR wins, European Tour wins, Top 10 percentage on each tour, Top 10 percentage in Majors as a professional, and assesses a different amount of points for each top-10 finish in a Major championship. For transparency purposes, here’s how my formula shakes out:

(2 + (PGA TOUR top 10 pct)) + (1 + (European Tour top 10 pct)) + PGA TOUR wins + (Euro Tour wins x .5) + (Top 10 pct in Majors x 100) x .25) + (Major points x .1) = Almost Index

Major points are collected like this: players are given points in every Major in which they finished in the top 10, on a scale from 1 to 9. A 2nd place finish is a 9, a T-2nd 8.5, a 3rd gets 8, and so on – with the scale ending at T-10 (.5 points).

Your list of nominees:

Sergio Garcia
OWGR: 5th
PGA TOUR wins: 7
Almost Index: 30.965

Sergio’s staggering list of near-misses in Major championships makes him an easy choice for the label. He may have never finished as the runner-up in a major since Medinah in 1999, but he’s finished in the top 10 on golf’s biggest stage 12 times (29.3 percent of the majors he’s started as a pro). Garcia has made the most of his European Tour appearances, too, finishing in the top ten 45.8 percent of the time he’s teed it up. Garcia has won 7 times on the PGA TOUR, including last year at golf’s ‘fifth major.’ It’s telling though, that the first person he thanked when he won the PLAYERS in 2008 was Tiger Woods – for not being there.

Kenny Perry
OWGR: 4th
PGA TOUR wins: 14
Almost Index: 23.513

Perry’s late career renaissance has made him a compelling figure on the PGA TOUR the last few years. Despite turning pro in 1982, 10 of his 14 wins have come since 2003. Overall, his PGA TOUR top 10 percentage is 17.58, but since 2003, it’s 25.93 percent. We’re taking the whole picture into consideration for our arguments, though. Perry has finished in the top 10 in majors 6 times in his career (13.95 percent of his starts). Everything you may need to know about Perry’s perspective on never winning the big one may come from what he elected to do last year – skip the Open Championship in a strategic move that gave him a better shot at playing for the U.S. Ryder Cup team in his native Kentucky.

Lee Westwood
OWGR: 14th
PGA TOUR wins: 1
Almost Index: 20.898

Another Sunday in the spotlight for Westwood – another disappointing finish. Twice in the last 2 years now he’s been on golf’s biggest stage: he played in the final group with Tiger Woods at the ’08 U.S. Open, missing a putt on the 72nd hole that would have made him the third member of that memorable Monday playoff; and yesterday, when he found himself on top of the leaderboard at Turnberry, only to falter down the stretch. Westwood now has 7 top-10 finishes in Majors, good enough for 36.5 major points on our scale. He has 18 career European tour wins, and has finished in the top 10 in nearly 40 percent of his starts. On the Almost Index, though, he’s not quite on the level of Mr. Garcia.

Steve Stricker
OWGR: 6th
PGA TOUR wins: 6
Almost Index: 18.255

Steve Stricker is another testament to the value of grinding. He’s enjoying his second career multi-win season this year on TOUR, with the other coming in 1996. After finishing in the top 10 just 3 times from 2002-2005, he’s done it 29 times in the last 4 years. In majors, he’s finished in the top ten 5 times since the 2006 U.S. Open, but never better than T-6th in that span. Despite finishing T-52nd at the Open this year, he’s your new leader atop the FedExCup standings. Stricker’s mid-career lull hurts his Almost Index number, but the fact that he’s ascended as high as 3rd in the OWGR says his ‘comeback’ has evolved into staying power in golf’s top tier.

Paul Casey
OWGR: 3rd
PGA TOUR wins: 1
Almost Index: 13.827

His resume isn’t as long as the other names on this list, but I’d be remiss if I did not mention the 3rd ranked player on earth. Casey picked up his first career PGA TOUR win in Houston this year, and has finished in the top ten 3 times, including at the WGC Match Play, where he was runner-up to Geoff Ogilvy. He’s got 48 European Tour top 10 finishes, and 9 wins across the pond. However, Casey’s best finish in a major is T-6th a the 2004 Masters, and he’s only finished in the top 10 in majors 4 times (15.38 percent of his starts as a pro).

So the verdict is in, and it remains Sergio Garcia. The formula says Kenny Perry may be closer to Garcia than people think. However, I don’t think Perry is disappointed to finish runner-up here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

When a Public Figure Dies

No one wants to speak ill of those who are deceased, yet I always find the same consistently bizarre development when someone in the public eye passes away. Bizarre to me, anyway.

Human beings immediately develop a sense of fond remembrance for people when they die. No one wants to remember negative aspects of someones life. It's one of the few endearing parts about human nature that never gets noticed.

This act is consistent with the immediate legacy of someone in the public eye. In the last few hours, this has been readily apparent to me with the death of Michael Jackson. Here is a man who's persona has literally been possessed by the public for in excess of 30 years. Everything he's done since adolescence has been analyzed by people. Shotty check-out line publications funded their entire payroll off hearsay regarding him.

For my entire time on Earth as a thinking, functioning person, Michael Jackson has been dubbed grade-A, bat shit insane by most people. I'm 24. I wasn't around for the peak of Thriller, or the Jackson 5. Obviously, I'm well aware of his musical catalog, but for my entire life, he's just been an aging entertainer tied up in legal battles regarding child molestation. THAT'S my overwhelming impression of him.

To hear people's reaction to this news, though, you would think he was a Verile, mid-twenties superstar, with his hand on the pulse of music. "Shock?" "Surreal?" Seriously, how is this a shock? The man has looked like a zombie for a decade. I feel for any loved ones when they lose someone who passes away, but how can the public express shock at this news?

My point is not to berate Michael Jackson. It's that I can't help but be fascinated every time a public figure passes away, people share this unified sense of humanity. This invariably leads to people narrowing their view of a person's life into a myopic, flowery image that best suits whatever glowing impression the deceased DID make on their lives.

When Tupac Shakur passed away I was 11, and he was my favorite musician. I of course paid no mind to his assault charges, nefarious actions, etc. I was 1) sad my favorite rapper was gone, and 2) invariably thought about my own death, which unfortunately I did way too much as a kid. I say this because he was probably the most personal example I can recall of a public figure dying that I was most saddened by.

People will wax poetic for several days and weeks about Michael Jackson. His musical legacy is obviously impossible to deny. But as is the case with everyone who dies, the public perspective on them glistens less as time goes on. The haze of human emotion that clouds their immediate legacy drifts away in time.

Just something I find interesting anytime the world loses a public figure.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I Co-Sign Charles Hamilton

I'm usually pretty good at staying up on new music, but I've realized recently there's a couple of new rappers that I hadn't heard of, and may be more famous than I expected. I don't read music publications really anymore - there's only so much media one human can consume, and with all the sports and news shows I watch...well there are only so many hours in a day.

That being said, I got this mixtape the other day and have listened to it 3 times already. This kid Charles Hamilton is very original and apparently pretty prolific. I share because I love:

Download torrent file here

Ninos del Infiernos, Negative Zero and I'm Good are probably my 3 favorite tracks on the album.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Why I Choose Sports

In journalism school, I never felt like I fit in anywhere. Ever. In any sense of the word.

This isn't to say I didn't like many aspects of my experience there. At the risk of exposing vast dorkiness, I will openly say my favorite parts of the whole thing were the lectures and debates we had in classes regarding ethics, newsworthiness, and journalism's place in democracy. I always thought the faculty was great, and many of them I will admire for a long while to come. It was the vast majority of the students I encountered there that I found completely arrogant and insufferable.

Saying this doesn't worry me, because 1) nobody will read this anyway, and 2) my J-school friends should know who they are, and I'm not worried about alienating them. If I like you, you're aware of it. If not, you're aware of that too. One of the most ferociously aggravating things I experienced there was the perception many people there had of sports, and the people who cover them.

Oh, sports are cute. They're not important. They're what you do if you aren't chiseled and intelligent enough to cover hard news. Sports fans are empty-minded, moronic and slow-witted. Those interested in working in sports media for a living are an extrapolation from those who consume them, meaning they're equally incompetent and immature.

Well, at least that's what it seemed like they were saying. This forced me to feel the need to constantly defend sports, mostly to no avail, amid a sea of silver-spoon-fed, utterly disconnected individuals unlike any I had ever met in my life. Clearly, I had come from a different past than these people. My favorite analogy describing the experience was this - they grew up reading the New Yorker, I grew up reading the Houston Chronicle's sports section. And they knew it.

The truth is, I CHOSE to work in sports for a variety of reasons. I was never forced or obligated to. I don't idolize athletes or coaches. I'm not transfixed by the primal desires of money, fame and glory that often come in sports. My tiny brain can handle more than a baseball box score - and for the record, partisan politics are much simpler to decipher than a zone blitz. There are a myriad of other reasons I would rather talk about the stronger points of running a Tampa 2 defense than to a politician putting the spin cycle on the day's minutiae.

The most significant and pleasing difference between sports and the rest of the world is FINALITY. There is a concrete element in sports - whether it be statistical or at the conclusion of a season - that does not exist in other facets of news coverage. For example, in politics, any facts or figures can be spun to adhere to a certain perspective. Regardless of what the numbers are, they are all relative, and can be presented in a manner that supports a certain viewpoint.

To a smaller extent, this exists in sports - but the bottom line is always WINNING and LOSING, a definite, polarizing outcome in competition that separates success from failure. There is no line of winning and losing in art, culture, politics, or even war (particularly the one we're in now) - just events that blur together in an endless calendar of cause and effect. Merits of a war are debated for decades; elections and political tactics and discussions thereof inevitably reach an unwavering standstill of partisanship. Sports give us the definite, the conclusive - finality.

This finality is so much more appealing to me than going to city hall and being lied to everyday. The conclusiveness of a season is the closing of a book - one that will always have another volume added that next spring, fall or winter. The characters and human interest stories generated from athletics represent all facets of society, and engender some of the most inspiring writing and journalism in America today. Sports give you definitive context, endless story lines, human drama, captivating rivalries, and the excitement that can be utterly void from many other forms of journalism.

And that's why I choose sports.

For the record, I'm proud to have graduated from the Mizzou J-School. And when I go back, I'll visit with my professors. I'll also go to a football game and grab a beer at Harpo's. But you people I never liked are better than that, so I won't have to worry about seeing you there.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

C.C. 2008 vs. Unit 1998

I have long been a fan of C.C. Sabathia. I was a fan of David Wells, Rich Garces, and other large pitchers, but Sabathia is easily my favorite of the group. This most likely stems from my experience as an un-svelte right-handed pitcher with back problems, a mediocre fastball, and self-created slurve that I threw 75% of the time.

My favorite comparison between Sabathia's success this season as a Milwaukee Brewer, coincidentally and happily, is Randy Johnson's 1998 stint with the Astros. Less you forget, Johnson was acquired from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Carlos Guillen, Freddy Garcia and John Halama. He proceeded to mutilate the National League for the remainder of the year, going 10-1 with a 1.28 ERA and 116 strikeouts, making the Astros (*cough*) presumptive trendy World Series picks entering the post-season. Unfortunately, they ran into roid-raging Kevin Brown and the best performances of Sterling Hitchcock's life - losing to the Padres in the NLDS.

Here's the tale of the tape between Sabathia and Unit entering Carsten Charles' start against the Fathers tonight in SD:

Through first 7 starts:

2008 C.C.

W-L: 6-0
ERA: 1.58
CG/SHO: 4/2
K/BB: 52/12
Opp BA: .200

Height: 6'7"
Throws: Left
From... AL to NL Central

1998 Unit

W-L: 6-1
ERA: 1.17
CG/SHO: 3/3
K/BB: 71/14
Opp BA: .183

Height: 6'10"
Throws: Left
From... AL to NL Central

I am Justin Ray, supreme baseball dork.