Hippidy Hop

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  1. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    I don’t even know what to say about Chance the Rapper.

    Does he like to watch?Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy
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    Chris,

    Great intro! You cover a ton of ground.

    A few questions:
    1.) When listening and determining a particular artist’s talent, do you tend to focus more on one of the traditional components of rap, namely flow, beat, lyrics, or content? For me, the beat is always what gets me, which is probably why I hold Kanye is as high esteem as I do. His weakest area has always been his lyrics (I get that word play is big in rap… but, seriously man, enough is enough!) but his beats, as you note with all the work he’s done for other people, have always been phenomenal. Curious your thoughts on the matter.
    2.) How do you discuss NoLa rap and not mention Juvenile? I mean, I know he is and was Juvenile and that so much of his work was seemingly about women shaking their asses, but he was the first guy to really take NoLa-style to the mainstream. And he introduced us to Weezy, something I am eternally grateful for (though I realize he remains a point of contention). More seriously, something I appreciated about Juvenile was the video aesthetic he achieved for his two major hits (“Back that Azz Up” and “Slow Motion”). No, no… not the ass shaking (though there is plenty of that)… but the venues he shot in I think broke the idea that black/hip-hop culture’s (and by extension, black people) exclusive domain was ghetto urban wastelands. He doesn’t go the bling-bling hyper affluence route, but showed a part of hip-hop culture that always resonated with me because it was more representative of my own experiences than much of else what was going on. I grew up in a suburb of NY with a large population, so house parties, block parties, and park BBQs were what I knew and is what he shows. I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well but it always resonated with me.
    3.) Thank you for mentioning NAS. For whatever reason, he never seems to get his due. I can’t figure it out. He crossed into the mainstream without selling out and gets his critical due while having a style that is accessible more casual fans… yet he rarely is recognized for being one of the best ever. Any thoughts on that?Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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      Kazzy, thank you.

      1.) It depends. To me, there are two categories of rap (they have fuzzy boundaries, so there’s a lot of overlap): rap for dancing and conversational rap. For the former, I always hear the beats and flow first, for the latter it’s the flow and the lyrics. An example of the latter (which I link not just because I love to hear Anna Wise’s voice; she does a couple songs with CunninLynguists and a short verse on a Kendrick Lamar song). Kanye is somewhere in between, and sometimes he has really good lyrics (his first album is full of them, and his recent one is as well, plus I always crack up at the line, “What you think I rap for, to push a f____in’ Rav4?”). Most of the New Orleans stuff I listen to (there’s some A$AP Rocky on the playlist) is strictly for the beat, and it’s meant to dance to. Curren$y is an exception.

      2.) I probably should have mentioned Juvenile, but New Orleans rap really only became ascendant with Lil Wayne. There was a time, really up until about a year ago, when I couldn’t turn on rap radio for 20 minutes and not hear either a Lil Wayne song or a song featuring Lil Wayne. It drove me crazy, because I’m not really a fan. But now everyone is imitating that “Young Money” sound, and the style too (you know that thing that Weezy and Drake do where they complete the sentence without a rhyme and then throw end an associated word at the end for the rhyme). For the same reason, I should have said something about Scarface (he’s on the playlist, though), because he’s pretty much the godfather of mainstream southern hip hop.
      Oh, I should note that one of the big factors in the spread of New Orleans hip hop was Katrina. I’d never really heard much of the New Orleans style, particularly the stuff made for line dancing in clubs, until several thousand young people were transplanted in Austin in the days and weeks after Katrina. I remember going to a club in early 2006 that had, up to that point, been mostly Houston hip hop, and then hearing stuff that was unlike I’d ever heard before, and seeing people (well, women) do a dance that was unlike anything I’d ever seen before (basically versions of the stanky legg). At the time I hated it, because a lot of it is a beat and some hastily constructed lines about purple or weed, but I’ve grown to appreciate it, and it’s gotten more sophisticated as its spread.

      3.) Nas is the greatest rapper of all time, period. No one has come close to Illmatic (an album with great beats, great flows, and some of the best lyrics ever), and his post-Illmatic stuff has with few exceptions been spectacular as well. One of the things that I find most impressive about Nas is that in pretty much every different hip hop crowd, you’ll find people who will say that Nas is their favorite rapper. I can’t think of anyone else like that. He transcends various cultural, age, and taste differences.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        Re: Lil’ Wayne

        Given how much he and Drake collaborated and how much Drake emulates Lil’ Wayne, there were a number of songs where I just threw up my hands and was like, “I don’t even know or care which is which.”

        Re: Nas

        Your point that everyone seems to recognize Nas’s brilliance is what I was attempting to get at. Yet he’s never won a Grammy (despite many nominations) and while many albums have gone #1, he’s never had a single reach even top 10 and only one reach #1 on the rap charts. While his brilliance is undeniable, he never seems to have reached the very, very forefront of the genre. He’s someone that if you ask people to name top rappers, a lot of people will forget, and then if you go, “What about Nas?” the response is, “Oh crap, how did I forget about Nas?” It’s just a weird phenomenon I can’t quite put my finger on.

        While we’re at it, when you refer to him as the best “rapper”, what do you mean? I think this goes back to my first question. Are you referring to his literal skills as a rapper, that is writing and delivering lyrics specifically? Or do you mean that he makes the best rap music?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        I should say best rap artist. There are better rappers out there, as in people who can rap faster or freestyle better or whatever, but he puts out the best rap music.

        And I frequently have those “Is this Lil Wayne or Drake” moments. They are such different people, though. Have you ever seen the leaked tape a Lil Wayne deposition? I can’t imagine Drake doing that.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        It is interesting that we have to break down what we mean by “best” when talking about rappers. I think it shows how the genre is somewhat different than others. And it isn’t just defining “best” but defining the process.

        “The Beatles are the greatest band ever.” Agree or disagree, you know what they’re saying.
        “Hendrix is the greatest guitarist every.” Again, very clear.
        “Nas is the best rapper ever.” A lot less clear. The fact that many rappers don’t write their own beats, making producers and, before them, DJs, integral in a way that they are not in rock music complicates things.Report

  3. Avatar Glyph
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    Sorry so late to comment on this great piece. My kids were sick and now so am I, so I am thinking, reading, and writing slow, plus I wanted a chance to listen to all the embedded tracks.

    Aside from Black Star and Vadim, this is all pretty much new to me. I liked Kendrick Lamar, Chance and Big K.R.I.T. best.

    I was worried about the large number of the blatant drug references in the tracks I chose for my piece.

    After this, I am…no longer worried these are outliers. Holy cow.

    Also, totally random connection, but AFAIK, Nas is the only rapper to ever get name-checked in an Afghan Whigs song:

    Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph
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      I thought about figuring out the percentage of songs I listen to in a given day that make drug references — purple, kush, tree, blunts, etc. — but realized that, since I’m just sitting here listening to my Chance the Rapper station on Pandora, I’d be writing down references constantly. And this is all stuff you might hear on the radio… the mainstream hip hop radio.Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko
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    Well, I have to say “Thank you,” because you’ve served up a feast for me here. One which I will have to defer listening to because I first find this at work, and the overwhelming majority of what you’ve posted is clearly marked “unsuitable for the office environment.” And I’ll feel terrible if when I get home and I listen to most of it and then decide partway through that it isn’t really for me after all. Or at least, I would if I didn’t suspect that putting it all together was a pleasure for you.

    Nevertheless, it’s an important part of our culture and the primer is worthy. So… awesome, dude.Report

  5. Avatar NewDealer
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    Here are some thoughts and that kind of relate to tagents on the Babbit thread.

    I was born in 1980. This makes me part of this first generation (or second) that knew about hip-hop and grew up with it always being around.

    IIRC, hip-hop was one of the dominant forms (if not thee dominant form) of music listened to at my upper-middle class suburban high school. My upper middle class suburban high school was overwhelmingly Jewish and Asian.

    I was not one of the kids who listened to hip-hop. I sort of fit in with the punk rockers but not really. My musical tastes quickly went to what we would now call indie rock/pop. The type of stuff released by labels like Merge, Kill Rock Stars, Matador, etc. It always felt more relatable to me over the lyrical content of hip-hop. I was always one of the kids who thought it was kind of odd that all of my safe and suburban compatriots would try to mimic hip-hop fashions (to a point) and such.

    I agree that music and culture can bridge gaps between people with radically different experiences and hopefully bridge understanding but at what point does it merely become appropriation and trying to be “adolescent tough” to listen to hip-hop. What is the requisite level of awareness.

    Though I will admit that it is probably easier to dance to JZ than The Decemberists or Belle and Sebastian.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to NewDealer
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      I don’t think that listening to a music is appropriation.
      Adopting styles, and trying to act like you’re… Indonesian, say?
      That’s appropriation.
      I’d hardly think someone singing Enka made them old and fuddyduddy…
      (even if they’re black and from pittsburgh).Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kim
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        Kim,

        I agree but the problem of hip-hop is that it also involves a lot of style appropriation. Though this might be true of all rock forms.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim
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        Newdealer,
        One walks an uneasy line when one appropriates other people’s artforms.
        Escaflowne had a bagpipe solo in its OST. I think it worked, and worked well.

        I think we often fail to recognize when subcultures appropriate broader cultural tropes. (Shaft being an example of the AA community appropriating the Private Eye trope). It doesn’t trouble us, perhaps because of the ability of subcultures to assert their own authenticity through use of distinctive language and other characteristics.

        Vanilla White always has the problem of getting “lost” in its appropriation, taking up too much of what someone else has, and losing itself.

        One can absolutely create something that sits well within another style: Elfen Lied’s opening theme music sits squarely within the Latin Liturgical tradition… http://www.animelyrics.com/anime/elfenlied/lilium.htm

        I’d say theme-clash is more important than identity clash (on that note, I’d love to hear what you think about US Killbotics soundtrack). But you can see what I listen to.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to NewDealer
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      If you’re dancing to the Decemberists, you’re doing it wrong.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Chris
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        does writhing in pain count?

        i think chance is very interesting, but i have to chuck pretty much all hip hop in the bin of “things i can’t listen to with a kid around”. which sucks but whatevs.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        Hip hop was meant to be listened to in a club or with headphones on. Presumably you don’t take your kids to clubs, and…Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        Also, Chance is 20, and has so far only released two really popular mixtapes. The first one was recorded while he was still in high school. In fact, it’s called #10 Day, because it came about during a 10-day suspension for skipping school. His second mixtape, Acid Rap, was released back in April, and is really friggin’ good. It’s both really accessible and at the same time odd enough to be interesting over multiple listens. And he’s gotten enough attention (and a pretty big tour) out of this mixtape that I suspect he’s going to keep at it, and I’m hoping he’s only going to get more interesting as he continues to find his voice.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        My ability to listen is greatly hampered by the fact that I can never listen to it at work. Even when the kids are gone, it is hard to listen to admits middle-aged white folks, most of whom skew conservative. It tends to be what I put on during long car rides.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        My son’s old enough that I don’t mind listening to most of it while he’s around, though I do try to avoid most of the obvious references to drugs (I’m hoping he doesn’t get most of the less obvious ones), and most of the blatant sexism, though we’ve actually had a few conversations about sexism in hip hop. I mean, his mom cusses more than any hip hop artist, so it’s not like hearing a bunch of F-words is going to affect him, and he probably understands the nuances of the n-word better than I do.

        That said, I still mostly listen to rap with headphones on. Part of that is the bass/beats. I don’t have great speakers, but I have some nice headphones, and I like bass. I also find it’s easier to listen to the lyrics with the music right in your ear. That’s how I know that Talib Kweli is probably the only artist whose referred to all three of these writers at least once: Octavia Butler, Toni Morrison, and Milan Kundera.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        Given that we’re already pretty certain Mayonnaise’s first word will be the N-word, what with watching “Django Unchained” with him in the room when he was less than a week old, I’m working my way through your playlist with him in the room. He really, really enjoyed dancing to “Straight Outa Compton”.

        I have to assume I’m in the front running for Parent of the Year at this point.Report

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Chris
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        “Hip hop was meant to be listened to in a club or with headphones on. Presumably you don’t take your kids to clubs, and…”

        well 1) that’s a weird stance to have and 2) i can’t wear headphones except on the train and the train is going away from my life like a lover who can’t stay not because she needs to leave but because i have to go.

        but more seriously, i’m trying to avoid having a 3 year old who looks like the aryan nation’s poster child (blonde hair, blue eyes, unwavering belief in racial purity, difficulty understanding epigenetic phenomenon as it relates to iq, etc) engage in racial invective. it’s a miracle given where we live that he hasn’t picked it up yet, given how easily he took to certain swear terms and how common it is amongst the yutes here.

        but we’re moving to the south*, and i would reeeaaaaaaaaaaaalllllly like to not get into that shit until we have to get into it. i know mike dwyer just crushed a scotch glass with his hand and all that but given what i know about our soon to be neighbors already i am not pleased on that front.**

        * not the south, according to those from further south. the south, according to those in the south. the south, according to me, as that starts around new brunswick, nj.

        ** two of them told us 100% seriously that they would “keep an eye” on the muslim family that just moved next door for us.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        dhex,

        Radio edits scrub themselves of most offensive terms, including the N-word, sexist or homophobic slurs, and most drug references. If you can find those, while you won’t get the FULL effect of the song, they’ll give you a wider berth for listening.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        dhex, I’m mostly being facetious about the club or headphones thing (when I’m home, I mostly just listen on the stereo these days), though I do think hip hop works best in one of those two contexts (a boom box next to your ear will also work). I understand your reluctance, though.

        Also, where South? Maryland? Plus, you really should watch out for the Muslim family next door… they might invite you for tea!Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to NewDealer
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      ND, I am nearly a decade older than you. My generation was the one in which hip-hop was the “new” thing (well, it was just “rap music” then). My cousins, Southern white boys to the bone, took to rap with a vengeance (I may have mentioned that they formed their own rap crew).

      Me, not so much. I liked the occasional track (and I liked Run-DMC quite a bit), but I’ll admit I was one of the many that figured rap mostly had to be just a passing fad (“Let me get this straight…you just take the beat from another song, then you basically talk over it? Sure, it seems fun, but how far can you really take that concept?”). I was still all about Van Halen’s 1984.

      It wasn’t until I got to college and my dorm-mate/friend from Miami really exposed me to where it was then (post-PE) , that I started to somewhat get it. It was also helpful that the music was also going through a hugely creatively-fertile time, with all sorts of experimentation in what kinds of samples and themes and and beats you could use (jazzy stuff, hippie stuff, horror movie imagery – hey, anybody remember Gravediggaz? Also, it strikes me how often Prince Paul was involved in these different permutations).

      If there’s one thing I would like people to take away from these articles, it’s the idea that if you think hip-hop is just one thing, it’s not. There are many, many facets and threads to it, and chances are there is at least one that might conceivably speak to your experiences.

      Regarding the mimicking of the fashions and cultures, it’s not really any different from people who like rockabilly music dressing like ’50s greasers, is it?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph
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        If there’s one thing I would like people to take away from these articles, it’s the idea that if you think hip-hop is just one thing, it’s not.

        +a gazillionReport

      • Avatar dhex in reply to Glyph
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        “hey, anybody remember Gravediggaz?”

        that’s when the minister
        creased my jaw with a cold glass of vinegar

        (internet tells me it’s “quinched” but that’s not how we heard it. i like my version better)Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph
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        Yea, this series should be read as how four people feel about hip hop, not any sort of definitive statement on either the musical genre or the broader culture from which it grew.Report

  6. Avatar Kazzy
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    So I’m working my way through your playlist, sometimes just getting through part of a song because other things are getting in the way. And here is the thing… I’m listening to Chance’s “Juice” and thinking, “Wow, this guy is really good. He’s got a unique sound but isn’t so far out there that I have to figure him out. I actually could see him going mainstream and being successful. Like, having listened just once, I *really* like it.

    But then I get to “All Falls Down” by Kanye and I’m just like, “This is just on another level.” Maybe it is, as I mention elsewhere, that I tend to go to beat/music before flow and rhyme that sets it apart, and the former is what Kanye excels at.

    So, yea, I don’t know that I really have a point as much as I’m just sharing my experience. Or maybe I just like Kanye a bit too much.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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      That is a really good song. I remember hearing it and thinking, “He just said he’s insecure! Well, he said insecurr, but still… no one in rap says they’re insecure.” That song is like rap going to a therapist.

      Also, Chance is 20 (he recorded “Juice” when he was 19). I think he’ll get there, though he’ll probably never have the mass appeal that Kanye does. And he’s already really fun.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        One thing I know about myself and music is that I’m a sucker for big horns and big pipes. Kanye employs a lot of both, relatively speaking. Outkast and its members did as well. I am very fond of the lot of ’em.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        I like the maximalism that’s big among the midwest types like Kanye and Lupe and especially Kid Cudi. It’s not just the horns and stuff, but the wall of sound generally. That’s why I dig that Kudi-MGMT-Ratatat song. I mean, I already dig Ratatat, with their organs and stuff, and when you add rapping over it, I think it’s pretty much perfect, even if it’s really, really pop. Cudi did a couple other songs with Ratatat (one’s just Cudi rapping over Ratatat’s “Loud Pipes”), but the other one is also pretty cool (I hope this works):

        Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        It did not work. The song is here:

        Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        The more an artist can do to make a song sound like a full marching band is involved, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

        I think that is why I like Big Boi’s Speakerboxxx so much.Report

  7. Avatar Kazzy
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    Can we talk about “Paris” for a minute? We can? Cool.

    Okay. I like the song. It’s good… easy to listen to, easy to dance to. It gets a bit silly at the end with the mechanical monster/smoke monster sounds but, whatever, it’s catchy.

    But how do you pick that song over “Otis”? How does ANYONE pick that song over “Otis”? How “Paris” got so much more airplay than “Otis” will remain one of the biggest mysteries of my life. Are we listening to the same songs??? “Otis” got more critical acclaim but “Paris” seemed to have more mainstream appeal… and I know I’m more of a “mainstream guy”, but even I could see that “Otis” was vastly superior to “Paris”. Or am I taking crazy pills? What made you choose “Paris” for your list? Why didn’t you choose “Otis”? Why doesn’t everyone choose “Otis” for whatever list they are creating?

    Or did I call dibs on “Otis” during one of our many email exchanges and forget? Man, I sure hope not.Report

  8. Avatar Chris
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    Paris (I find it kinda amusing that we’re calling it that, but I can’t think of any better way to refer to it) is one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard, except that unlike 99% of catchy songs, it’s not really that bad. “That shit cray” gets stuck in my head just thinking about it. I figure if you can listen to that song and still say, “OK, there is no hip hop anywhere that appeals to me at all. I mean, I can’t even smile at this,” then hip hop just ain’t for you. It’s not the best song on that album, but it’s soooooo easy and catchy.

    It’s also how I feel about that Brother Ali song linked in the post. It is in no way the best Brother Ali song, but man, every time I hear it I smile. I mean, I just smile. It’s that kinda song. I kinda feel like Paris is too, though it helps that every time I hear it I think of the video of that dude on the subway singing along.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEwmywm6S7k

    “You might think I’m depressed as can be, but when I look in the mirror I see sexy ass me!”

    “Imma be alright, you ain’t gotta be my friend tonight. I’mma be OK, you would probably bore me anyway.”Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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      I’m pretty sure “Paris” was how they referred to it on the radio. Perhaps my perception was colored by a local radio promotion involving the song, wherein they’d replace the second half of the line “What’d she order?/Fish filet” with something else that rhymed, e.g., “Tea Earl Grey”. People then had to call in with the adjusted lyric to win. Intentional or not, it pointed out just how silly the lyrics were.

      And, yea, the ending still makes me think of “The Iron Giant.”

      When I first heard “Otis”, I hummed it all day. Also, the video is awesome. I’ll discuss that in my post. Does me talking about music videos… Do people still watch those?Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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        Ah, that may be. I don’t listen to the radio much, except Pandora, so I don’t hear how they refer to songs. What do they do with pretty much anything by A$AP Rocky? I mean, do they just bleep out all of the drug references, leaving the words “the”, “a”, and “Rocky”?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy
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        Yea, the radio edits really change things. Songs like “Paris” and those which basically have choruses full of inappropriate words take on an entirely different form. It’s almost like a completely different song after a while.Report

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