Thank you for this, RZA. Thank you, Vanity Fair. Thank you to everyone who made this video happen. One of the coolest Wu-Tang clips you'll ever see.
Saturday, September 7, 2019
Thank you for this, RZA. Thank you, Vanity Fair. Thank you to everyone who made this video happen. One of the coolest Wu-Tang clips you'll ever see.
Sunday, June 30, 2019
Freddie Gibbs ft Yasiin Bey & Black Thought
Produced by Madlib
I'll take Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) over dusty Madlib beats all day. Black Thought rhyming on a Madlib track sounds fresh too. And the Madlib sounds remains as gloriously lo-fi and cassette tape fuzzy as always. Which reminds me, it seems we've heard less and less from Madlib the last few years. Need to get back to that ten album per year pace he was maintaining for a while. You know he's got the material.
Great video covering vast territory in art history in a brief amount of time with extraordinary clarity, highlighting one of Jackson Pollock's finest pieces. This guy Nerdwriter really does fantastic work. Watch this fullscreen.
Sunday, June 23, 2019
The last time I posted on this blog was back on March 30th, three months ago, where I offered my predictions for how the National League would shape out in the 2019 baseball season including an exceedingly optimistic take on the New York Mets. Since we're now just about at the halfway mark of the season (the Mets played their 78th game today) here's how this frustrating, underperforming team stacks up. (Edit: I wrote this right before all the drama of the Mets' excruciating loss to the Cubs that Sunday at Wrigley Field and the subsequent Mickey Callaway blowup against a reporter that has seemingly sent the Mets deeper into a tailspin ever since.)
37-41 (4th in NL East, 9.0 games back)
Overall their standing looks pretty bleak for a team that had boasted about contending this year. New GM Brodie Van Wagenen made a bunch of moves in the offseason and spent a chunk of money, but his moves haven't amounted to much. Everyone he added to the roster has been either injured or disappointing with the sole exception of J.D. Davis, a minor leaguer acquired from the Astros who has been a solid corner bat for the Mets but who is also the worst defensive player on the team. That's been a theme for this squad. Even though their season has been a massive disappointment thus far compared to expectations, the Mets have actually been a pretty solid ballclub in most facets of the game, except their bullpen has been shaky at times and bad defense is killing them.
According to Fangraphs' wRC+ metric (which takes all offensive production into account and adjusts for league and ballpark), the Mets offense has been 13th best in baseball, solidly average. Their 101 wRC+ also ranks 5th in the National League, behind only the Cubs, Brewers, Dodgers, and Braves---that is, three first place teams and the Brewers who are 41-36. Led by a quartet of reliably effective homegrown hitters in Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Jeff McNeil, and Dominic Smith along with the aforementioned J.D. Davis and a resurgent Todd Frazier (who is batting .302/.417/.512 with same number of walks and strikeouts since May 25th), the Mets offense has been surprisingly good. Their only glaring problem on the offensive side is that they run into outs on the bases way too often; many a Mets rally has been stifled by over-aggressive base-running. Also, they've gotten very little from Robinson Cano, Amed Rosario, and Juan Lagares at the plate, all of them with OBPs below .300. If any of them start getting on base more consistently, the depth of this offense could carry the team through rough stretches.
While the overall production of the Mets' starting rotation has seemed very disappointing with a collective ERA of 4.37 that ranks 17th in MLB (just a bit better than both the Braves and Phillies), their fielding-independent numbers are actually pretty strong. Their FIP (fielding-independent pitching) of 4.02 ranks 9th in baseball and 6th in the NL. So, despite the rotation failing to meet expectations thus far this year, they've still basically pitched better than all but five teams in the National League. The pitchers have been hurt by a shaky defense. Noah Syndergaard and Zach Wheeler especially appear to have suffered from defensive ineptitude. Another big factor affecting this rotation has been the long ball. Home runs have skyrocketed league-wide because of a juiced ball, but the Mets have been especially hurt by this environment---their presumed top four starters (Jacob deGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler, and Steven Matz) all have sky-high rates of home runs per fly balls allowed that are above their career norms. Somehow, soft-tossing lefty Jason Vargas, who Mets fans all wanted cut from the roster not too long ago, has given up the lowest HR/FB rate on the staff and helped stabilize a free-falling team recently (this before blowing up at a reporter like an asshole and not apologizing, helping throw the team into its worst stretch so far).
Here lies the source of Mets fans' greatest fury and disgust this season. The bullpen has been ghastly, with a collective 5.28 ERA that ranks 28th among in MLB. More advanced metrics show the Mets bullpen among the worst in the league. They have had some excruciating, heartbreaking losses where they've blown leads late. Stuck in my memory are the Edwin Diaz meltdowns against the Dodgers and Cardinals, in the latter game the Mets had a 2-run lead with 2 outs in the 9th and still ended up losing. Bad fielding has hurt the relievers a bit, but mainly they've just pitched poorly. Free agent signings Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson were supposed to shore up the late innings, but Familia has been an abomination (7.81 ERA with almost 7 walks per 9 innings) and Wilson appeared in just 10 games before getting injured. This bullpen has also given up a ton of home runs, superstar closer Edwin Diaz is currently surrendering 1.52 homers per 9 innings, more than double what he allowed last season. The only reliable arm out of the bullpen has been Seth Lugo who has a 2.23 ERA and has mostly kept the ball in the yard, but is a somewhat limited relief weapon because he can't pitch on consecutive days. I should point out that scrap-heap pickup Wilmer Font somehow has a 0.69 ERA, though he's pitched only 13 innings of mostly mop-up work. Right-hander Robert Gsellman has been ridden hard, throwing the most innings out of the bullpen so far, even though he's pitched terribly with runners on base: with the bases empty he's allowed a .244 batting average and a 4.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio, with runners on he gets hit for a .297 average and the K/BB ratio drops to 1.75.
The Mets have shifted some things around in attempt to help the bullpen (including putting $60 million relief arm Jeurys Familia on the injured list twice to basically get his head straight) and recently fired both their pitching coach and bullpen coach. With talented arms like Diaz, Lugo and Gsellman at the back end, they can't possibly be this bad for the entire season. As I mentioned in my team preview, they need to be open to using Diaz more often. Gsellman is no fireman. Lugo has limited availability. Diaz has fallen apart at times, but his stuff remains elite and one way to get him back on track will be to bring him in to pitch more often. Among all NL relievers, Diaz is 43rd in innings pitched (for comparison, Gsellman and Lugo are in the top 10). He's been the 20th most valuable relief pitcher in the National League by WAR but has pitched fewer innings than anyone in the top 20. The Mets aren't lacking for high leverage innings late in games. It's time to start using Diaz more flexibly, and approach every game like it matters down the stretch.
This has been the great weakness of this Mets team. Even when the offense performs well and the pitching holds it together, they have often been undone by a bad defense. It's going to be very hard for this team to compete when they've got one of the worst fielding shortstops in the league in Amed Rosario (who's been horrible in the field by any metric and by the eyeball test) and, according to Baseball Prospectus' catcher stats, one of the game's worst defensive catchers behind the plate in Wilson Ramos. You just can't succeed with abysmal defense at vital up-the-middle positions. The Mets rank second-to-last in MLB in defensive runs saved. Even with an improved bullpen, this kind of inability to turn balls in play into outs will sabotage a season. Is there anything they can do to address this issue? News that the Mets are considering moving Rosario to center field is promising---he can be replaced at shortstop by Adeiny Hechavarria who's a solid fielder and has even hit a little bit. They will need to stop using J.D. Davis at third base because he's completely incapable of handling the hot corner. Otherwise, they're kinda stuck with this bunch. Ramos was just signed long-term and he's been a bad defensive catcher for a while now. I guess they can spell him for backup Tomas Nido more often but Nido is a zero with the bat. The overall verdict is that this is an extremely flawed roster that needs a highly creative, adaptable manager pushing the buttons in order to succeed and they do not have that. Something's going to change sooner than later. Either they bring in a more creative decision maker or they keep playing badly and the team gets dismantled. Unfortunately, the latter is more likely.
Saturday, March 30, 2019
|Brodie Van Wagenen and the Mets' newest stars, Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. And that other guy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)|
Whereas picking the American League winners is a little boring because the difference between the haves and the have-nots is so stark, the National League in 2019 has the potential for all kinds of surprises. Besides the Marlins, Giants, and Diamondbacks, every team has some potential playoff to be in the playoff mix. The October 2019 standings in the NL Central can be scrambled any which way looking at it from now. Same with the NL East (leaving aside the Marlins). It's tough to make a final determination on how things will end up here but this entire exercise is completely meaningless anyway so let's have fun with it.
(PECOTA projections from here)
PECOTA: 87 wins
My pick: Over
Hiring a former agent with no front office experience to be their new GM initially seemed like an odd, potentially disastrous move for the Mets. When he immediately pulled off a huge trade adding two superstars, then built up an impressively deep and versatile roster, I became a believer in Brodie Van Wagenen. (His hiring of renowned stats guru Russell Carlton away from Baseball Prospectus officially confirmed my faith in Brodie.) The Mets had found a GM who clearly understood the urgency to win right now with this team in New York. The core of this team is ripe to win now. Jacob deGrom is in his prime, his historically dominant 2018 season took place at age 30. Thor is 26 years old now. Zack Wheeler is 28. Their homegrown hitters like Michael Conforto (26), Brandon Nimmo (26), and Jeff McNeil (turning 27) are all in the sweet spots of their aging curves. Supplementing that core with the additions of veterans Robinson Cano, Jed Lowrie, and Wilson Ramos, a trio that would form a solid middle of any lineup, was the kind of bold, exciting front office wheeling and dealing Mets fans hadn't seen in a while.
The GM Brodie openly boasted about his team often this offseason, feeling certain that the new-and-improved Mets were the favorite to win the NL East, a division where the Phillies just spent truckloads of money adding All Stars, the young Braves just won the division after laying a fucking clobbering on the Mets with 13 wins in 19 games last year, and the Nats had also improved and had been clobbering the Mets for years now, too. In what's being called "the division of death" this year, these four teams could potentially all win 90 games. Nothing is going to come easy in this division. Despite so much competition, I believe Brodie that the Mets are the favorites here and not just because I'm an overly optimistic Mets fan (although I definitely am that). I think Brodie correctly identified and acted on the urgency of now, while the Mets have perhaps the best rotation in baseball, to bulk up the lineup with both star talent and versatile depth, and to bolster the flagging bullpen. The addition of Edwin Diaz to anchor that pen was an enormous move for the Mets. They also brought back Jeurys Familia who has been by far the Mets' best relief pitcher the last few years, but take a look at Familia's and Diaz's numbers next to each other and you start to understand the magnitude of how dominant a force Edwin Diaz is.
Familia, 2016-2018: 25.4 K%, 10.8 BB%, .220 opponents' average, 3.35 ERA
Diaz, 2016-2018: 38.9 K%, 8.2 BB%, .189 opponents' average, 2.67 ERA
Diaz struck out 44% of batters last year, the 7th most in a season ever. It's going to be interesting to watch how the Mets opt to deploy Diaz, whether they stash him for just the 9th or bring him in for high leverage situations. The division is definitely stacked and every win will matter this year. As a diehard Mets fan I'm thrilled as ever with the way the team has been constructed, especially in the bullpen. Edwin Diaz is Aroldis Chapman without the walks. And he could be the deciding factor in the NL East's tightly competitive four-team battle this year.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
With much uncertainty and turbulence in the world nowadays, I cling to baseball like a ship mast in a rain squall. The return of my favorite game puts me in a good mood for the first time in a while as I've been spending free time getting lost in reading season previews and stat projections. Or watching old World Series classics on YouTube. Or reading baseball books. Or nerding out on baseball podcasts. Or contemplating the future of the new season that begins tomorrow.
What follows here are my predictions for each team, selecting an over/under based on Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA win projections for the 2019 season (found here). I'll start off with the American League which looks to be somewhat boring standings-wise since it's very likely be the same four teams dominating from start to finish yet again (the Yankees, Astros, Indians, and Red Sox) with only a few stragglers fighting to for the last playoff spot (presumably the A's, Rays, Twins, maybe the Angels or.... the Mariners?).
Here's what I hope happens in the AL: the Rays or A's knock off the heavily favored juggernauts. Here's what I would bet on happening: the Astros defeat the Yankees for the AL pennant.
(PECOTA numbers as of March 24th, 2019)
PECOTA: 96 wins
My pick: Over
Of course the Yankees, after a 100-win season, had to go out and upgrade their rotation with top-line lefty starter James Paxton. Though he's injury prone, when Paxton is on he's among the most dominant starters in the game. Baseball-reference's similarity scores liken him to Corey Kluber, Aaron Nola, and Luis Severino. Speaking of Severino, he's on the shelf with a shoulder injury to start the year, perhaps giving Yankee haters like myself a glimmer of hope. Alas, this team is a rolling fortress built to withstand the inevitable obstacles of starting pitcher injuries. Their bullpen is a gauntlet of giants throwing triple-digit heaters and serpentine sliders. In an era when teams use their bullpens more than ever, the Yankees, ever the extremists, built the best bullpen anyone has ever seen. This has been their thing for a while now. They've only added to the fearsome batch of endgame arms as we go into 2019. Check out how far the Yanks' bullpen exceeds the rest of the league in FanGraphs' positional rankings (by projected WAR), it's absurd:
The Yankee approach to sustainable and indestructible dominance also relies on the most fearsome assemblage of sluggers in baseball. Last year the Yankees broke the all-time record for home runs hit with 267 and that was while their best hitter Aaron Judge missed 50 games and their second best hitter Gary Sanchez was hurt and hit terribly when he played. And Giancarlo Stanton had a down year, with 21 fewer homers than his MVP performance in 2017. The Yankees play in a homer haven with seemingly a dozen guys who can hit 20 bombs.
For years the Yanks have tended to sacrifice defense for good hitters, but now they added one of the game's best infield gloves in DJ LeMahieu. Troy Tulowitzki can still pick it and might be a nice fill-in for shortstop Didi Gregorius who'll be out most of the year. More likely, the Yankees' slugging middle infielder Gleyber Torres, a 22-year old product of the Cubs' farm system, will emerge as a star and take over at shortstop. They've got depth, they've got Aaron Judge, they've got a supremely dominant bullpen, and they've bulked up last year's 100-win team. I expect them to once again win 100-something games and wrangle with the Astros for best record in baseball.
Sunday, March 24, 2019
Another classic baseball treasure. The full broadcast of Game 7 of the '71 Series between the Pirates and Orioles in Baltimore. Featuring a young Willie Stargell. Roberto Clemente in his prime. Brooks Robinson swallowing up grounders at third base. Boog Powell being a large man. Frank Robinson taking massive cuts. And Steve Blass, the pitcher who would go on to develop a mental block on throwing accurately to the degree that they named a disease after him, here pitching a complete game against the vaunted O's.
Been having baseball fever the last few weeks, sprung about by attending a Spring Training ballgame in Bradenton, Florida a few weeks ago and reading some baseball books this past winter. By the magnificence of YouTube, we are able to view full game broadcasts of many classic baseball games from as far back as the early 1950s. So I've been watching lots of classic baseball footage lately.
In this video you can watch, at the 7m 30s mark, a parachuter suddenly land in the middle of the field in Shea Stadium during Game 6 of the World Series. The crowd goes nuts, the players are amped up, and Ron Darling gives the parachuter a handshake as he's being escorted off the field by police. You can watch a young Roger Clemens mowing down the Mets. Prime 'stache Keith Hernandez taking his cuts. Wade Boggs roping line drives. Gary Carter leading the best Mets ballclub ever. Or skip ahead to the 3hr 15m mark to begin watching the bottom of the 10th inning, one of the most thrilling conclusions to a World Series game of all time. The Mets, trailing in the series 3-2, trailing in the game 5-3, down to their very last out, suddenly embark on an epic, back-from-the-dead rally, a level of high drama that only baseball can offer.
Sunday, February 10, 2019
Been needing to compile this for a little while. First, I want to share with you a few videos from this past year when the Wu-Tang Clan celebrated the 25th anniversary of their seminal LP, Enter the 36 Chambers (1993). Wu-Tang was all over the place in 2018, these are just a select few vids that stuck out for me. Then I want to briefly share my personal history as a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan starting as a kid growing up in Staten Island in the 90s, when the imprint of Wu and what they stand for became foundational building blocks for the person I have since become.
First, here is an interview with RZA at the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee from last August. RZA gets into some stuff here that I've never really heard him talk about before. Typically in Wu-Tang interviews we hear the same origin stories repeated, whereas here RZA gives some insights on identity and the eclectic array of cultures that combined to form the core elements of Wu-Tang Clan that he doesn't often get into this much detail about. (Side note: this is the first time I've heard him share this amazing factoid: that while all the early Wu-Tang LPs were crafted to sound like movies, ODB's Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version album was made in the vein of a Richard Pryor record.) I often criticize RZA's musical evolution on this blog but I've said it before and I'll say it again: my mind grows when I listen to The Abbott speak.
The Wu-Tang Clan, minus Mef and Ghostface, put on a show for NPR's "Tiny Desk Concert series" in December. It was a thrill to see them perform in this format, ad-libbing, freestyling, taking turns throwing darts, with RZA playing the role of DJ. I wish they'd do this kinda thing more often, it's fresh as could be. Since it's a live show and there are so many members, there's some noticeable discord---especially between Raekwon and RZA who've been on different wavelengths for years now---but Wu-Tang performing live is still one of the greatest shows on earth. I especially love RZA's verse at the end here (19-min mark), a typically scientific-mystic Abbott verse that sounds like a taste of his long-promised album The Cure, delivered over classical orchestra strings. "Wu-Tang is for the kids!"
In October, the entire WTC formed like Voltron for a live performance of their classic single "Protect Ya Neck" on an episode of the Jimmy Kimmel show filmed live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House. It's rare to see the full collective come together and perform on a platform like this. Altogether this was a fantastic Wu-Tang showing, not in the least bit sullied by the lame audience clearly not being a typical Wu crowd.
There have been a few attempts at making a Wu-Tang documentary, none of them truly hitting the mark thus far, but this newly announced series on Showtime called "Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men" definitely looks promising. Here's the trailer:
And here's an interview with the director of the new documentary, Sacha Jenkins, who rocks a Mets ballcap and therefore shares not one but two of the greatest loves of my life. This looks like it'll be dope:
* * *
Saturday, February 9, 2019
Madlib meets legendary Ethiopian funk musician Ayaléw Mesfin whose music he has often sampled. The story of Ayaléw Mesfin, his struggles under an oppressive government, his humble appreciation of political asylum in America, and his emotional return to the stage to perform his music years later---there's a lot to appreciate in this 13-minute video. Ayaléw was jailed by an oppressive Communist regime that took over Ethiopia in the 70s. Arrested for distributing his music to the public for free, released only on the terms that he stop making and performing music.
A student of music in all its forms, we witness Madlib meet one of his idols and discuss their respective crafts as well as the harrowing story of what Ayaléw suffered through. Had to post this here as it really resonated and I'm glad to see Madlib showing love to one of the musicians whose work he's inspired by, while shedding light on an obscure artist for the fans.
Sunday, January 13, 2019
|Ghost Files: Bronze Tape (Remixes) - Ghostface Killah & Bronze Nazareth|
(released Nov. 30, 2018).
It finally happened: in the year that marked Wu-Tang Clan's 25th anniversary, we were finally blessed with an album from one of the nine generals fully produced by their most talented Wu-Element, Detroit's "hip hop blues" wizard Bronze Nazareth. After a productive decade-and-a-half waiting in the wings of the W---producing or featuring on tracks with virtually the entire Clan* and producing albums for Wu Killa Beez like Dom Pachino (of Killarmy), 60 Second Assassin (Sunz of Man) and Timbo King (Royal Fam)---in 2018, Bronze Nazareth got to design the soundscape for an official Ghostface album. Tony Starks, whose penchant for soul sounds is right in Bronze's wheelhouse. Indeed Bronze, given a chance to take a Ghost album for a spin, roars out the gate in a hail of fire, jetting along curves like a Bugatti, carting a dump truck full of jukeboxes jangling soul sounds over a rocky road of chunky bass and snares. That's the sound of Ghost Files: Bronze Tape. Keeping with the motorcar metaphor, the journey is punctuated by a few brief stoplights featuring dramatic dialogues from dusty old films while soul jams loop quietly in the background. With such heavy presence by the producer deploying cinematic clips and heavily orchestrated bangers, manipulating beats to embellish bars, the overall audio experience conjures classic Wu in a fresh form.
The project began in October with The Lost Tapes, a new album from Ghostface stuffed with notable features and fully produced by talented beatmaker and imposturous internet author, Big Ghost Ltd. Eight weeks later, fans were gifted a special double-edition of remixes to that album, the Bronze Tape (prod. by Bronze) and the Propane Tape (prod. by Agallah). While the Agallah version and the original Big Ghost Ltd version are both solid, in what amounted to a three-sided producer battle to craft the best Ghostface album, the kid from Motown put on a clinic. In this review I want to focus on how the Bronze Tape embodies what sets Bronze apart as a producer and why this record offers promise to diehard Wu-Tang fans hungry for fresh production.