Monday, March 30, 2009

Should DeJuan Blair Go Pro?

The smart answer: probably not. The real-world answer: hell motherfuckin' yeah...

From a strictly technical standpoint, DeJuan Blair should probably not go pro and enter the upcoming NBA draft. Oh, I hear you... he was Mr. Double-Double during the regular season, and that's awesome, I love it - I also wholeheartedly disagree with Skip Bayliss that it's "the most overrated stat in sports." Then again, I disagree with Skip Bayliss as a human being...

But Blair's performance - or, more properly, underperformance - in this year's NCAA tourney tells me that he should stick around another year and A) continue working on his fundamentals (read: FOUL SHOTS, YOU ROOKIE-YEAR-SHAQ-WANNABE-MOTHERFUCKER-YOU) and B) learning how to be a leader. He would undoubtedly be the man that team looks to next year, and it would only do him good, even if Pitt goes out in the Sweet 16 again next year instead of the Elite Eight.

But I'm an idiot. I'm thinking in terms of what would help him as a basketball player, when I should obviously be thinking in terms of star potential, draft status and - more to the point - cash money.

I don't know anything about DeJuan Blair's family, other than they live in the Schenley School District. I know this, though: they'll be much better off if he goes as a top-ten Round 1 NBA Draft Pick.

But would he? I don't know who's coming out of college this year, but I'd assume the following would at least test the waters:

DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, LeVance Fields, Blair Griffin, Brandon Jennings, Gerald Henderson from Duke, That Kid From UConn Who Was Hurt Most of the Season, maybe Hasheem Thabeet (though he really needs a couple more years in college, having only played ball since 16... shit, I could stand underneath the hoop swatting people all day, too, if I was 7'3"... what's really perplexing is how DeJuan Blair made him look a bitch twice this year... sorry, off on a tangent there), Lawson, Ellington and Hansbrough from Carolina, Stephen Curry (though he might go play overseas), probably a couple kids from 'Nova, Earl Clark and maybe Edgar Sosa from Louisville... shit, Tyreke Evans from Kentucky might even go pro if he thinks the 'Cats are gonna be rollin' in the NIT for the next couple years.

That's going on 15 people right there, and bear in mind I'm not doing any research on this, I'm just thinking in terms of who's a senior and whose stock is up, etc., etc. But if you take into account teams that are looking for specific position players, is DeJuan Blair a top 10 draft pick?

NBADraft.net's mock draft has him going 15th, to the Bulls and just ahead of Lawson, who they have going to Dallas. That's still cash money, but it's not gonna be top 10 money, and especially not in a recession year like this.

I'm sayin', son... wait a year. Step your game up just a little. 

Bla-DOW!

Don't speak... just gaze in wonderment at what the genius-seamstress at AMC NY has created... and I swear to God, if you say it's gay-looking... IT'S CLEARLY MISSING SEVERAL KEY COLORS.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Let's Talk About the Pinch...

Ohhh, the Pinch...

Once I started getting more and moreinto ties, I began to realize that my father - who is left-handed - had not just taught me backwards... he'd taught me DOUBLE ASS-BACKWARDS, because he starts with the thin end of the tie on his right side AND with the backside facing forward.

I would discover later that this is actually the starting position to tie a Half-Windsor which, with a little attention, can also look very good.

At the time, however, I had no possible clue, and was just tying it the way I was taught. And I would usually end up with a decent enough knot, never too small, but every time I saw someone wearing a tie I really liked, it had 'The Pinch.'

The Pinch is the little - or big, depending - dimple at the bottom of your tie knot that really makes the difference between just wearing a tie and actually TYING a tie. It actually takes a lot more practice than I thought it would, but I'm now at the point where I can tie a perfect Half-Windsor, a Four-in-Hand and, most importantly, a Dub (Double) Windsor, the nice, big, fat knot you see most professionals sporting.

There are any number of sites, FAQs and videos for how to tie a tie, so I'm not going to go into all of it here... and I will readily admit that all the knots kind of look the same, but their beauty is in their versatility. With a spread-collar shirt, if you're rocking a thinner Four-in-Hand, you're going to have all this space between the edges of the tie knot and your collar. But if you can tie the Dub, then you got all that space filled with fat-ass knot.

I ordered
this AMC NY tie this afternoon, to add to the collection. Ohh yeah.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What Can I Say? I'm Homo for Quality Neckwear...

L-R (top): City of London, Steve Harvey, Jhane Barnes, AMC NY / (bottom) Ermengildo Zegna (2) and DKNY, who for some reason felt compelled to write their fucking name all over the tie...

A few of the best from the personal collection: L-R, Paolo Davide, Claiborne, Van Heusen, two Geoffrey Beenes, Perry Ellis Portfolio, vintage, Nautica, vintage and Stafford Executive

So I've decided that, since I am far too old to take pride in having the best toy in the neighborhood, I will settle for having the best tie in the room. It's actually gotten to the point of obsession now. During my vacation, while I was volunteering at Pittcon 2009 in Chicago, I spent most of my downtime during the day looking up brand after brand of Italian tie, since I'm looking at adding a couple nice ones to the collection.

I should back up a bit.

When I started working in an office job that required a tie day-t0-day, my boy Adam and I, at various times, complimented each other on having cool ties. I had gone out prior to starting and bought a few decent-looking-but-admittedly-average ties. That, in addition to raiding my dad's tie closet - with his permission - to get a little variety.

Anyway, Adam's dad goes through ties like I go through Lemonade Crystal Light, so he had some real nice hand-me-downs, particularly some hot-shit Van Heusen ties. And it got to be kind of a competition for a little while about who could find the best tie. We even cleaned out the best ties from a vintage clothing shop around the way because they had some that were just too good to pass up, especially for $2.79 apiece (the second and fourth ties from the right were both from that store, and they look brand-new, right down to retaining their original sheen [never been dry-cleaned, which takes some of the shine off and gives them kind of a rumpled look that never goes away]).

Now me? I'm a stripes man. Bold, subtle, thick, thin - a good stripe pattern that catches the sun and just BLA-DOW!'s right in your face. Van Heusen is really a great, affordable brand ($20-$30)that you can find a lot of places. I probably have more Van Heusens than anything else. That, Geoffrey Beene and Claiborne are good, reliable brands where you can find some variety in colors and patterns.

If you wanna step it up a little more, AMC NY and BCBG, Paul Malone and even this Asian designer you see a lot on eBay, Deng Ying, make really nice, $25-$40 ties in a lot of different styles. Some of the Deng Ying ties take a familiar style and put a neat little spin on it. And if you can find them on sale, Steve Harvey ties (yeah, the comedian) have a lot of pop and intricacy to them. He has a line of suits, too, but they tread the fine line between high fashion and almost-a-zoot-suit.

But now I'm at the point where I think I might be willing to toss down $50, maybe even as much as $70 for a really great tie by a name designer: Altea, Barba, Missoni, Kenzo, Ermengildo Zegna, something like that. But one thing I began to notice as I was looking at tie after tie after tie on this one site, Raffaello Network (click on a brand to see an example of each tie): the more expensive they get, the uglier the designs start to be.

From designers like DKNY and Moschino, who feel a compulsive need to sew their names all over the front of the fucking tie, to Fornasetti designs, which have a giant gothic-headed sunflower running all the way up to the knot, a lot of them are just plain foul.

There are a few, though, that are really top-notch, and still reasonable. Laura Biagiotti designs run about $50 apiece, and you can tell the craftsmanship is excellent. Same for a Prochownick, which goes for about $60.

My problem with a lot of the top designers, though, is that so many of their ties are pattern-based rather than stripe-based. They're little tiny repeating houndstooths, or small dot patterns, which from a distance make your tie look like a carpet. Too intricate.

**TIMEOUT... I just realized that all this attention to detail has me sounding either a) kinda gay, or b) very American Psycho, which, coincidentally, I just finished reading on the plane to Pittcon... so maybe I started looking up all these designer ties because every other paragraph in that book is Patrick Bateman describing people's fashion head-to-toe. So just to be clear, I don't carve up women in my spare time... GAME ON***

And now that I'm investing in quality neckwear, I've also gotten hung up on learning as many different tie knots as I can... as well as perfecting "the pinch"... more on that later...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Guilty '80s Pleasure Wednesday: 'Robbie Robertson' (1987)

Who else is gonna briiiing you... a Daniel-Lanois-produced half-decent '80s rock record? Robbie Robertson, that's who...

I don't know if you'd strictly consider this a guilty pleasure record or not... 1987's self-titled solo debut, Robbie Robertson, written and recorded by the main man behind The Band, is clearly too glossy for most of its subject matter ("Broken Arrow," "Sonny Got Caught in the Moonlight"), but Daniel Lanois, who produced one of my favorite records of all time, Dylan's Time Out of Mind, injects just enough darkness into the synths and shimmer to make it good.

There are almost no traces of The Band in this whole record. Interestingly enough, however, there are strains of his weirdest record, Contact from the Underworld of Redboy, where he experimented mixing strident rock, touches of electronica and traditional American Indian melodies and vocal samples. "Showdown at Big Sky" and the noir-book-on-tape narration of "Somewhere Down the Crazy River" are good examples of what I'm talking about.

There is also a bit of a Peter Gabriel/Genesis on the opener, "Fallen Angel," (wow, I'm an idiot... Peter Gabriel is ON that track... thanks, Amazon.com) and snatches of Robert Palmer in the closer, "Testimony." 

Robertson is a great lyricist, though; and while this isn't his best - I'd say The Band's Music from Big Pink takes that title - this is one of the few good rock albums to emerge from the '80s, along with Graceland and Born in the USA.

Listen to samples at Amazon.com.

Raekwon, You Dirty Tease... (the new Wu-Tang mixtape)


All in together now: CUBAN LINX II! CUBAN LINX II!!

Generally speaking, I wasn't one for mixtapes. But the Clipse's We Got It 4 Cheap series changed my mind - particularly since about 10 of its best tracks plus "Intro," "Mr. Me Too" and "Keyz Open Doorz" would have been a stone-cold classic and twice as good as Hell Hath No Fury.

Anyway, all that aside, this new Wu mixtape is nice. REAL nice. Killah Priest's most accessible song, well, probably ever is on here, the string-and-soul "One Day," Cilvaringz flows over a track that has that baroque-soul sound that you used to love about the Wu, and MF Doom pairs up with Ghostface for a fantastic remix of "Chinatown Wars," off the new Grand Theft Auto soundtrack. Redman's on two tracks as well, including one with Oh No.

But it's mostly notable for a masterful return by Raekwon, kicking Brooklyn Super Ninjas off joined by Busta Rhymes and a dusty, distorted guitar loop on "Stick Up Music," not to mention rocking hot verses over the "Brooklyn Go Hard" beat and upping the tempo on "Heat Rocks."

That, paired with his equally-fiyaaah verse on Doom's new Born Into This joint, has me rabidly anticipating a new Raekwon album. And while it can never be Cuban Linx II, hopefully everyone's favorite Chef can get Doom, RZA and Mathematics to lace him with some hot shit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Obscure Music Spotlight: Why Are All the Best Beats Coming from Overseas?


Who knew Ethiopians listened to Dilla?

So three of my favorite new hip-hop beatmakers are all from outside the States. Harmonic 313 is from Australia, and Ras G and KenLo are from Africa.

One thing they all have in common, though, is a production style with shades of what I would call "the Detroit sound" -- slightly-mechanized, dusty-but-digital, soul-loops-filtered-through-a-Commodore-64 type of vibe. Dilla and Black Milk both have experimented with rolling a tremolo filter off the front- or back-end of samples, creating a sort of natural delay that doesn't lag behind the rest of the melody, and 313, Ras G & KenLo all try their hand at the same sort of thing.

Most of the time, it works very, very well.

KenLo is my Flavor of the Month, no question, though... particularly since you can nab all four of his beat records for free via his MySpace page... but also because he's the most Dillaesque of the three. A lot of his work reminds of the directions Dilla was heading in the period between Common's Water for Chocolate and his own Donuts.

Harmonic 313, in contrast, uses the mechanized sounds that Black Milk mined for Tronic and sends them out into the digital stratosphere, giving a nod to techno, but thankfully not being techno.

Ras G, who I've written about on this blog before, has a sort of muddy, digital-crust soul sound that I suppose I'd identify more with Madlib, but there's a definite abstractness in a lot of his beats that recall Dilla and BM.

The main reason I'm writing this, however, is to encourage you to immediately download all of KenLo's albums and ENJOY. The shit is hot. (the newest one is Craqnuques: Orange)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thanks, Anonymous Nigerian Cabbie from Chicago!


Special thanks to "Mistah X," the Anonymous Nigerian cabbie from Chicago who put me up on Timaya during our ride back from dinner at 1 North...

So me and my parents are on our way back from 1 North, at UBS Tower in Chicago last Tuesday night, and the Nigerian cabbie - there are quite a few African cabbies in Chicago, by the way - is rocking some badass-sounding reggae in the cab. When we got back to the hotel, I popped by head through the divider and asked him who it was.

He just starts beaming. "Is from Nigeria - Timaya."

I thanked him and gave him an extra tip. Then I went to the hospitality suite, started drinking Goose Island Ale and totally forgot all about it until the next morning. So I guess it's thanks to the cabbie AND to Google, who took my mangling attempt, "Tembaya" and figured out I meant "Timaya." Not only did it come up with his two latest albums, but I copped 'em BOTH for less than sixteen bucks!

The tracks range from slightly run-of-the-mill reggae to high African-harmony dancehall, with just the right dashes of Auto-Tune thrown in. Real good stuff. I highly recommend it, especially from MyAfricanBargains.com, where I snatched 'em both up on the cheap.