Editor’s note: this post is the third in a series of posts covering the Most Important Musicians of the Aughts. Click here to view prior articles: Part I, Part II.



CORONA:

Quick thoughts:

  • Agreed that Dylan is neither a good singer nor does he shred the guitar. However, he is arguably the greatest lyricist of the 20th Century and a phenomenal songwriter.
  • I think I need to accept the fact that Britney can be viewed as "important", just like Time named Hitler Man of the Year. And before any readers send any up-in-arms nasty grams about comparing a former Mouseketeer to Hitler ...
  • Did you REALLY just compare Britney Spears to Bob Dylan?

    Short of naming Marshall Mathers in my starting five, I couldn't agree with Mr. Rakowski more. Music critics often miss the mark on debut albums, but for some reason The Slim Shady LP didn't fall victim to this issue. Despite being released by "another white rapper", for some reason, whether that be Mathers' clowning around, Dre being involved, or a solid A&R push, critics understood his potential from the get-go. As Bryan noted, we'll save the racial/cultural debate for another time, but having Dre on record admitting he heard Eminem and assumed he was black? PR gold.

    The Marshall Mathers LP was not only a watershed moment for Eminem, but also for rap in general. While I'd argue that Eminem did still play within the unwritten rulebook at times (violent rap became popular far before Eminem), he pioneered the thought that lyrics could be self-deprecating. Very few things in music irritate me more than lyrics which only quantify record sales and bling count. Actually, I need to go on a rant here, because I can't imagine another blog topic where I'll venture into this territory ...


    One of the biggest violators of this issue is the 2007 collaboration between Justin Timberlake and Madonna. In press junkets, the two described their collaboration as being heavily influenced by an intense chemistry, diving deeply into philosophical discussion. The result? A little ditty called "4 Minutes". Let's briefly deconstruct the song:
  • We are destroying the planet but, damn it, that doesn't mean we can't dance while we destroy it
  • Evidently, we only have four minutes to save the world from this madness (i.e., the destruction, not the dancing)
  • We don't have answers on how to save the world, but in case you didn't realize ...
  • Four minutes to save the world, and we're choosing to save it by reminding you that this song is by Madonna ... Madonna ... Madonna ...

    I'm not saying that there shouldn't be songs where you expect the songs to carry vapid lyrics. Songs will come and go, and the songs that you end up loving for life most typically have something more substantive than repeating the artist's name incessantly.

  • ANYWAY, I agree with Bryan that Eminem influenced his peers and fans to expect more of lyrics. And as for being voted best rapper ever? Significant. Not President Obama significant, but significant nonetheless. Eminem certainly wasn't the first to wear an unlikely crown. Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill and Paul's Boutique were previously voted as two of the top rap albums ever. What makes Eminem different is that he has always been a rapper, whereas Beastie Boys accidentally fell into a hip-hop career by initially setting out to prove (as a punk band, mind you) that "anyone could rap." Further, there's no question after listening to Licensed to Ill that Mike D, Ad-Rock, and MCA are three white boys from New York. Alternatively, just as Obama broke the mold to be viewed as a commander-in-chief who happens to be African-American, Eminem is a rapper who happens to be white.

    Time to move on to my next pick. While I stand behind my first two picks, there's a considerable leap between picks number four and three. All three of my remaining picks could run the offense, each in their own style of play. Collectively, they represent a triumvirate of three vastly different but incredibly influential musicians. And so, it's time to turn our attention to the Power Forward position.

    Typically, the Power Forward is less show, more substance. Once they get the rock, they typically bowl over the opponent, producing a state of shock and awe with his/her sheer talent. But a handful also possesses the ability to run the offense from the number four position; a Point Forward position of sorts. This next selection toggles back and forth, demonstrating success in leading the offense but being far better known for his brawn. And, what's better, he also hails from Detroit.



    #3 (at Power Forward): JACK WHITE
    Without question, Jack White led an extremely successful musical career during the Aughts. Few musicians were as prolific as White during the Aughts, and even fewer rivaled his commercial success:
  • Twelve million albums sold worldwide
  • Two albums certified Platinum, four albums certified Gold
  • Five-time Grammy winner (I'm including the major Grammy awards, not categories like "Best Song recorded east of the Mississippi in a Leap Year")
  • Sixteen top 40 singles, including three number one singles
  • Ranked #17th best guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine

    But commercial success is most likely the last thing that Jack White would want me to use to defend my case. So I'll move on to my next case for my team's starting Power Forward: stamina. In ten years, White released eight studio albums. Outside of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and Chicago, I can't think of any band to have demonstrated more prolific periods of musical creativity. But here's what makes Jack White different: he released those eight albums with three different bands, and what's more, he was (and remains) the driving force in each group. Three bands means three times the ego maneuvering, three times the drama. And yet, each project revealed three very different musical styles. Granted, his colleagues also influenced their respective bands' sounds (e.g., Meg White's minimalist drum patterns, Brendan Benson's songwriting, etc.), but each of the three acts are unquestionably led by the former upholstery apprentice from Detroit. In addition, White produced over a dozen other albums, including Loretta Lynn's Grammy award-winning Van Lear Rose. Suffice to say, Lennon, McCartney, and The Glimmer Twins may have released more studio albums during a ten-year period, but none of them were as heavily involved in as many albums in one decade as White. And therein lies the Point Forward influence of White: accepting the daunting task of running the show, despite using less flash than his backcourt counterparts.


  • Jack White

    As further evidence, I submit for the record the documentary It Might Get Loud, which provides two major insights into Jack White's psyche. First, one only has to watch the first minute and a half to gain an appreciation for White's philosophy on music: technology isn't automatically good. Creating music shouldn't be simplified, whether that simplification process comes in the form of self-producer audio software, over dubs, or even guitar strings which regularly stay in tune over the course of a song. This isn't to say that White has abandoned technology all-together, as he frequently uses a select number of pedals, pickups, even hybrid electrics with guitar and bass strings. Each piece of equipment is purposeful, generating a specific sound which inevitably reinforces his musical intentions. White goes on to describe that, when performing live, he seeks out ways to produce an environment of strain or challenge. Whether that manifests itself in the distance between a piano and the lead mic, or playing guitar on strings that teeter between being in and out of tune, White seeks out the struggle and embraces it fully. Why work on an outside shot when you can grind it out down low?

    The film also reveals that, like Eminem, Jack White carries his Detroit roots like a red badge of courage. Unlike Eminem (and Kid Rock, for that matter), White is less overt about his ties to the Rust Belt. Both rappers brandish Old English "D" tattoos, the latter taking it a step further by selling shirts which read "F*** YOU, I'M FROM DETROIT" [note: the shirt actually drops the F-bomb]. Whereas Eminem and Kid Rock would likely flaunt their Motor City roots, potentially annoying you at first but winning you over eventually, White would give you an uneasy feeling about talking to him at all about Detroit. Not because you were concerned about insulting him or Detroit, but because you were concerned that talking to him for anything more than 30 seconds might lead to him knocking you out. Whether or not a gimmick, this is further emphasized in the film:

    (En route to meeting Jimmy Page and The Edge):
    "The three of us get together. What's gonna happen? Probably a fistfight."

    White's behavior is two parts chip-on-the-shoulder, one part existential. On one hand, his seemingly inferiority complex provides high-octane motivation to become the best musician he can possibly be (again, en route, "I plan to trick both of these guys into teaching me all their tricks"). It's not that he is striving to be the best guitarist ever (which, no question, he is not), but that he pursues his craft with the utmost rigor. On the other hand, he demonstrates an acceptance of who he is and where he came from, along with the notion that he's not going to try to be someone (or something) he's not. Put simply, he is the quintessential Detroiter. Those who hail from the area will understand; those who don't, won't. Or put another way, he won't try to pull a Christian Laettner and bring the ball up the court. See you in the paint.

    At the beginning of the movie, there is expectation to some degree that the summit between the three will result in White being relegated to an second-tier status. But by the end of the movie it's White who is most intriguing, despite the shortest tenure or least recognition among the three guitarists. Further, it appears as though both Page and The Edge are genuinely interested in hearing his perspectives, with Page making no effort to hide his pleasure while jamming on a White Stripes song. Admittedly, had the line-up included someone like Eddie Van Halen, the chemistry would not have been there (in fact, a fist fight might actually have occurred). But White's ability to capture the attention and interest of two of the greatest guitarists of our time demonstrates an uncanny ability to influence other musicians. It's in the simplest of moments such as this where Jack White's importance as a musician shines the brightest: his unabashed focus on fundamentals; his willingness to grind out every second of play as if his life depended on it; his voluntary choice to shun the backcourt flash in favor of substance; and, in spite of taking the road less traveled, demonstrating that success can be achieved without compromising one's core beliefs.



    RAKOWSKI:

    First, I think this must be marked as a monumental accomplishment ... we’ve actually agreed on a pick! I appreciate you adding the Dr. Dre anecdote, I had forgotten about his initial take on Mr. Mathers’ ethnicity after having heard Em for the first time. You’re right ... absolute PR gold. This whole “agreeing” concept is great, it allows me to move on and focus on a ‘critique’ of your #3 pick and reveal my #2 in less than a paragraph. Unbelievable.

    Even better, our newfound accord is not going to stop there. But before I get to that, I have a confession to make. Jack White was actually in my Top Five of the Aughts at the onset of this ‘blog battle’, if you will. Instead of sticking with a selection that I would have bet thousands of dollars you would have had him in your Top Five, I decided to try and stir the pot just a little bit by opening with a pick that only barely qualified to make this list if you used the loosest interpretation of the spirit of the law. Thus, my opening salvo of Mr. Simon Fuller. In the fun little game of Prisoner’s Dilemma that I was playing in my head, I banked on the fact that Mr. Corona would select Jack White. (In fact, I would have put him even higher on his list.) Knowing I would have the opportunity to comment on Jack at that time, I decided to expand the conversation to sneak in another ‘artist’ and maximize the number of people that made the final, combined, unduplicated list.

    Whew. I feel better. I had been waiting to get that off of my chest.

    Fantastic selection, Matt. In fact, you covered the meteoric and enigmatic career-to-date of Mr. Jack White so well I’m having a hard time finding anything of significance to add. Of course I love that he’s from Detroit and I absolutely love the less-than-overt manner in which everyone seems to know this despite Jack never really mentioning it.

    As I suggested above, he’s a musical enigma. From The White Stripes to The Raconteurs to the Dead Weather (which I’m listening to as I write this ... best album of the year so far, by the way) ... he continually pushes a musical envelope that I can’t even see, let alone afford the postage to mail to the mainland from my home base in Puerto Rico. It’s a level above what 99% of acts on this planet are doing right now and it just seems important. And that, my friends, is the only knock I can possibly deliver against this pick. Because of the degree to which Jack pushes boundaries and doesn’t care who he rubs the wrong way doing it, I’m afraid he might not reach enough of the music literati to make a big enough difference beyond the esoteric circles of the audiophiles’ segment of the population. It would be like the Sistine Chapel not being open to the public. An over delivery of musical enlightenment that goes under appreciated to the ignorant proletariat.


    Wow, I just got too heavy on myself. But it seemed like a discussion of Jack White deserved such pedantic treatment. Time to lighten the mood…and I think my #2 pick does just that.

    Getting close to crunch time…who are you going to count on when you need a bucket and the defense is keyed in like a fat kid with birthday cake? You need someone with a bag of tricks larger than Santa’s sack of gifts on Christmas Eve. You need someone who isn’t afraid to have the ball in his hands whether he’s being guarded by “the Glove” (Gary Payton …in his prime, of course), Dennis Rodman, or Bruce Bowen. You need someone with a pull-up “J”, a smooth stroke from behind the arc, or a freight train-like capability to drive to the hole and get to the line for “three-the-hard-way”. And you know, it doesn’t hurt that my #2 pick is also actually a halfway decent basketball player in his own right, having appeared in a number of celebrity games and charity events ... holding his own against the likes of Master P, Ludacris, and a washed-up Detlef Schrempf.



    #2 (at Shooting Guard): JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE
    Whether he knew it or not, Matt set me up pretty well with this pick. His quick rant on lyrical meaning with “4 Minutes” and the timing of his uber-serious Jack White pick allow JT to slide snugly into a piece of the musical puzzle that strives to balance mass appeal with musicianship, songwriting/producing, and most importantly, booty-shaking FUN.

    First, as we’ve become accustomed, here are the critical credentials:

  • Six-time Grammy and two-time Emmy award winner
  • His first two solo albums have sold more than nine million copies each
  • Justified peaked at #2 on Billboard
  • FutureSex/LoveSoundsdebuted at number one and at the time was the biggest pre-order in iTunes history
  • JT wrote or co-wrote every song on both albums

  • Justin Timberlake

  • In addition, 55 million albums with N’Sync
  • No Strings Attached (released in 2000, making it eligible for this discussion) sold 2.4 million copies in its first week, breaking the record at the time
  • JT co-wrote the top 3 selling singles from N’Sync’s Celebrity album
  • Collaborator, songwriter and/or producer credits on tracks by Duran Duran, Nelly Futado, Timbaland, 50 Cent, TI, Ciara, Leona Lewis, Black Eyed Peas, Snoop, and of course, the aforementioned Madonna.

    Let me put it this way ... if you had been given the task to defend him on a basketball court, you would have thought you were seeing double (or triple) b/c JT was in SO many places at once b/c of the demand on his talents in the last 10 years.

    Next, despite the “4 Minutes” collaboration misstep, JT is musically gifted. Everyone knew from day 1 that he was the de facto leader of N’Sync and, as evidenced by his songwriting and producing credits, can hear things most cannot until he puts the pieces together in such a way that the masses are thrown all into a frenzy. He knows he’s not the smartest person in the room, so he surrounds himself with additional gifted musical minds to get the “whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts” thing going.

    Another critical piece to the JT repertoire…the man is a showman in the truest sense of the word. He knows people paid good money to see him perform and, dammit, they’re going to get their money’s worth. From his role in the culture-shaping “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl to his Justitfied tour and HBO special ... it’s all worth tuning in.

    And if that’s not enough weapons in his arsenal, JT had developed into an aspiring actor. Having gotten his start with the Mickey Mouse Club, this foray into acting wasn’t quite as far-fetched as some other crossover artists, but it hasn’t equaled his success in the musical arena.

    You know what I think this all boils down to? JT is a blue collar kid succeeding exceeding in a celebrity’s world. He doesn’t get caught up in controversial photos, drunken stupors, or the law. He got discovered during the boy band craze at the beginning of the decade, out shone his bandmates because he truly possesses a higher level of talent, and then took advantage of that talent to even draw comparisons to the King of Pop. These comparisons, of course, are unfounded. He’s not THAT good. But he is/was important enough for those discussions to take place, even after admitting how much he patterns his music/dancing/look after the King of Pop.

    Look at how much attention LeBron James is currently getting regarding his ability to achieve a level of success equal to, or greater than, Michael Jordan. The topic comes up all the time. While the outcome is still in question (I say it’s unlikely, but you never know), the fact that it generates such conversation is important. I think the JT comparisons to Michael are the perfect musical analogy to LBJ vs. MJ. And it’s no coincidence that the undisputed winner in both arguments has the same initials, either. I only wish the musical MJ had done enough in this decade to allow me to place him on my list. Instead, we’ll have to settle for his protégé, who if even becomes 10% of the artist that MJ was, still deserves to be in the Top Five of the Aughts.



    Stay tuned for the next installment of Starting Five debate, slated for Tuesday, July 6.

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