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



RAKOWSKI:

Not a bad bench, Mr. Corona. Not too shabby, indeed. (I mean, it’s not awesome, either, but I digress.) We’ve clearly agreed on almost half of your picks (Eminem, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé), so I’ll take those three at face value and move on.

The next three fall into the “I get it and have no honorable rebuttal” category:

  • Nigel Goodrich smells of a set-up pick to me. More of a “let’s grease the skids for my #1 pick” ... so I’ll allow it and I can respect it. Only time will tell if I’m correct on my prediction. If your #1 is anyone other than whom I’m thinking of right now, then this bench pick will need to be disallowed.
  • As for Dr. Andy Hildebrand, I’m between a bit of a rock and a hard place on this one. I love Bill Laimbeer, so that analogy opens a special place in my childhood heart to like this pick. But then again, I hate Auto Tune with so much passion that I don’t want to like this pick. But then again, its impact (whether good OR BAD) did have an important impact on the industry for a significant portion of the Aughts. And so for the integrity of this Top 5 (are we still trying to maintain integrity? Did we ever have it?), I have to begrudgingly be ok with this pick.
  • Founders of You Tube – Matt sums this up perfectly by reminding everyone of my Simon Fuller pick, so by guilt of association (precedent?), this one makes sense. Plus, I had never seen that Mute Math video ... and is freaking awesome.

    And then there is your 7th bench pick. I hate it more than you hated my Michael Jackson selection. In fact, I think you yourself hate it as evidenced by your rant a few posts back regarding her “hit” 4 Minutes. Commercially successful? Fine. But to me, this is like a veteran joining a title contender to get in 20-30 minutes a game, pad his stats to climb the “all-time” lists, but really ends up being more of a liability than an asset (especially on the defensive end). Madonna, based on her 80’s/90’s success (and yes, I do agree she would make these lists as well), knows she can toss out any 12-track piece of crap and it will stick. She banks on former success and takes it to the bank, all at risk of tarnishing her entire body of work as even you suggest in your discussion regarding what she will be known for ... and the Aughts ain’t it. So if my MJ pick doesn’t fly, then this Madonna pick ain’t getting off the ground, either.



    It’s finally time to reveal my #1 pick, my Point Guard. I hold this position near and dear to my heart, because it is the only position I was remotely qualified to play during my dull and brief (as opposed to illustrious and long) hoops career. It is the most cerebral position on the court, as the point guard must be able to see what others will see before they see it, or better yet, see what no one else sees, and put that insight into action in such a flawless way that their teammates pick up on it and (usually) finish.

    A PG is a quarterback, an on-field general, and a symphonic composer all rolled into one. Oh, and if necessary, they need to be able to put the ball in the hoop, too. But the best and brightest also do all of this with a flair and panache that puts butts in seats ... Magic Johnson, of course being the greatest point guard of all time, did this better than anyone.

    To properly introduce my #1 pick, I take you back to my “Consumer Understanding” class in the 2nd year of my MBA program. Our professor was trying to demonstrate how product integrations had become so pervasive throughout culture that those brands willing to pay the right amount of cash could get their names mentioned in a positive light wherever they wanted. After typical examples of cars in movies and cereals in sitcoms, she mentioned the absurd amounts of money that had to have been passed under a table to get a hip-hop star (sic) to mention the following:

    “I drink a Boost for breakfast and an Ensure for dessert ...”

    The class laughed. I raised my hand, stone-faced.

    “Mrs. Doubtfire (named changed to protect the innocent) ... you realize that artist actually used both of those products and was given no prompting or compensation for mentioning both, right?” I calmly questioned.

    “Why would a young rapper (again, sic, we’ll get to that) drink Boost or Ensure?” she confidently replied.

    “Because he was rapping an entire song on his album WITH HIS JAW WIRED SHUT. He had suffered an accident that shattered his jawbone and that was all he could eat or drink for six weeks.”

    “Oh ... I ... um, I had no idea.”

    Ladies and gentlemen, my #1 pick for Most Important Artist of the Aughts:




    #1 (at Point Guard): KANYE WEST

    I’m going to let this sink in for a minute ... I’ll wait.

    There are probably a number of emotions you’re feeling right now (besides boredom). Most of you are likely enraged, befuddled, or laughing hysterically on the floor. That a**hole? A small percentage of you are (hopefully) nodding your heads vigorously. F***ing genius. Dude saved hip-hop.

    I’ll keep his list of credentials brief, as I have so much more to discuss:

  • September 11, 2001 – Jay-Z’s album “The Blueprint” is released, on which Kanye was lead producer – one of the most critically acclaimed and universally successful hip-hop albums of all time.
  • 2002 to 2003 – one of the most sought after producers in all of music, ‘Ye worked with artists such as Talib Kweli, Cam'ron, Paul Wall, Common, Mobb Deep, Jermaine Dupri, Scarface, The Game, Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, and John Legend. It would take me too long to tally up the #1 hits, sales, certifications, etc.
  • February 2004 – The College Dropout is released to universal critical acclaim; certified triple platinum.
  • August 2005 – Late Registration is released to even greater critical acclaim; 8 Grammy awards, certified triple platinum, considered to be the only majorly successful album release in the Fall of 2005 as the rest of the industry was experiencing sharp declines.
  • September 11, 2007 – Graduation drops and blows 50 Cent’s release on the same day out of the water; certified double platinum; 4 Grammy awards.
  • November 2008 – 808s and Heartbreak is released, continuing the string of 3 straight ‘Ye albums to debut at #1 on the charts.
  • G.O.O.D Music – Kanye’s label he started in 2004 has the likes of John Legend, Common, and Kid Cudi on its roster. The acronym stands for “Getting Out Our Dreams”

  • Kanye West

    Despite his ridiculous talents from behind the sound board, Kanye West barely even became an artist in front of the microphone because no one thought he fit the image or lifestyle of rap at the time. In fact, he struggled to find a record deal and even Jay-Z admitted that Roc-A-Fella, the label to which he had brought so much success producing, was reluctant to support him because he wasn’t as marketable as other rappers who portrayed the “street image” prominent in hip-hop culture.

    And then, the pink polo-wearing prepster with a positive message became the biggest star in hip-hop.

    He saved hip-hop from being forever typecast, stereotyped, and pigeonholed into the thug life ... which is where it was headed at the time. He came from a successful family. He got A’s and B’s in school. He didn’t push drugs. He even began college before deciding to concentrate on his music career. And he loved his mama. In fact, he told the world on Oprah.

    As if that wasn’t important enough, Kanye doesn’t even consider himself a hip-hop star. He just considers himself a star. That’s because he takes a broader view of what he does. He listens to the Killers, Radiohead, Keane, and Modest Mouse. He samples from old soul records, Steely Dan, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Ray Charles, and Daft Punk. He works with the likes of John Mayer, Chris Martin, and Adam Levine. His go-to producer on most of his albums, Jon Brion, is a film composer by trade. He knows music is bigger than hip-hop and people want to (and deserve to) hear more than just hip-hop. So that’s what he does.

    An example? Ok. ‘Ye was listening to Portishead’s 1998 album Roseland NYC Live and looking at the album cover. The cover featured a sea of string players which could be prominently heard on the track he was listening to at the time. The moment inspired him. He couldn’t afford real strings on his first album, but as soon as he picked up those first Grammys, he ran and got a string section. Hip-hop never had strings like that ... especially live. But it still sounded hip-hop and people in his circles were clearly feeling the beat ... and then he “dropped his poetry on top of it”. ‘Ye became bigger than hip-hop before he even released his second album. He was expanding the conversation, expanding the world in which he and other artists could operate.

    And then there is that poetry he speaks of:

  • “Everything I’m not made me everything I am.”
  • “You know how long I been on ya ... since Prince was on Apollonia ... since OJ had Isotoners!”
  • “She got a light-skinned friend that look like Michael Jackson”

    From the Gandhi-esque prophecies to the unbelievable rhyming of a Prince album with Isotoner gloves, West uses the arcs and sweeps of storytelling with wordplay that Shel Silverstein would be jealous of. ‘Ye can actually make a rap song that is ABOUT something ... one that has clear sentences and tells a story with scenes. It's not just him grabbing his balls and talking about bitches. He gets vulnerable and emotional and tells us he's sorry. How UN-Hip-hop! And yet, he’s not satisfied. Someone once played him a Johnny Cash song and he admitted nothing he had done, no story he had ever told ... had come together as well as that single Johnny Cash track. He wanted to get better.

    And that leads me to what you’ve all been thinking this entire time ... “but he’s such a conceited a**hole”. My response: so what? So was Michael Jordan. But MJ backed it up, and so has Kanye. Look, I’m not going to deny or defend his multiple faux pas or uncouth displays. That’s impossible. West has admitted as much and removed himself from the spotlight for the past year for that exact reason. But the passion with which he approaches his music is so evident that it’s bubbling over like a pot left to boil too long. He knows he is pushing music envelopes to places no post office can deliver. He knows he is using samples no one would ever use and coming up with lyrics that no one could duplicate. But what he doesn’t know is how to let everyone come to the same realization at their own pace. He wants to please too much. Why else would he risk derailing the healing process of his main instrument (his mouth) and drop a track with his f***ing jaw wired shut?!?

    He does everything in his power to transcend more than one genre, one industry, and one culture. From his anime-inspired album artwork, plugging indie rock bands from around the world on his website, or his charitable foundation ... he must have his finger on the pulse of the people that listen to him and, more importantly, those that don’t. It’s almost the perfect marketing case study ... what does the consumer need? Ok, I’m going to give it to them even if they don’t know that they need it yet.

    Here is the last thing I’ll say before letting you get on with your lives ... every time Kanye drops an album, it just feels epic. Like I’m witnessing the introduction of something greater than the sum of its parts, I know it’s bigger and better than anything else I will hear. Music, as a whole, is in a better place than it was 10 years ago and Kanye West is more responsible for moving, pushing, pulling, rolling, and bouncing it’s a** on down the road than anyone else in the last 10 years.





    CORONA:

    Cannot say I am surprised by Mr. Rakowski’s selection at number one. For as long as I’ve known Bryan, he’s been a huge fan of ‘Ye. Enough for me to predict about a week ago that West would be his number one pick. But I certainly didn’t predict the anecdote about “Through the Wire” being debated in b-school. Brilliant.

    There are a lot of comments Bryan made that I agree with. But out of respect for Bryan’s top pick (i.e., not the person himself, but the fact that Bryan selected him), I’ll try to end my comments on a high note. This means I get to engage in one of my favorite pastimes: Reasons to Loathe Kanye West!

    Let’s first begin with the Jordan comparisons. Thanks, but I’m not buying. Jordan indeed had the killer instinct, but his actions indicated that revenge was best serve by ripping his opponents’ hearts out through his fierce play and unquenchable thirst to be the greatest of all time. Sure, he trash talked, but it was also after he buried opponents by scoring 60+ points on them. In comparison, West seems to buy forwards in trash talk. And we all know the end result of that strategy.

    Two other sports figures came to mind as being comparable to West. Stepping outside of basketball for a moment, consider Barry Bonds. Now, I’m not talking Bonds circa 2001 and later, whose head surreptitiously grew to be the size of Ken Griffey’s on the Simpsons. I’m talking about the Pittsburgh Pirates-era Bonds, the two-time MVP and multiple Gold Glove / Silver Slugger winner. Even then, before the 24-hour media coverage, fans knew Bonds was an a**hole. Many were able to look beyond to judge him for his on-field skill, but the perception was already present. As the years progressed, skepticism grew until suddenly everyone considered him a pariah. To me, Kanye seems to fall in the mid-90s portion of the Bonds arc. He’s already burned plenty of bridges, would be nearly impossible to rebuild those, and dangerously easy to burn down whatever’s left. It’s ironic that I thought of Barry Bonds without realizing Kanye released a song in 2007 with his very name.

    The second is none other than LeBron James. Consider this and tell me whether it sounds familiar: young, unquestionable talent recognized by influential decision-makers; is thrust into the limelight and shines brightly; rarely hears anyone tell him no; receives praise ... too much, too fast, too soon; gradually, not in one particular instance but instead over time, loses perspective with reality and winds up becoming one of the most reviled figures by creating a self-indulgent, narcissistic spectacle of himself while crushing others’ dreams. In LBJ’s case, he may indeed find a happy ending in South Beach, but today the earth is scorched in Cleveland, and no one will forget what’s happened for at least 50 years. In West’s case, despite acting in a non-premeditated manner, he’s damaged his reputation even worse. Which reminds me of a quick tangent ...

    Everyone remembers Kanye jumping on stage, stealing the microphone from Taylor Swift, and then being banned from Radio City Music Hall for the duration of the VMAs. But what most seem to have forgotten is that the next award presented was Best Male Video. Kanye, who had already been escorted out of the building, took massive heat from the audience as soon as he was introduced as a nominee. T.I. wins the award, presenters accept on T.I.’s behalf, cut to commercial. Simple enough, right? I contend that the Moon Man was originally slated to be awarded to Kanye, and that MTV Producers moved quickly to avoid an on-air riot by awarding the prize to T.I. ... who, of course, was unable to attend because he was in prison. No Kanye acceptance speech to worry about? Check. No false winner present to ask why Kanye’s name was on the envelope? Check. I’m waiting for the self-absorbed MTV 40th anniversary special to spill the beans.

    ANYWAY, as for Kanye’s future I see two potential paths: either he flames out as a solo artist, returns the board and produces quietly over the next decade, or he goes into “Eff You” mode and releases his masterpiece. Personally, I’d love to see the latter happen, provided that it doesn’t bring with it the return of the spoiled child.

    The irony of the spoiled child syndrome? There are plenty of musicians fitting this bill who I do like. Liam Gallagher is a perfect example – he went far enough to drive older brother (and considerably more talented) Noel out of Oasis, but hey, fifteen years is a good run. And my money is on them reuniting before 2012. My number one pick has rubbed more than a few fans the wrong way, but we’ll get to that pick in a little while ...

    Reasons to Loathe Kanye West aside, let’s move on to a more objective review of his career the past ten years. Before I begin, I’ll fully admit that when it comes to Hip-Hop, I am a casual enthusiast at best. So I’ll try to stick to the areas to which I can speak intelligently (at least I hope). My disclaimer will make sense later ... Afrika Bambaataa once described Hip-Hop as having four pillars: DJing, MCing, B-boying, and Graffiti. The last two pillars don’t apply to ‘Ye, but I think it’s fair to consider his career as a DJ and MC.

    Kanye is one of the most talented producers the music industry has seen. Unquestionable talent, with a thirst for pushing the envelope’s edge in finding new sound and styles for hip hop. However, listening to his back catalogue reminds me too much of being formulaic: find a deep cut by someone like Sade, then speed up the 45 to 72 rpms. Am I expecting him to be Mixmaster Mike? No. But if all he’s going to do is speed up a 45, then I would advocate the use of a digital processing tool like SoundReplacer to accelerate the tempo without significantly modifying the pitch (which, by the way, is one of the underrated, underreported uses of Pro Tools. See? It’s not as bad as everyone says).

    As the decade unfolded, West’s arrangements and production styles certainly evolved. Something I found interesting about Kanye is that he recognized a new style growing in popularity (i.e., use of Auto-Tune), and enlisted T-Pain to teach him the ins and outs of the device. As Bryan said, recognizing opportunity and then turning insight into action. But here’s where Bryan and I differ: his samples are original and unique, but not to the point that nobody dreams of using them. We’ve already written about three producers (i.e., Burton, Girl Talk, The Avalanches) who not only match West on sampling, they arguably surpass. This alone wouldn’t result in him being dismissed from consideration alone. It’s the equivalent of saying a Point Guard is a good shooter, but wouldn’t be considered great unless he’s an excellent defender. So let’s turn to the second pillar of Hip-Hop and evaluate whether Kanye is Gary Payton or John Paxson.

    As an MC, Kanye is inconsistent. Personally, I was disappointed to see Bryan’s selection of lyrics. After all, evidence should point to how Kanye is notably different than many rappers of his era:

  • “So here go my single dog radio needs this / They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes / But if I talk about God my record won't get played?”
  • “I'm trying to write my wrongs / but it's funny these same wrongs helped me write this song."
  • “I thought my Jesus piece was so harmless / ‘til I seen a picture of a shorty armless / and here’s the conflict / it’s in a black person’s soul to rock that gold / spend ya whole life try’na get that ice / on a polo rugby it looks so nice.”

    These samples present an interesting dichotomy about West’s lyrics – how can someone’s rhetoric be so poignant, yet at times sound as if he were trying to rhyme couplets from word magnets on a refrigerator? Which brings me to my next point: the claimed “poet” status. Consider the past greats, like Tupac, Biggie, Rakim, and Chuck D. Consider the modern era greats, like Eminem, Jay-Z, and Mos Def. Does anyone realistically think that Kanye deserves to be in this Parthenon? Speaking only for me, absolutely not. When you compare him against these greats, there is a clear difference in patterns, tempo, and lyrics. It was primarily because of Kanye’s MC skills that Roc-a-fella did not initially promote him. Has he grown over time? Yes, but I’d be more inclined to call Jim Morrison a poet than Kanye.

    Overall, I’d rate Kanye an A-minus as a DJ and a C-minus as an MC. Definitely not Gary Payton, probably not John Paxson. I’d offer to call him a BJ Armstrong, but Armstrong is Brother Rice alum and I don’t think that will fly with BRak. Of course, there are the intangibles which affect where I rank him among the best musicians. [Note: here’s where my prior disclaimer comes into play.]

    In my opinion, Hip-Hop is a broader counter-culture (which arguably can no longer be considered counter-culture) within which rap resides. In order for Bryan’s assertion to be true (“[Kanye] saved Hip-Hop”), we’d need to believe that the cultural pillars were being replaced by a new dogma. I would argue that Hip-Hop already faced this threat in the early Nineties, when Gangsta Rap became synonymous with Hip-Hop to the less-informed white community (of which, I would contend, Mrs. Doubtfire is the mayor). Yes, rap remained heavily influenced by misogynistic rhetoric, but the tide was ebbing long before Kanye blew up. I think three events lead to the tipping point: Tupac’s murder, Biggie’s murder, and Suge ight’s imprisonment.

    That said, Kanye has challenged Hip-Hop to rethink its norms and values. Standing up against the homophobic norm of rap took balls, and for that he should be remembered. Did he save Hip-Hop? No. From the vantage point of a thirty-something white male, Hip-Hop cannot be saved (nor destroyed) by one person. Without a Kanye, there would still have been an Outkast ushering in the new era, along with dozens like them. [Side note: did we both really miss Outkast? Shame on us.]

    Ultimately, I would consider Kanye wildly successful for the first nine years and eight months of the Aughts. Setting aside the scores of reasons to despise him, he was indeed important, so I respect Bryan’s selection in that regard.



    Here we are at number one. Hard to believe it's taken us this long to get here. As readers may have realized, Bryan and I started tossing the idea of this article around back in March. Since then, Duke has won not one but TWO national championships, Exile on Main Street was reissued, Tigers fans witnessed the most famous one-hitter of all time, BP CEO Tony Hayward made his pitch for “Least Likely to Become a PR Consultant”, the sports world witnessed the most publicized backstabbing ever seen (aka, “The Decision”), and the LOST saga finally came to an end.



    [Note: I feel obligated to warn readers of a LOST spoiler alert. Yes, the show's been over for almost two months. But in case you're working through the back catalog and don't want to be tipped off about the ending, consider yourself warned].


    Now that we're here, I have two confessions to make: first, this pick was particularly hard to conceal during the bench discussion. In fact, I think Bryan already knows who I’m going with; second, this pick might let some people down. Kind of like when Locke and Jack Shepard met came face-to-face in the finale of LOST, with Locke clearly being disappointed with his chosen adversary:

    “Jacob being who he is, I expected to be surprised. You're sort of the obvious choice, don't you think?"


    So too will at least some of the readers react to my pick. Really? That’s it? I could’ve seen this coming from at least two years ago. Why did I start watching/reading this in the first place? Patience, grasshoppers. If anything else, this musician was the clear choice for a number of reasons. And for those Losties who may be wondering ... no, I’m not pulling a last minute lineup change and inserting Hurley. Although looking at my number one pick does somewhat remind me of Hurley’s number-two man ...

    Ever since Michael Jordan turned on his afterburners, the Point Guard has been relegated a secondary role to basketball fans. In true sense of instant gratification, why run the plays when you can score the points? Why need a Point Guard when a Forward can run the plays? As Bryan said, the Point Guard is the most challenging position on the court. It’s the first line of defense, the field general, and for many lineups the best all-around athlete. Behind NFL Quarterback, NHL Goalie, and MLB Catcher, the Point Guard remains one of the most mentally demanding roles in team sports. When plays aren’t working, the opposing team goes on a run, and the team seems flat, it’s the position people look to first to right the ship. Point Guards don’t survive on the razzle dazzle alone. Sure, it gets butts in the seats and fans clamoring for the like of Showtime, as L.A. fans dubbed it in the Eighties. But it’s also the quiet confidence, the subtle yet powerful charisma that simmers. Relax, guys. I got this. The Point Guard may often be the shortest player on the court, but s/he should be considered dangerous and defended with respect. And as the ball is dribbled up the floor, defenders can only wonder how the next 35 seconds will play out:


    Jack: “I’m going to kill you.”
    Locke: “And how do you plan to do that?”
    Jack: “It’s a surprise.”

    It’s not a question of who. It’s a question of when ... and how ...



    Before I unveil my top selection, let’s play a game. Name an important band from the past decade. No really ... pick one out.

    [waiting]

    Now, name a second band.

    [waiting]

    Now, just to be safe, name a third.

    [waiting]

    Why did I ask this? Because I’m betting decent money that for 95% of the readers, my selection for Most Important Musician of the Aughts is the front man for one of the three named bands.


    #1 (at Point Guard): THOM YORKE
    Alright, let’s get this out of the way. He’s an obvious choice. I could’ve made that pick standing on my head. Way to go out on a limb. But here’s the thing: when we’re talking about the most important musician of the decade, it should be obvious. When it comes to basketball, if you can’t decide who’s taking the last shot in your last 20-second timeout, you’re in trouble. Twenty seconds was more than enough time for me to pick Yorke as my top selection, and I’m willing to bet most readers were able to do the same in the little experiment I just attempted.

    How and what to write about Yorke took much longer than the selection itself. After all, the man has been written about in at least four books, two documentary movies, and countless articles, so it’s challenging to add a unique perspective. But seeing as we’re talking about my number one pick (at the one position, no less), I need to bring my A game. Or, should I say, Kid A game. Therefore, I submit my evidence to you how Thom Yorke help his band earn a reputation as a noun, an adjective, and a verb.


    Thom Yorke

    Radiohead (râ-dç-ô-‘hed), proper noun, one of the greatest bands of the past twenty years.

    I could dedicate an entire article on Radiohead in the Nineties. Of course, that’s not what we’re talking about. So in the interest of time, I give you a decade long recap in three bullets:

  • 1992 – Released Pablo Honey. Originally billed as “Britain’s Nirvana”, though considered by some critics as a one-hit wonder.
  • 1995 – Released The Bends, which flew under the radar of some critics but earns major commercial success. Sophomore jinx shattered. Later considered as one of the top albums which changed music. Thom Yorke now considered the antidote to Liam Gallagher. Some critics concerned about Yorke following Cobain’s footsteps toward suicide.
  • 1997 – Released OK Computer, which receives glowing reviews. Later voted by music fans as one of the top five albums ever recorded. Critics compare against Zooropa and now fear Bono will take his own life. [everything true except the last part].

    During the Aughts, Radiohead continued its upward arc to wildly successful results, including:

  • Four Top Ten Albums
  • Two Number One Albums
  • A total of 116 weeks on the Billboard 200:
  • In Rainbows 52 weeks
  • Kid A 28 weeks
  • Hail to the Thief 20 weeks
  • Amnesiac 16 weeks
  • In total, nearly twenty million albums sold worldwide in the Aughts, two Gold and Two Platinum albums in the U.K. (three Gold and one Platinum in the US)
  • Two Grammys, plus nine additional nominations
  • Three Mercury Prize nominations for Album of the Year
  • Named “Best Act in the World Today” by Q Magazine three years straight (2001 – 2003)
  • Eight Top 40 Songs (in the U.K., 4 in the U.S.)
  • Number of other artists of their era ranked above Radiohead: two
  • Number who are still active: one
  • Number who maintained/improved their commercial success: zero

  • It’s also worth noting that Yorke released his solo debut, The Eraser in 2006, spent eight weeks in the Billboard 200, and received favorable reviews from nearly every music critic. Did I mention he did this without imploding his own band, something that even Paul McCartney couldn’t do?

    Speaking of being able to coexist with his band mates, consider this: Radiohead membership has remained intact since well before their 1992 Pablo Honey debut, back to their formation in 1985. To put that in perspective: if Radiohead were a person, it would be three years out of college. You can probably count on one hand the number of active bands who have a longer tenure, excluding of course musicians requiring blood transfusions to remain standing (I’m looking in your direction, Keef). Bands simply either burn out or fade into the abyss of irrelevance. Yet, Radiohead continued to remain commercially successful and critically acclaimed, despite individual members marrying off, raising children, and leading their own lives. Certainly not within our definition of importance, but I found it to be an interesting feather to their cap.

    Before I continue, let me address something Bryan brought up about Madonna. While I agree with him that Madonna largely earned record sales by name alone, I contend that it was not simply their name, but their reputation for, as Bono once described so delicately, “f***ing up the mainstream.” More on this in a little bit.

    While I’m talking about Bono, here’s another anecdote to consider regarding Radiohead’s status among the greats. Many claim that Sting handing over his bass to Adam Clayton (at the final Conspiracy of Hope benefit concerts in 1986) was an acknowledgement by The Police to U2 that the Irish quartet now carried the torch of Rock music. Whether this was intended or not is up for debate. However, what is not up for debate is Bono clearly passing the torch at the beginning of the Aughts; likening himself as the stereotypical front man shouting on stage to gain everyone’s attention, he acknowledged how Yorke could somehow command greater attention by simply whispering from the corner.

    Is Bono Jacob? Despite the Christ complex and his intent to handpick his successor, he is not. But it reinforces an important premise: Radiohead was not only highly regarded by their peers, but they were heavily influential in how live acts (and music as a whole) was perceived and appreciated in the Aughts.

    Radiohead (râ-dç-ô-‘hed), adjective, a musical body of work which is in the fashion of Thom Yorke, et al.

    Case in point: How many times over the past ten years have you either participated or heard a conversation which resembled the following:

    Person One: “You should check out this new band. Fantastic. I can’t get enough of their album.”
    Person Two: “Cool. What do they sound like?”
    Person One: “Well ... they sound like ... well, they sound kind of Radiohead-esque.”

    Given that both The Bends and OK Computer remain so highly regarded, not much of a surprise that it influenced an entire wave of new acts from the U.K. So what do you do when your last album is heralded by many as one of the greatest albums of all time? Strike that. What do you do when your last TWO albums are heralded in such a manner? I submit an excerpt from MTV veejay Gideon Yago’s interview with Radiohead in 2001:
    Gideon Yago: "How do you guys feel about the fact that bands like Travis, Coldplay, and Muse are making a career sounding exactly like your records did in 1997?"
    Thom Yorke (cupping his hands around his mouth): "Good luck with Kid A!"

    Radiohead opted for the path less traveled, and by doing so turned the music world upside down. Even now, it’s challenging to describe their course change; trying to assign their work during the Kid A and Amnesiac period would be a disservice. It wasn’t simply ambient music, despite its many textures. It wasn’t simply progressive rock, despite its complex time signatures. In an era where Alternative was synonymous with mainstream, Radiohead pioneered a new alternative. With Yorke transitioning from Guitar to Bass and Jonny Greenwood moving from Guitar to Ondes Martinet to produce a distinct new sound to the group. Coupled with unique time signatures and incorporation of electronic sampling, Radiohead had created a sound unlike anything before it.

    How significant was this change in direction? In the sixty-plus years that Rock ‘n Roll has existed, there are five events which I consider to be watershed moments for popular music:

    1. Introduction of distortion on electric guitar (aka “the Chicago sound”) – credit can go all the way back to musicians like Ike Turner, Johnny Burnette, and Willie Johnson (in most cases, stumbling onto the sound by using damaged amps), but it was the Kinks who introduced the broader listening audience to the sound on “You Really Got Me”
    2. Hip-Hop sampling – whether it be sourced manually by a DJ or sourced digitally, it revolutionized the sound of Hip-Hop.
    3. Grunge rock (aka “the Seattle sound”) – while it doesn’t categorize the entire genre, the I/IV/iii/vi chord progression borrowed from Punk, though different in its own right. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, and as much as I think Nirvana is overrated, it was revolutionary.
    4. Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac period.
    5. Eb guitar tuning – the phenomena which cannot be explained. At some point in the late Eighties, guitars suddenly tuned down by a half-step. In my opinion, a bigger deal than Page turning to DADGAD tuning, because everyone did it. The music world converted from Open G to a nearly universal Spanish tuning in the Fifties, what happened over the next thirty years to create this change? No one really knows, nor does anyone know why by the end of the Nineties this was back to an alternative tuning.

    Why should these two albums be considered so important? For starters, it silenced critics who hailed bands like Travis and Coldplay as the “next Radiohead”. It also provided the roadmap for musical acts which were heavily influenced by this period – acts like Animal Collective and Deerhunter, both of whom I consider legitimate contenders for the Starting Five in the decade to come. Finally, it was a clear sign to the rest of the music community that Radiohead was in the driver’s seat. As Nigel Godrich said, “The courage, it's Radiohead: a band that will never get out of fashion, because they make the fashion. And when the others follow, they are already somewhere else, far away.”

    Radiohead (râ-dç-ô-‘hed), verb, 1) to emancipate oneself the recording industry. 2) to pioneer the approach of self-distributed music.

    The 2003 release Hail to the Thief marked Radiohead’s the last commitment to its record label. While taking a two-year hiatus, critics and fans wondered alike what direction Radiohead would take. Would it be able to earn back rights to its back catalog and remain with its current label? Would it jump to another label for a more lucrative proposition? Would Radiohead even release an album, per se, or would it release singles and/or EPs? All questions remained unanswered even after the In Rainbows recording sessions completed. One thing was clear: Yorke recognized the decline of the music industry and questioned the need to maintain a relationship with his band’s existing label:

    “I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'f*** you' to this decaying business model.”

    Negotiations were underway between the label and Radiohead’s management. The sticking point between the two parties was Radiohead’s right to purchase rights to its back catalog. We all know the outcome: the label balked at the demands, Radiohead left negotiations, and the label thought they called Radiohead’s bluff ... at least until October 1, 2007 when Jonny Greenwood posted the blog heard ‘round the world on the band’s web site:
    “Well, the new album is finished, and it's coming out in 10 days . . . We've called it In Rainbows.”

    With sky-high popularity and self-financing, Radiohead abandoned the traditional distribution model and opted to release the album via the internet. But the real kicker to the story: consumers could name their own price.

    What part of "name your own price" don't you understand?


    Now is the time in the In Rainbows story where critics will argue, “Wait a second. Didn’t up to two-thirds of the downloaders opt to pay nothing? Bad business.” That’s where they’re wrong. These days, all albums leak. Unless, of course, you want to go the route of one particular record label and protect compact discs from being ripped altogether. So rather than view the internet release as two-thirds getting it for free, I counter that we should interpret this as one-third of the listeners who would have downloaded the leaked album actually paid money. FORTUNE magazine ranked the decision 59th dumbest business move of 2007, stating “can’t wait for the follow-up album, In Debt”. Small oversight by their Editors, though, as they failed to notice the physical release of In Rainbows just days later with three-million pre-orders in queue. Also worth noting, profit from pre-sales of In Rainbows exceeded total profit from Hail to the Thief. Can you say ‘myopic’? Good luck with your own decaying business model, FORTUNE.

    This venture produced not only financial success for Radiohead, but served as a beacon to all artists that the traditional means by which to make a living. True, they were not the first band to ever release an album independently. But they were the first established band to forge a new path, during a decade in which everyone wondered what form the recording industry would take in the digital era.

    In case you were wondering – anyone want to guess which record labels I’ve been writing about during my number one selection? I’ll give you a hint: all the stupid/greedy labels described are one in the same. That’s right, none other than EMI. Yep. EMI, as in the company that blocked The Grey Album, the company that tried (and failed) to block Danger Mouse on Dark Night of the Soul, and the company that lost sight of Ok Go’s viral marketing strategy. Probably not much of a surprise that EMI subsequently lost all three music acts. Congrats, EMI. You may have succeeded in tricking me into buying two copies of Velvet Revolver’s Contraband (which I still to not regret, by the way. Any other album that year, and I would have told them to f*** off). Something tells me you’ll single-handedly make the “Big Four” record labels the “Big Three” ... and I don’t mean that in a good way. Perhaps, at least when it comes to EMI, the recording industry has taken the form of The Smoke Monster.

    In closing, you may wonder why I’ve spent so much time describing the band as opposed to the man. The reason for this is that while Radiohead has evolved into something closer to a democracy, Yorke has held always held the strings. At least most of them: Yorke is not only the front-man but is also regarded by the band as its principal songwriter, with Jonny Greenwood fleshing out arrangements once Yorke has completed the blueprint. When Thom Yorke speaks, he speaks for the band. Not in the Axl Rose sense, for he’s already aligned his band mates behind closed doors. He’s the designated team leader, recognized by his team as having the talent, vision, instinct, and drive to run the offense. His teammates and his fans are rarely disappointed. And if for some reason Thom Yorke doesn’t remain in the Starting Five next decade, then we will surely write about how he influenced a great many of those Starting Five in the first place.



    RAKOWSKI:

    I can say that I’m honestly a little surprised that you respected my #1 pick. I thought for sure Kanye would drum up more controversy than that, but it does feel good to earn some respect around here. It’s not like I get a ton at the office, especially yesterday, when I choose to dance my ass off to Michael Jackson at our first ever “integration party” with the company which we recently acquired. But I digress. Seeing as Matt admitted up front regarding his level of knowledge, comfort, etc. with the hip-hip genre (or lack thereof), then I think we can reasonably discount his opinion regarding Kanye’s MC skills or the relevance with which Afrika Bambaataa delineates the pillars of hip-hop. I appreciate the addition of some more choice ‘Ye lines, I was merely quoting those which Kanye himself mentioned as some of his favorites. I completely agree that one could go on and on with clever, unique, or just plain ridiculously awesome examples of West’s lyrics. I think he’s going to go into “Eff You” mode with his upcoming album, tour, etc. But since I can’t rely on future success, I’m going to rest easy that the music he released, the controversy he generated, and the artists he’s influenced over the past 10 years has been nothing if not important.

    As for Matt’s unveiling of his #1 pick, I can’t say that I’m surprised. In fact, I would have been disappointed if it hadn’t been Thom Yorke at this point. Really ... who else is left in the last 10 years that could have made such a major impact? Loved the self-released album for the “pay whatever you want” price. Brilliant. Loved In Rainbows and especially loved the version of “Reckoner” that they released to their fans in individual musical parts so that remixes could be made at will. I’m actually surprised (a) that Matt didn’t mention this and (b) that Matt didn’t sit down and create his own version of the song with the parts the band released. Love the longevity. Yorke is one of those musical enigmas ... someone about whom you can really wonder if he puts his pants on one leg at a time.

    So for a number one pick, just as Matt did with mine, I respect it. In fact, I probably respect this more than he respects the Kanye pick, but he was being nice and chose to go easy on me there. I am completely aligned with how successful, how impactful, how innovative, and how progressive this band has been in the Aughts. So, Bryan, why didn’t you put them on YOUR list? I have two main reasons I chose to leave Mr. Yorke off my list:

  • I don’t necessarily agree with Matt’s take on why he selected Yorke but talked about the entire band as a collective group throughout his post. Sure, he’s the front-man and the songwriter and the spokesperson ... as are most lead singers for their bands. But he also seems bats*** crazy, too. I think without the guide rails that are the other band members, Yorke would be so far off in left field his relevance would have been severely diminished. So yes, you can be too brilliant and too musically gifted to make you not important. Ultimately, I decided that Radiohead was a whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts type of band, thus disqualifying them from being part of my list. Yeah, Yorke released The Eraser, just like Dave Matthews released Some Devil. As far as the standards of success each band was used to at the time of these solo releases ... they freakin’ tanked. And so both front-men got it out of their system and they returned to the nest where their talents and ideas were better complemented by the collective genius of the band as a whole. That’s what sold me on excluding Yorke form the list.
  • My second reason is that I just wasn’t into Kid A, Amnesiac, or Hail to the Thief. There ... I said it. So sue me. To me, they felt like letdowns from Ok Computer which I will always consider to be one of the top 10 albums of all time. Of course, In Rainbows brought them roaring back in my book, but the damage had been done. Maybe they went above my head with those 3 albums, which is quite possible. I respect the critics reviews of these albums, but I just couldn’t get that experimental. So while my first reason supersedes this one, this reason make me feel better about not including Yorke ... as if the audiophiles would call me a fake for not including a member of Radiohead on my person “Most Important” list.

    Whew ... I feel better now that I got that off my chest. So Matt, I applaud you for going out on a not-so-scary limb by including Yorke as the individual and placing him at the top of your list. I get it and I’m fine with it.

    Wait ... are we done? Seriously? That’s all she (we) wrote? 25,000 words flew by very quickly.

    A big thanks to Mr. Corona for allowing me to take up some space on his corner of the blogosphere. For me, this has been a blast. If you have any readers left after our ranting and raving, I’d love to come back for another (perhaps shorter?) list-making session. High Fidelity is one of my favorite movies for a myriad of reasons, but making lists is definitely in the Top 5 (heh heh). I feel good about my list now that I look back and, with the exception of my sneaky not-quite-musician pick to stir the pot at #5, I like where I landed. To be brutally honest, I think both of our Top 3’s are extremely solid, while there are some holes to be seen with both of our #4 and #5 picks. But that’s half the fun, right? The Miami Heat have got a phenomenal Top 3 to get things going in South Beach next season. Time will tell if that’s enough to win a championship, but I’ve got a feeling they’re going to figure out a way.

    I just hope someone enjoyed reading as much as I liked writing. Seriously ... just 1 person is fine with me. I’ll go on if I can get that 1 vote. You don’t even have to reveal your name ... an anonymous comment will do just fine. Here’s to everyone hearing some good tunes this summer and building up a good mental cache of artists for the Top 5 Most Important of the 10’s ...

    Rakowski ... OUT!



    CORONA:

    I’m glad this is my blog, because I get to issue a rebuttal to Bryan’s rebuttal. First, on Kanye:

  • Given that I myself do not consider myself a Hip-Hop Encyclopedia, I am not surprised that my ranking of Kanye is discounted. That said, I don’t think it’s critical to have a massive Hip-Hop catalog to find more talented MCs during the Aughts. If rhyming Apollonia with Isotoners is poetry, then I’m going to protest my 10th grade English grade. I also think that would qualify MCA, Ad Rock, and Mike D as Poet Laureate.
  • Borrowing an idea from Bill Simmons, my Mount Rushmore for MCs of the Aughts would be as follows: Eminem, Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, and Nas. Mos Def and Black Thought would be the underappreciated Crazy Horse Memorial on the other side of the mountain. Both Kanye and Pharrell would receive honorable mention and make the Mount Rushmore of DJs, along with Dre and Fatboy Slim.
  • There is no doubting Kanye’s ability to produce highly creative tracks, but to consider him a great rapper is going too far. For me, the red flag against considering him a great rapper is the fact that Jay-Z himself was reluctant to have Kanye rap. A producer, first and foremost, in my opinion. When compared to other producers, not enough to make my squad.
  • Afrika Bambaataa – As I’ve stated before, I’m no Kevin Powell, but I feel obligated to comment on Bryan’s comment. I brought up the four pillars to demonstrate that Kanye categorically did not save Hip-Hop. And who’s units of measurements would be better to use that the Godfather of Hip-Hop himself? In my opinion, he had no effect on two of the three pillars and, at least in my opinion, should be heralded as a great DJ but ok MC.

    Now, a few quick comments about Thom Yorke:

  • First, kudos for reminding me about “Reckoner”. Brilliant play by Radiohead, one that was quickly replicated by other acts.
  • Regarding front-men being songwriters – yes, most do have a role, but I would argue that the list of bands which experience wild success and have the vast majority of their songs written by their lead singer are few and far between, and therefore should not be overlooked:
  • 1980s: The Police
  • 1990s: Nirvana, Oasis
  • 2000s: Radiohead, Jack White
  • Interesting point about how his band mates reel him in. But I contend that because Yorke was even more dominant in decision-making prior to the Aughts, he served more than just an experimentalist.
  • I didn’t want to bring up Simon Fuller and Britney Spears again, but ... given that Bryan mentioned earlier that he wouldn’t base judgment on his personal tastes, I think it’s unfair to not recognize Radiohead as being the most consistently awed band of the Aughts.
  • That said, point well make about The Eraser, though I would counter that its critical success should soften the weak sales figures.
  • If history has taught us anything, it is that one lead singer, and one singer alone, deserves to be considered bats*** insane. And that title belongs to W. Axl Rose. I’ve heard that Yorke is notorious for shunning adulating fans, both everyday people and celebrities alike. Even Jack Black has gotten the cold shoulder from Yorke. Is it English stoicism or egotism? Probably both. But as I have learned to accept the rants and misguided efforts of Axl, so too must I do so for Mr. Yorke. After all, he’s bound to be knighted sooner or later. And that will be a sight to see.
  • Regarding the "not-so-scary limb" comment - When the USA National Basketball Program selected Jordan as its first selction to the 1992 Dream Team, did other countries say, "way to go out on a limb"? No, they knew it was coming, and then prayed that they wouldn't lose by 70. I like my squad's odds, Mr. Rakowski, particularly with Thom Yorke at the helm.
    My God. I think I’m going through withdrawal. I have nothing else left to counter. When we initially talked about the idea, we thought that we’d punch this article out in less than a month. Three months and 26,000+ words later, it’s time to bring this to a wrap.

    Before we started, my biggest concern was that we’d overlap too much. Neither of us would have believed that we’d go 10-for-10 in unique picks. It just goes to show you the breadth of music that we lived through during the Aughts: while I would never have considered Simon Fuller, Britney Spears, or Justin Timberlake in my list, each of these names will come up when we look back and talk about the decade. Sure, some of them may come up in Google for word searches like “shaved head +umbrella”, but they’ll come up nevertheless. This experiment has demonstrated to me that “importance” is something that can be argued from many perspectives, even when you go to the point of setting specific criteria. Music appreciation will never be precise (thank God), and for that reason alone, it’s always fun to stir the pot.

    Much thanks again to my guest-writer for his contributions. There is no way that this article would have been nearly as fun if I wrote it solo. Like I said, remember this name, because he’ll own his label someday. Until then, he has an open invitation to explore other Top Fives here on disenfranchisedfm.com. Get home soon, Mr. Rakowski. The Chicago music scene isn’t the same without you.

    Additional thanks goes to those of you who read from the beginning and made it to the end. We’re always interested to hear your thoughts, so feel free to share them on Facebook and/or Twitter. Stay tuned for more Top Five articles this year. Until then, we are over ...







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