Teaching English in South Korea: The Job

Though there are numerous types of teaching positions in South Korea, the following is a personal reflection and an opinion on teaching English exclusively at a private language academy written from first-hand experience. For information on those other types of positions as well as further inquiry into private academies, click here. Continue reading

Album Review: ‘Doris’ by Earl Sweatshirt

After being a Wanna-be Writer, watching surf videos (surf videos always have great music), and getting my Crayon Pop fix, I’m ready to talk some Earl Sweatshirt. The following was written in collaboration with Robert J. Kerestes.

EARL: THEN AND NOW

“Hey bruh, Samoan reform school do you any good?” is what I imagine being asked of L.A. rapper, Earl Sweatshirt, in cynical fashion from his Odd Future crew following his reappearance.

By now everyone should know the story behind Free Earl. It surely makes for a great story in the emergence of a promising hip-hop artist: being shipped off to Samoa for exhibiting Earl-like symptoms at the age of sixteen, then coming back to the public eye with a hotter than warm-reception with an almost 180-degree flip in his new-found perspective. Whereas Earl, his acclaimed 2010 debut mixtape, played more like an American Psycho-esque account of black L.A. suburban skater kids, Doris is a very serious production in terms of sincere content as well as producer fire-power — RZA, The Neptunes, and The Alchemist bless a few key tracks. Whatever issues Earl’s dealing with he attempts to confront with Doris.

'Doris' by Earl Sweatshirt
‘Doris’ by Earl Sweatshirt, picture courtesy of Wikipedia

OUR TAKE ON DORIS:

  • Album: Doris
  • Artist: Earl Sweatshirt
  • Producer(s): randomblackdude, BadBadNotGood, Tyler the Creator, RZA, The Alchemist, among others
  • Release Date: 20 August, 2013
  • Label: Columbia Records

I honestly like the idea that Earl may have lost fans after the release of Doris. People no doubt expected — wanted — something like the extremely brash, sociopathic pomposity exhibited on Earl. Young people like to be a part of a counter-culture movement where profanity and nihilism are themes because (and let’s not over-analyze this) . . . because it’s cool. Well, on Dorisno dice:

Earlier fans of the “cool” following were probably disappointed by this album which should be to our delight because, y’know, screw the hipsters.

I anticipate a loss of fans. I also anticipate gaining some. I fucking love how it sounds. And uhh. That’s what matters. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that you can hear the progression. I hope I lose you as a fan if you only fuck with me because I rapped about raping girls when I was 15 – Earl Sweatshirt on his progression

The album is dark, as is expected, where you hear influences from the Wu-Tang Clan, MF Doom, and MC Eiht. Starting off with “Pre” and “Burgundy,” which are slow and standard tracks for Odd Future, the tempo is set for the rest of the record: druggy, murky, abstract, something sinister. The album really takes off with “Hive” and “Chum,” a track reminiscent of the Golden Era with not only Sweatshirt rhyming about Mobb Deep’s Havoc and Prodigy but also rhyming over dark minimalism: an eerie piano loop, a kick bass, and an offbeat snare drum. Earl’s lyricism is tight and borderline scary at times:

Breaking news: death’s less important when the Lakers lose / It’s lead in that baby food, heads try to make it through / Fish-netted legs for them eyes that she cater to / Ride dirty as the fucking sky that you praying to — Earl on “Hive”

As a 19-year-old well on the path to hip-hop stardom, Earl also opens up with self-reflection that is nice to hear from an Odd Future member, especially after rapping about rape and murder. A pleasant shift:

Too black for the white kids and too white for the blacks / From honor roll to cracking locks up off from them bicycle racks / I’m indecisive, I’m scatterbrained, and I’m frightened, it’s evident / And them eyes, where he hiding all them icicles at? — Earl on “Chum” 

He also takes issue with his newfound status as a notable person opposite his own crew:

I’m shaded with the few whom I usually blow cabbage with / New patterns paddy-caking with mannequins / Cause I don’t like my fucking homies dip, bruh, they all / Jaw-slacking, all ‘em awe struck – 20 Wave Caps

Such is the attitude of Earl after I guess, what, finding himself? Given the mature attitude this 19-year-old has displayed on his first album with a major label, I think he’s done so for the better.

*   *   *

Doris succeeds where other progressive hip-hop fails. While others keep trying to be progressive in hip-hop and successfully stray from the golden age sound, they mostly fail. Doris is a textbook example of how to take all of the good from the golden age and expand on it progressively. We’re listening to someone push the envelope and push it well. Importantly, Earl has something to say and he does it without relying on shock value. It’s definitely in parallel with Mac Miller’s Watching Movies with the Sound Off which I believe is the future sound of hip-hop — avante-garde, syncopated percussion, rumbling kick-bass, groggy and druggy, yet without the annoying fluttering hi-hats and overly techie sound. Hip-hop finally progressing and sounding refreshingly, well, progressive.

We still get a load of Odd Future in their natural form from Tyler, the Creator, Domo Genesis, and Frank Ocean while Mac Miller himself also lays down some nice bars on “Guild.” RZA comes in on “Molasses” to make a proclamation on the hook that’s sure to have already become a catchphrase among the “cool” following:

I’ll fuck the freckles off your face, bitch

We could do this shit all night — RZA on “Molasses”

The album ends with “Knight” which is reminiscent of the triumphant conclusion on Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx II with “Kiss the Ring” — concluding in fitting fashion for a successful record.

*   *   *

I like Earl. He’s the quiet one among Odd Future with a more modest character yet has to act out his supposed aggression — it’s hip-hop protocol. Though it’s still something that adds to the mystique of Earl Sweatshirt. Let’s hope he continues to shed fans in light of more loyal ones who appreciate the newly found Earl.

Overall rating between two reviewers: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The following top-five releases for August was compiled by music collaborator, Robert J. Kerestes. Stay tuned for our full review on Earl Sweatshirt’s debut solo album, Doris: it’s chock full of That-Hip-Hop-on-the-West-Coast. I’m loving the sound of Odd Future.

AUGUST’S TOP-5 ALBUM RELEASES

  1. Earl Sweatshirt: Doris (Read our full review here)
  2. Franz Ferdinand: Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
  3. King Krule: 6 Feet Beneath the Moon
  4. Travis: Where you Stand
  5. A$AP Ferg: Trap Lord

August Top 5

Overflowing and Directionless: Another Wanna-be Writer

A lot of people say “music inspires me” . . . “music inspires me” . . . “music inspires me” . . . “music inssspireszz me.”

I say that too. Right now I’m listening to a DJ Premier mixtape after having read Siri Paulson’s Confessions of a Wannabe Writer (hip-hop from the NYC boroughs always gives me a kick). I open up WordPress and click Post → Add New. My fingers hover over the keyboard as my mind is perfectly focused:

  • South Korea’s at-times strange brand of beauty standards (BAGL — pronounced ‘bagel,’ to mean how some Korean men like baby-faced and glamorous young women; small head — and then holding up a lightly clenched fist to demonstrate how small of a head; a V-lined jaw-bone structure — and then making a V with their hands to demonstrate the V-ness; big eyes) — that’s got potential I think
  • The charming details in Korean cuisine — I could also be a wanna-be food connoisseur
  • An American Psycho-esque account with Korean nuances — quite monumental, sure
  • Earl Sweatshirt’s intriguing talent among an Odd Future — I would like to be known among music columnists as inspired by Robert Christgau
  • Tijuana’s seamy inspiration — meh

The mind’s indeed focused, the fingers are hovering, ideas are overflowing. Yet nothing ensues.

Lonely Saturday nights, dreaming of being a writer
Lonely Saturday nights, dreaming of being a writer

I always have tidbits in my head that ring with wit (morsels of zingers) – I would like to think – if only I could justify them with the right setup just as a comedian sets up his punch lines with the right balance of timing and intonation. Morsels aren’t to be wasted.

The setup, though, is difficult. I think every writer, wanna-be or seasoned, understands the setup must be nurtured. For your point to hit home you’ve got to orchestrate a foundation of ideas and elements so they flow, flow smoothly, leading to a special place. If it’s finely orchestrated, your nugget of wit drops warmly with a deep soft thud into that special place. Boom. The comedian’s punchline. The writer’s morsel. Building that foundation from a series of horizontal lines is dreadfully mammoth; the lines are blank. Every writer dreads staring at a white screen. That damn cursor blinks, yawns with insouciance. It checks its nails. Just blinks.

Is this what writer’s block feels like? Or do I have to be a non-wanna-be writer first to feel writer’s block?

I don’t know. But I think I speak for a lot of writers when I say I’m a perfectionist when it comes to putting my thoughts down in the name of written art. I’m overflowing with ideas. I’ve got catalogues of perfectly structured sentences, albeit with the mammoth task of making them come to life with the right foundation. Maybe I’m overthinking it all. Sounds . . . unnecessarily scientific now that I think about it, all this chatter about orchestrating and foundations and elements of the 3rd- . . . anyway. Whatever. All I’m trying to say is I WANNA WRITE! I just. Want. To write.

In his post, Siri Paulson candidly states:

I feel like a poser. A master of self-sabotage. A wannabe doomed to failure because I don’t want my dream enough to work for it.

Yep. I fall hard into that same category as do many others, I suppose.

Abstract1
A few rounds of Simon & Garfunkel and The Smiths, and I think may have something

I also came across another blog by Connor Griffin, aptly titled Adventures of a Wanna-be Writer (I guess I, uh, had quite the session Googling “wannabe writers” on a lonely Saturday night). In one of his posts entitled “Good vs. Evil: A Theme to be Explored,” Mr. Griffin gives some great yet oddly simple advice. In response to the inquiry, “So you’re trying to write something original,” the answer is:

Don’t. You’ll spend the rest of your writing career looking for that original ‘something’ rather than actually writing.

I shall (need to) pay heed to this the next time I find myself having twice listened to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours without an “original” idea. Music does give me inspiration to write in the form of ideas. I guess my job isn’t to waste those overflowing ideas. Just pour them out. Just write.

And I’m delighted — comforted — that I’m not the only one who is a wanna-be.