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Felt - Forever Breathes the Lonely Word Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the misanthropic pop perfection of the indie British band’s sixth and best album.
In November 1986, a writer for NME visited the flat of indie-pop enigma Lawrence. The mononymous musician lived in a quiet suburb outside of Birmingham, England, alone except for a collection of records, a set of first edition Kerouac paperbacks, and enough cleaning products to stock a small hospital ward. “A platoon of Airwick Solids stoically occupy strategic vantage points; the toilet bowl harbors not the usual one, but a breeding pair of those Cartland-pink santisers; a wicker basket provides a mass grave for spent aerosol air fresheners.” Since he rarely left the antiseptic apartment, Lawrence explained that his days were typically spent wasting time with mundane activities, like assiduously washing his floppy brown hair.

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Dipset - Diplomatic Ties Music Album Reviews

Dipset were always a theater of the absurd. On their first album in more than a decade, Cam’ron, Juelz Santana, and Jim Jones become a trio of almost no effort.

If the first Dipset album in 14 years makes you want to retrieve your Blogspot password, hold a beat before you get those computers putin’. In the last decade, Cam’ron, Juelz Santana, and Jim Jones have released massive amounts of music. But when was the last time any of it held public interest for more than a few days—“Pop Champagne,” maybe? Remember when Cam’ron was relegated to Vado’s sidekick for a year or so? Remember that Jim Jones dropped an album called Wasted Talent in April? Does Jim Jones?

This is the phoned-in, diminished version of Dipset that shows up for Diplomatic Ties, an utter lack of engagement serving as its only unifying thread. The posse track with the LOX is titled “Dipset/LOX,” just enough to differentiate from the previous “D-Block/Dipset.” There is a “Dipset Forever,” though unrelated to the Purple Haze closing track of the same name. Diplomatic Ties’ nine numbers clock in just 30 minutes, like they’re suddenly an indie rock band. They couldn’t even bother to pad it out with Cam’ron laughing at his voicemail or an interlude where Hell Rell defends his title as “the Rakim of the jail-phone freestyle.”

Effort has always been tough thing to quantify on a Dipset record, though. Cam’ron can act like the process of rapping is entirely beneath him while smirking at the way the English language bends to his will; Killa Cam deflated the purist enterprise of the Rap City freestyle by counting a stack of bills while letting off the greatest freestyle in the show’s history. The Diplomats were a crew whose disregard for social decorum made them a movement for fans who took their theater of the absurd very seriously—see Das Racist, at times a Dipset tribute act. Juelz Santana referred to himself as the “young Mohammed Atta” of Dipset Taliban soon after 9/11, but they remained New York’s most beloved crew for the next five years. They signed to Roc-A-Fella and spent their entire stay locked in a cold war with JAY-Z. The Heatmakerz flipped Winger and Starship samples into street anthems. Cam’ron’s acts of occasionally unforgivable ignorance have been curated and ranked.

But as they’ve done consistently for the past decade or so, the trio mostly kills time in 16-bar increments over off-the-rack trap production here, putting the bare minimum of work into songs they know will get maybe half a minute of acknowledgment at a live show before returning to something from Come Home With Me. This is supposed to be the fun part of Dipset—Juelz rhyming the same word with itself a dozen times, Jim Jones setting new standards for grandiose ad-libs, Cam finding creative new ways to applaud his car and degrade his sexual conquests. But Jadakiss gets off the most memorable line, if only because “might’ve thought he was Drew the way he bled so” is dorky enough to get laughed out of a Grantland Gchat.

Jones has aged the best because the physical act of rapping always sounded like a draining ordeal, anyway; even at the peak of his powers, he rode the beat with the parking brake on. His new thing is to punctuate half his lines with “#facts,” as if anyone comes to Dipset to foster a healthy relationship with reality. “Inside a catfish/I don’t mean no picture prank,” Cam raps on “Sauce Boyz,” somehow seeming proud of that punchline despite sounding like he recorded Diplomatic Ties while fighting a nasty bronchial infection. As with The Program, Cam’s only impactful lyric comes at Kanye West’s expense, dismissing his claims of mental illness while calling him an Uncle Tom.

Justified or not, this has been standard operating procedure for Dipset, who never crossed a bridge they didn’t later burn. And yet, they continue to forsake everything that made them influential or even entertaining for a last-ditch pursuit of the chart success that eluded them during their critical zenith. Rather than engaging with the rappers they inspired (A$AP Mob, remember, was masterminded by a former Dipset intern, while Roc Marciano has inherited Cam’s throne of deadpan gutter talk), they throw guys like Murda Beatz and Belly on these tracks like they have any chance of filling a RapCaviar gap. Tory Lanez’s cameo on “No Sleep,” meanwhile, is so off-key it’s virtually avant-garde; it’s the most tone-deaf hook to appear on any track from a crew that has already employed Max B and Freekey Zekey.

Diplomatic Ties begins with an interview clip of Drake asking 40 to “make me some Dipset/Heatmakerz shit,” a demand that the actual Heatmakerz tracks from Diplomatic Ties can’t meet. During “Dipset Forever,” they make a Queen sample sound so cheap their only goal seems to be avoiding a clearance lawsuit.

Though noticed by mostly no one except surviving Dipset lurkers, former B-teamers Hell Rell, 40 Cal, and JR Writer united to drop an EP, The Upstage, on the same day Diplomatic Ties arrived. It’s almost entirely unlistenable yet weirdly compelling in its self-regard. During “Presidential,” for instance, JR Writer does his Swaggy P heat-check thing over a remake of “I’m Ready,” from Diplomatic Immunity. “Y’all all in the friend zone/’cause y’all ain’t fuckin’ with me/This shit is straight platonic/Got it?/Cut the shit, dickhead/Lorena Bobbitt.” Yes, these are actual lyrics in 2018, but the way JR Writer treats them like irrefutable proof that he’s the greatest rapper alive is kind of inspiring. We should all listen to it every morning before work.

Meanwhile, the last time Cam sounded even remotely interested in his legacy was on Uncle Murda’s minor Hot 97 novelty hit, “Cam’ron Voice”—a depressing and undeniable acknowledgment of Cam becoming Twitter public domain. If Purple Haze was indeed “the album that launched a thousand rap blogs,” Diplomatic Ties is just more proof that they’ve long been a better source for new Dipset lyrics than the real thing.


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