Friday Links: 22nd Sept 2017



Bought: Science and the City



Old Man Hip-Hop: On Jay-Z and 4:44

Jay-Z occupies a unique place in hip-hop. A fan could claim that his lyrical skills, wordplay, and double-entendre-heavy lyrics place him among the all-time greatest rappers. If you don’t like his music, it’s still reasonable to look at the mainstream attention he’s received, and the length of his discography, and appreciate that he’s one of the biggest stars the genre has ever seen. I think there was a period when he was the King of Hip-Hop.

But what is he now? He’s a drug-dealer turned gangster rapper who ran his own label as well as the legendary Def Jam records, on the way to making the best part of a billion dollars. He arrived in the public consciousness 21 years ago with an album he claimed would be his only release. 16 studio albums later, he’s still here, a 47-year-old man with a platinum album in a genre associated with youngsters.

One fascinating thing about Jay-Z is how he somehow manages to be simultaneously cool and goofy. He can be the guy rapping about guns and his vast wealth while surrounded by bouncing asses. But he’s also the guy dad-grooving at a Coldplay gig, being adorably gentle with a pensioner, or charmingly awkward on the Jonathan Ross Show. Hip-hop is vain; coolness is vital. Through his career, Jay was aware of that, and tried to be slick, while his goofy side kept leaking out, somehow without affecting his reputation.

With 4:44, Jay has finally dropped the posturing. This album is remarkably honest. He opens up about his well-publicised cheating, his mum’s sexuality, his mistakes and self-loathing. He’s touched on regrets before, he even has a song with that as a title on his first album. But 4:44 is a full-length, more earnest version of that track. This is him breaking new ground.

If I was to speculate (I’m just about to), I’d say Jay has recognised his place as Old Man Hip-Hop. Youngsters listening to Future and Lil Uzi Vert probably aren’t clicking on his albums, regardless of subject matter. But Jay realises he’s dragged his followers into and past middle-age with him. He had a lot he wanted to get off his chest, and knew there was an audience ready to hear him do so. We hate ourselves, and are happy to hear him admit to that too. He’s secure enough personally and financially to put his thoughts and heart out there to millions of listeners who’ll analyse every transcribed lyric on In a genre full of bullshit and posturing, Jay-Z’s given us honesty, humility, and genuine emotion, in place of bitches and hoes. 4:44 is a great album, and his best.


Friday Links: 8th Sept 2017


I got a four-month free trial of Google Play Music, which meant I finally got to listen to Jay-Z’s latest album, 4:44. It’s great. As much as I like Jay as an artist, I find him more fascinating as a businessman (a business, man). So, as I’ve done before, off down the rabbit hole I went:

True Detective

I liked the first season of True Detective but I didn’t love it. I don’t know prompted me to start it again. This time around I’m far more into it. Now I want to read some of the books that inspired it. Some are old. And, sometimes, old = free

Other online reading


Friday Links: 01/09/2017

Some books I’ve been planning on reading for years but never got around to and I don’t know why:




When the Snikt Goes Down: Brief Thoughts on Logan

Logan’s most impressive aspect is how it handles Laura. Of the many films and shows that try to portray a child as an intimidating presence, few cast well enough to do so. Of that remaining small group, rarely do they successfully direct and edit so the child then looks vicious in action. Logan nails those elements so well, creating a character whose attacks are wonderfully feral and brutal. Kinetic movements and clever editing make Laura seem so quick; we feel the confusion her assailants-turned-victims do, as she vanishes from one point and reappears in another, spraying blood along the way.

In the cultural black-hole I reside in, I’d heard just one thing about Logan — how gritty it was. But I didn’t expect it to go so fully into ageing and death. I knew it was about Logan as an old man. I didn’t know Prof. X would make an appearance, or that he’d be broken and somewhat demented. Ignoring canon, Xavier has quite the character arc across the X-Men films: the energetic McAvoy of First Class (or the drunken Lebowski-esque figure of Days of Future Past), to Patrick Stewart’s regal Professor, to…well, borderline Livia Soprano (“I wish the Lord would take me now”).

I generally dislike meta-moments, so I wasn’t initially impressed when an X-Men comic appeared in the film. But it worked really well, the comic creating the debate: was Gabriela mental for thinking she’d found truth in a comic (the location of Eden)? Or was truth hidden within those pages all along? Can comics contain something more useful than entertainment?


Friday Links: 25/08/17


Going through a stage of re-listening to the wise words of Eric Weinstein. Here’s him talking to Tim Ferriss, Dave Rubin, and Sam Harris. Such a smart guy.



Friday Links: 18th August 2017


Read: The Undoing Project. A phenomenal book, the best thing I’ve read in a long time


Bought: Jump Attack

Potential next buys:

My bedside unit is full of books I’m slowly working through simultaneously. I like choice, but this is a bit much. Time to cull.


Listened to two great ones this week:



My interests always follow a similar pattern: I get hotly, intensely into something and think about devoting all my time to it. Three weeks later, it’s forgotten. So I thought it might be useful for me to record my new interests here and see how many I burn through over, say, a year. This week’s subject – all things Jewish. Some of The Undoing Project takes place in Israel. Maybe, in some weird way, to continue to cling to a book I loved, I’ve become intrigued with the culture that’s an important part of its characters. I only finished reading it yesterday. Already I’ve checked the cost of flights to Israel, started a Google Doc of my favourite Yiddish slang (from the page linked above), searched for Jewish food shops, made plans to visit a synagogue, and considered interviewing a rabbi.