November 2, 2005
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Who's bigger than 2Pac?
If you're going to talk about rankings and
lists, and you're the least bit interested
in rap, then you've got to wonder: Does
comparing 2Pac and The Notorious B.LG.
even get us anywhere?
They were the twin stars of rap's surreal
push into the public eye.
Their deaths have embodied
the unfairly short life-span (both
artistic and physical) forced ontoj
Both have seen their posthu-
mous legacies raided by a caval-
cade of puppeteers and shills.
But their styles were as diver-
gent as their lives were joined at
They've become morality
threw artistic tantrums (see 2Pac's "Hit
'Em Up"). He could play both sides of an
equation. Both "Mo Money, Mo Problems"
and "You're Nobody ('Till Somebody Kills
You)" are about fame. One is the quintessen-
tial big-budget rap jam; the other is a bleak,
unflinching take on the role of the black male
artist in society. He never needed
to scream for redemption and
understanding from the public,
his records spoke for themselves.
And it's those records that ulti-
mately put him over the top. Even
at 17 tracks, his debut probably
only has one genuine filler song
("Respect") and even his double
album - the double album
being the true bane of all rappers
N - has only four or five forget-
RVEY Now compare that to 2Pac.
tales, icons, demi-gods and
cultural touchstones for pretty
much every section of Ameri-
Someone asked me what our generation's
uniting moment was. You know, The Beatles
on Ed Sullivan, Nirvana's Nevermind. The
type of moment/movement that gets chalked
up in Time/Life anthologies until our grand-
kids turn around and ask us about some
long-forgotten year in our twenties. We've
got a moment, and as sad as it is to say, that
generational moment is the harrowing time
encompassing the shooting deaths of Tupac
Shakur and Biggie,
Putting their pasts and their lives behind us
(and we have to do this, to make the ad homi-
nem and biographical arguments secondary to
the art itself), is, after all, the only real way of
taking these men and their music seriously.
Without upsetting the geometric balance
of the world around us, and with a generous
artistic appraisal of both men's catalogues, I
can safely say that the Notorious B.I.G. was a
superior MC, album artist, lyricist and artistic
presence than 2Pac.
Let the threats and taunts begin.
Notorious B.I.G.'s two proper albums, the
breath-stealing debut of Ready To Die and
the operatic double-album Life After Death,
are brutal, darkly introspective albums with
jaw-dropping lyrical adroitness. From the dia-
mond-cut internal rhymes of "Hypnotize" to
the stunning images of "Suicidal Thoughts,"
both of Biggie's studio albums enthrall listen-
ers with consummate hardcore raps that meld
memory, imagination and a palpable sense of
alienation. The fact that Biggie's record labels
had faith in him from the very start (he was,
after all, the man who brought the spotlight of
the rap world back to the East Coast after Cal-
ifornia G-Funk), didn't just make his life more
complex and interesting, it subtly affected his
art in a way no rappei: has channeled since.
Biggie allowed fame, or at least the
concept of it, to seep into his art. He never
Pac never put out a genuinely five-star
album; both of Big's albums easily slide
past 4.5 stars. Ready To Die alone is a
Top 10 rap album of all time. 2Pac's only
essential offering is his greatest hits col-
lection. Pac is a singles artist, no different
than Grandmaster Flash. Even his stronger
albums like Me Against The World are
rife with half-serious screeching ("Lord
Knows") and way too many appearances
by the Outlawz. Frankly, 2Pac was a decent
rapper whose thug-life manifestos are just
decent updates of Ice Cube's early work.
Yes, both Cube and Pac rage against inner-
city dehumanization. But 2Pac's zeal,
incredibly "spiritual" and edifying verses
can be preachy enough to alienate. He
took Ice Cube's template and just made it
abstract and instructional. Biggie always
showed before he told; too many times 2Pac
would "teach" and "preach" instead of let-
ting his diction and verses do the work for
him. Biggie was the craftsman; Pac was
the star-crossed, flickering candle. 2Pac's
lasting memory is his startling rise to fame
and his tumultuous self-destruction. People
obsess over 2Pac's actions because it's far
more compelling than his art. He's still a
Top 20 rapper to be sure, but nowhere near
Biggie's ridiculous blend of charm, use of
metaphor and simile and vision for albums.
I don't mean to slander 2Pac's legacy (Suge
Knight and the Shakur family seems to be
doing a very good job of that); he's arguably
done more for rap as a icon than anyone else,
but it's important to remember that as much of
a man as he was, he was an artist, and a pretty
good one at that.
Just not as good as Biggie.
-Evan loves rap music and w1hes he
was half the rapper 2Pac was. Send him
2Pac fanpics at evanbmcg @umich.edu.
Courtesy of Reprise Records
Stretch, in slow motion.
EYES ON 'THE PRIZE
OUISTER GETS BACK TO ITS COLLEGE ROOTS
By Caitlin Cowan
Daily Arts Writer
CO NC Eir P REV IE W
Plenty of music fans entertain fantasies
about their favorite musi-
cians every once in a while.
Maybe it would be awesome Guster
to blaze with Dave Mat- Tonight at
thews or bar-hop with Franz 7:30 p.m.
Ferdinand. In the haziest At the Michigan Theater
of daydreams, even Jack
and Meg White may seem
like accessible human beings. But the beauty
of Guster is that they are just like you. They're
addicted to Sudoku puzzles. They need their per-
sonal space. And they love to sleep in their own
beds. For more than 10 years Guster has been on
college student lists of bands they can't live with-
out. They've never crossed over to become radio
whores and refuse to put out an album with one
single and a dozen filler tracks. Multi-instrumen-
talist and newcomer Joe Pisapia insists that more
of the same is on the way.
"Musically, Guster could make choices that
other bands who might have a radio hit but don't
have any strong following couldn't," he.said. Pisa-
pia is the latest addition to Guster's pre-existing
lineup of vocalist Adam Gardener, percussionist
Brian Rosenworcel and guitarist Ryan Miller.
"(Other bands) don't have a chance to exercise
all these different options over the years. Guster
can actually have a career as a band and exist on
its own. I think it ... kind of can tend to keep you
The sonic and philosophic purity that Guster
subscribes to has been a major component of
their success. So has "grassroots" promotion
and ceaseless touring. "Even before my time in
Guster ... they were always out, whether it was
spending years in a van and then switching over
to like, years in a bus," Pisapia said. Describing
their tour ethic, he added that the band was "just
constantly playing and playing and touring and
Some bands that have been labeled as grass-
roots find themselves promptly re-categorized as
"hippies" or "potheads" a la Dave Matthews Band
and The Grateful Dead. But has this heading
of "grassroots" or "college band" hurt Guster's
popularity or limited their exposure? Pisapia cer-
tainly doesn't think so. "I think it's kind of free-
ing," he admitted. "I would definitely say (we're)
an exact example of grassroots gone good.":
The trio-turned-quartet is stopping in Ann
Arbor tonight on their nationwide tour to play
at the Michigan Theater. A new Guster album is
also on the horizon. "It should be coming out this
spring," Pisapia said. "We cut a lot of extra songs,
so what we're probably going to do is have extras
to release on iTunes. I'm really excited."
Three years after 2003's Keep It Together,
the band's latest will be different, but also far
more eclectic. "We explored so many different
avenues," Pisapia said of their upcoming LP.
"There are some songs that are really rootsy,
like The Band. And there are some songs that
have this weird sort of hopped-up country
feel. And then there's this one epic song that
... turns into sort of a Pink Floyd madness."
After outlining the incredibly diverse sound of
the new record, Pisapia added, "It's kind of all
over the map."
It is perhaps friendship and mutual understand-
ing that have most profoundly shaped the career
of these college friends from Tufts. "We enjoyed
a kind of musical communication," Pisapia said
of Guster's latest sessions together. Yet they have
only come so far from the boys they once were.
In the making of the new album, "it was almost
like everybody brought their Legos and we threw
them on the floor and built something great out of
it," Pisapia declared.
'FIFA' better than ever
with hot new features
'Happy Tree' hits just
in time for holidays
By Gabe Edelson
Daily Arts Writer
The "FIFA" franchise by EA Sports has
made a name for itself as soccer's most
well-known video game series. Past edi-.
tions have been met
with rave reviews, FIFA 2006
and this year's is no
The first notice- XBox
able improvement EA Sporrts
over earlier ver-
sions of the game are the graphics. In
game situations, the visuals are stun-
ning in their clarity and smoothness.
The graphics designers have rendered
players' faces in vivid detail, and the
athletes' emotions are apparent when
they score goals or get carded.
The gameplay is also more realis-
tic than in past years. The ball phys-
ics have been further developed, and
passes are more difficult to aim at
a specific player. This might make
things frustrating for beginners, but
experienced gamers will enjoy the
newfound need for more accurate and
Some added player controls will
excite the series' seasoned veterans.
Pace control - which allows play-
ers to slow down to keep control of
the ball during special moves - is a
nice new option. Dummying the ball
gives you the option of playing a pass
or stepping over the ball to allow it to
reach a distant teammate. All of the
new functions are explained with tuto-
In terms of new features, the 15-year
Manager Mode is a welcome addition
for diehard soccer fans. Gainers are
allowed much more than mere on-field
control over a team. For a successful
career, special attention must be paid
to international scouting, team financ-
es and staff changes, among other
things. You can even sign a sponsor
for additional cash flow. The Manager
Mode provides a big lift to the game's
One area that might trouble players is
the new free- and corner-kicking controls.
Gone are the familiar arrows and visual
helpers in aiming and spinning the ball.
The camera angle now helps to determine
the ultimate direction of the ball, but this
isn't clearly apparent at first. It's a good
thing that you can't perfectly place the ball
in a predictably indefensible area for the
opposing goalie to flail at, but EA could
Courtesy of EA Sports
"Can you see the emotion on my face? Yeah, that's right."
have made this element of the game more
user-friendly and less tedious.
The soundtrack in "FIFA 06" is,
expectedly, superb. The franchise has
built a reputation for including a wide
variety of musical genres, and this
year's evolution doesn't disappoint.
While the "NBA Live" series relies
heavily on hip hop and "Madden" goes
more for the rock approach, "FIFA"
mixes it up with tunes organized into
seven editable playlists.
There are even more add-ons that
will enrich the experience for long-
time or fresh-faced gamers. While a
video interview with international star
Samuel Eto'o might not move you to
the edge of your seat, EA has includ-
ed a playable version of the original
"FIFA" from 1994, complete with
its pixilated graphics and flat crowd
noise. This mode will certainly make
old-timers happy. The "FIFA Games
Retrospective" provides a quick and
entertaining look at the history of the
series from 1994 to 2006, replete with
explanations of how each game built
on previous years and added new and
"FIFA 06" is a complete game
for soccer or gaming fans who are
looking for a solid sports title with
eye-popping graphics and enjoyable
gameplay. Believe it or not, it's defi-
nitely superior to its already-impres-
By Chris Zbrozek
Daily Arts Writer
Enjoying "Happy Tree Friends"
makes you question your moral worth
as a human being.
thing as brutal as Happy Tree
brains being liq- Friends:
uefied by a blend- Winter Break
er pushed through
the eye sockets Ventura
really ought to be Distribution
disgusting. In any
action movie, the scene would make
you turn away. But when the brains
in question belong to an adorable pas-
tel cartoon critter with a voice like a
Teletubby and a sappiness that makes
Bambi and Thumper look jaded, the
mutilation is hilarious - in a sick sort
of way, of course.
The Happy Tree Friends, whose
grotesque deaths reliably provide
viewers with both laughter and a tinge
of ethical doubt, began their brief lives
as short Flash animations on happy-
treefriends.com. Now, the animated
animals show up on TV, in merchan-
dise and on DVDs such as the newly
released "Winter Break."
The DVD features Cuddles, Giggles,
Lumpy and the rest of the unbearably
cute Happy Tree Friends suffering gory,
completely unreasonable deaths in a
number of winter settings. Vicious rein-
deer, impaling icicles and skis that act as
spears join with more mundane mishaps
to spread plenty of animated blood and
brains along with Christmas cheer.
The "Winter Break" cable TV spe-
cial featured on the DVD contains a
half-dozen episodes of "HTF" as well
as some shorter "Kringles" that each
rely on a single bloody gag. Though
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Friends" experience - the conscious
choice to watch another episode.
"Happy Tree Friends" is best experi-
enced in a dorm room, late at night,
compulsively downloading episode
after episode and questioning exactly
which circle of hell you're going to for
finding all the cruelty so entertaining.
Sitting back and just letting the blood
flow is too easy.
The special features on the DVD
are of rather mixed quality. The "Ski
Patrol" bonus episode, where the idi-
otic moose Lumpy tries to save lives
on the slopes and fails with spectacu-
larly violent results, rises to the level
of classic "HTF" episodes such as
"Eye Candy." But the feature simply
portrays the animals cutely mumbling
their way through Christmas carols;
none of them even die.
One might wonder why the first
holiday "Happy Tree Friends" DVD
doesn't focus on more theme-appropri-
ate festivals, like Guy Fawkes Day or
Devil's Night. But mere snow and ice
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