Children Of The Night - Queens Revisited

This past weekend, I jumped on a Bolt Bus up to New York to sit on a panel at the EMP Pop Conference with a bunch of my friends. The Pop Conference uses popular music as a jumping-off point to start conversations about all sorts of academic ideas, and we were talking about mixtapes — more specifically, about the slimline CD cases we used to buy from a closet on 14th Street, during the mid-’00s years when we were all living in NYC and writing extensively about mixtapes. (Most of them still live there. I moved.) That was a weird period for New York rap, since the locus of popular rap had moved to the South, and the city’s rappers were struggling to keep up or to force the city back into its dominant role in the genre. There was a lot of chest-puffing and barking about “bringing New York back,” but the city’s anointed young princes were boring straight-faced goons like Saigon and Papoose, guys who treated their regional traditionalism like a truncheon. In the years since I left town, that mentality seems to be really different. There’s no central geographic focus to rap music anymore; it all just freely intermingles on the internet. And now that most rappers have given up the idea that they need to be genre overlords, a lot more people are fucking around and having fun. And that’s where the Queens trio Children Of The Night comes in.

It must be daunting to be a rap group from Queens, a borough that’s produced foundational crews that range from Run-DMC to a Tribe Called Quest to G-Unit, to say nothing of the early Juice Crew and Capone-N-Noreaga and the Beatnuts. But Children Of The Night don’t sound daunted. There’s plenty of Tribe in their music, in the way their voices trip smoothly off of the looped-up flutes and guitar-flutters that their producers like to use. But there’s also plenty of Das Racist, a trio that includes two Queens natives. Even when they’re giving guttural boasts or telling criminal-life stories (two things they don’t indulge in too often), Children Of The Night do it through a hyper-referential pop-culture prism. And they do it in a dorked-out everyday-kid way, attempting to pick up girls by throwing cringey Star Wars references at them: “I’ll be your Han Solo, you be my Leia / Travel through the forest moon of Endor to save ya.” During the opening track, one member talks about financial woes by lamenting the he “don’t even have money for the comic book store.” That’s some real talk.

A few years ago, the members of Children Of The Night might’ve been pressed to jam themselves awkwardly into some ill-fitting mold, be it nerd-rap or street-rap or whatever. But on Queens… Revisited, all those impulses coexist peacefully. They can talk about getting drunk and hitting strip clubs at the same time as they drop weirdly specific references to, like, that time Richard Pryor lit himself on fire. My favorite track is the one where they compare themselves to the legendarily drug-addled 1986 Mets, a team they obviously loved: “Blunts and drugs in effect / Passing bottles in the middle of sex.” At the same time, they’re adulating long-obsolete sports heroes and bragging about their own hedonism. It’s a nice trick, nostalgia and nihilism in equal measure. And it’s what makes the group work: They sound like normal dudes who might be fun to hang out with. Suddenly, rap is rich with guys like that, and it’s better for it.

Download Queens… Revisited for free here.

Comments (12)
  1. This has little to do with the topic of the article (Well, only the first line) but ever since SXSW, my attitude toward music and thinking about it has just spiraled downward into a vat of . The past few weeks, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the countless think pieces, deeply-involved interviews and evaluations such as this (i.e. last week’s Skrillex defense, today’s Pitchfork interview with Sonny Moore) alongside closing in on my first year as an active Twitter user, taking a peer into the tweets of all the Weingartens, Stosuys, Pitchfork staff writers and so forth. Reading their words in a context as if it’s a scientific study on cancer, the image of modern music journalism I’ve arrived at is a group of beardy-looking writers with MacBook Airs congregating at some forum, literally whipping ‘em out and just carrying on a messy circle jerk over the merits of Deafheaven and how Chromatics aren’t cool anymore because they’re not the noise punk band they were back in the mid-2000s. And I guess I don’t like what I’ve discovered by actually taking the time to see what’s beyond all these mp3s, album streams and videos, because I don’t know what any of it accomplishes and if it changes anything at all outside of the way art is made or expressed (which I personally don’t believe is ascomplicated as all these pieces make it seem. It’s art, not brain or rocket science.) It just makes me hate it all. Sorry for the emo rant, cue the downvotes…

    • *spiraled downward into a vat of disenchantment.

    • I don’t really get what you’re upset about. Music critics argue with each other? And sometimes they decide to reevaluate stuff like Skrillex?

      • I’ll elaborate. Like many of us, each day or so, I sign onto the useless void that is Facebook and look at my News Feed. I think all of us can relate to the feeling (unless your friends are incredibly well-filtered and interesting people) of being consumed by a general apathy toward 98% of what we read there — A general narcissistic attitude where people think that because they are doing something or thinking something or that they have something, it must be important, typed out and Status Updated for all to read. It’s depressing if you stare at it long enough.

        I think that’s direction a lot of blogospheric writing pieces on major outlets and readily published critics have taken these days — That idea that because it can be thought about, it has some sort of profound value since the soapbox is available to voice it. Granted, I, too write in my spare time, but the difference being I know my opinion has no effect because I am not an established brand and will likely never be due to the exclusivity of it all. Yet, I don’t understand why my opinion — often similar to what a Pitchfork writer or a SPIN writer says days or weeks later — should have any less worth however on a tweet feed because I am not a brand. The same opinion shouldn’t become any more or less valuable based on where it’s stated.

        I wouldn’t say that I’m upset about anything. Maybe just disappointed. Everything we do is always segmented into some sort of exclusivity or unconscious game of brainwave or physical one-upmanship, and that’s just life. As hard as I work, that game always wins.

    • There have ALWAYS been critics, and honestly, they’re necessary. Someone’s gotta keep us second guessing things (i.e. art) rather than willfully be spoon fed.

      OH, HEY, LOOK AT THAT RAD ILYAS VIDEO!!!!

      • Right, but we don’t need to pay them for it.

        • (Although, considering I majored in journalism, it technically would be my dream job just to write about music all day.)

        • Michael_  |   Posted on Mar 28th, 2012 0

          Note: 99.9% of what I’ve written is admittedly just coming from a string of recent discouragements, so excuse my exhausted self and don’t even read into it. My above opinion is just white noise.

    • I think that the mistake you’re making is in looking to art and art critique expecting for them to exhibit absolute, quantifiable value, which they simply don’t have.

      That’s in no way, shape or form a knock on art/criticism, but just an honest assessment. I personally think that art is incredibly valuable, and there is in turn value to assessing it and trying to figure out how or why it moves us on a more granular level, but it’s not something that has “obvious” societal value like, say, a doctor curing an illness, or a teacher conveying information about math and history. Art is something that permeates every moment of our existence, shapes the way we look at the very nature of life, but does so with such frequency and in such an innocuous manner that it’s rendered invisible, or outright meaningless, to many if not most people.

      What a good culture critic is able to do is make art just a bit less invisible to us, suss out the things that are interesting, or comb the obvious to perhaps find hidden depths. So much of why we see value in things like science and engineering is because of their ability to improve our “quality of life”, and yet we have a tendency to think of that in only the most binary, absolutist terms (rich/poor, sickness/health, life/death). The idea that our internal lives, our emotional health, our imaginations, our capacity for empathy etc. are inherently invaluable, or superfluous, is to throw a huge part of what defines every human life, from the most destitute third-world slum dweller to the most bourgeoisie Westerner, completely out of the window.

      Now, am I saying that every last long-winded Pitchfork article or snarky tweet is advancing the human condition? Of course not, but most of human life is just spinning your wheels and/or taking small strides towards hopefully stumbling upon something genuinely great or revelatory. Every “important” idea is built on the charred remains of petty squabbles and wrongheaded conclusions, and the internet/social media nowadays just makes it such that we get a front row seat for all of these bloopers and boners that used to remain hidden, or were confined to small, insular social circles. The fact that we’re privy to all of the messiness and “I could write that” moments doesn’t mean that there isn’t still value in having people who can dedicate their lives to thought and analysis.

      I hope you don’t construe this as an attack on your original post or anything. I love people who question things at the most basic level and feel the need to rationalize what feels like an impossibly irrational world. It’s simply that I’ve struggled with a lot of these same ideas and figured I would add my two cents, and give you a perspective that might help clarify your own feelings.

      • Michael_  |   Posted on Mar 28th, 2012 +1

        I thoroughly enjoyed reading your response and appreciate the time you gave doing so. I loved every word of it because it really did help clarify these uneasy feelings (which I don’t like having. Who likes being a pessimist? Not me…) Quite frankly, I am astonished that you were able to hit on every point I clumsily tried to make mention of above and jerkily rattled off. That is exactly what I needed to hear in regards to my thinking out loud, and it did provide me with some perspective into the practice. I didn’t mean to come off as dismissive to that line of work. I basically wish that were my life / job.

        I feel like a broken record, but I’m kind of an outsider / novice to the music critique and writing thing and only in the past year really started to get involved in it first hand. On top of working a “real” full-time job and other time-consuming life responsibilities, this week has been exponentially difficult trying to keep up at blogger speed on my end and I must admit: My brain is fried. It is so fried, guys. My initial comment is a combination of fatigue, grumpiness and a bit of envy because I feel like there are days where I work just as hard with getting my writing out there as semi-accomplished critics do, and I get nowhere. Last week and this week have been like that.

      • Sir or madame, may I subscribe to your newsletter?

      • I want to be your friend. Let’s be friends.

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