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Rudy Ray Moore & Hip-Hop Pre-History

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Examining and attributing influence to figures from rap’s pre-history that had an “influence” on actual rap history always feels like leap. You’re either idealizing the creation of the genre as totally outside of most other things and compartmentalizing all the differences between Tapper Zukie and Kool Herc or you kinda admit the influence even though it’s almost always a stretch. You can hear Gil Scott or Last Poets and be like, “I see how this is like rapping” but it’s just still not rapping and it’s weird.

And then, there’s the slippery slope thing of like, why these can be considered influences and not like a ton of white, rap-like stuff from way earlier, and then before you know it, you’re like some aged English teacher trying to hip the young kids to like, Lord Byron or some shit and arguing the really stupid thing that rap is just poetry, which it just ain’t.

But whatever your feelings on rap pre-history, Rudy Ray Moore’s connection to rap is pretty solid. The over-the-top filthiness of Ghostface, Too Short’s freaky tales that always have some moral edge to them, Devin the Dude’s conflation of Southern rap dirty jokes and century-plus old–let me put my professor glasses on—characterizations from the black diaspora, and Schooly D’s “Signifying Rapper” being an update on Rudy’s “Signifying Monkey” itself an update on a pre-reggae toast/routine/rap, are obvious touchstones.

See, Moore’s influence on rap is beyond “he put rhyming words in order before it was formally called rapping” but a whole big mess of more interesting and harder to put your finger on stuff. His Dolemite character and persona is like the “multiply your real persona times ten and run with it” formula that most rappers work with today and if I wanted to be douchey, I could say Dolemite’s one of the inventors of “swagger” because it wasn’t just that Dolemite told really hilarious jokes, but it was as much the way he told the joke and in many ways, more about the way he told it. Nearly all his jokes weren’t his own, variations on dirty jokes you heard your whole life, spruced up to be even more outrageous than you’re anticipating.

It’s all about self-aware exaggeration in a Dolemite routine, women with pussies so big a truck literally drives inside them, little kids that know more about pussy eating than I do, etc. etc. A weird mix of “adult” stuff and the like, cartoony, quasi-Tall Tales imagination with some kind of lesson or moral flip to it.

That is how Rudy Ray really put his stamp on rap. That thing of talking like everybody else and appealing to so-called “base” thoughts of the “lowest common denominator” (but really just where most of our brains are most of the time), but being kinda humane and almost morally serious at the same time.

While most people will rightfully point interested parties towards the movie Dolemite or Rudy records like Eat Out More Often, I wanted to highlight two of my favorite, slightly lesser-known Rudy Ray Moore projects.

-Petey Wheatstraw (1977) directed by Cliff Roquemore (Libra)

The thing is, short of the actually terrible Avenging Disco Godfather, Dolemite is by far the least entertaining of the Dolemite movies. Directed by D’urville Martin, who tried to make the movie absurd and also sort of like a “normal” movie, Dolemite lags and doesn’t have the immediate, who-gives-a-shit feeling of the later Dolemite movies.

Starting with Human Tornado, Cliff Roquemore took over and he made the movies really crazy in a way that stopped winking at itself and just fucking went there. When Roquemore’s credit pops-up on the screen, it accompanied by a small, parenthesized “(Libra)” which always reminded me of Underground nutbar director Robert Downey Sr. sticking “A Prince” at the end of his credit, because Roquemore’s working on the same exact absurdist level as Downey-and since film critics are just now getting around to taking Downey seriously, expect at least a hundred years before a Cliff Roquemore retrospective.

There’s too many great things to talk about in the movie, so real quick: The Devil represented by an old black guy in bright red track suit, appearances by Wildman Steve and Leroy & Skillet, a really incredible soundtrack (which was re-released a couple years ago and isn’t too hard to find, lots of ridiculous Devil make-up and a ton more.

Luckily, this scene happens to be on YouTube, so you’re spared a long, over-written description of one of the funniest fucking scenes of all-time:

-Afros, Macks, & Zodiacs (1995?)

This is basically a party video back when party videos still existed. Two hours of old “blaxploitation” trailers with the occasional interjection by Rudy Ray Moore surrounded by pretty busted girls half-telling one of his classic jokes. At the end of the video, Blowfly and a bunch of other surprises show up too. Here’s a clip of one of those dirty-joke interjections (fuck anybody who disables embedding by the way).

For the hell of it, here’s my personal favorite trailer from the collection, which you know, has enough “rapping” in it to maybe be an influence on rap unto itself:

And the classic “Got Your Money” video…

Written by Brandon

October 22nd, 2008 at 1:04 am

How Big Is Your World? Some Good New Rap Songs.

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-DJ Khaled featuring Kanye West & T-Pain “Go Hard”
Click here to download “Go Hard”
At the same time as the confessional “Love Lockdown”, we’re also being treated to a bunch of purposefully bullshit, joke guest verses from Kanye. On “Swagger Like Us” and most of this song, he’s spitting his increasingly out-there boasts (the extended “sick” talk gets genuinely gross). And while it’s not the tone-change of his sudden confessional on “Put On”, in the second verse, Kanye turns some self-mythologizing into a quick admittance that he’s sort of a dick and should’ve shut the hell up once or twice (“Maybe I would’ve slowed down/If I knew what I knew now…”) which is enough insight on a song like this. “Go Hard” is a good example of why Kanye’s an interesting rapper even if you think he can’t rap. While he’ll never achieve the grace or effortless flow of any of the greats, he’s got a rarified approach that keeps him relevant and turns another lame DJ Khaled reach for a banger into a weird and interesting song.

-B.O.B “Generation Lost”
Click here to download “Generation Lost”
The same way people who listen to rap and worry about lyrical content listen and say “[INSERT FAVE RAPPER HERE] is good, I just wish he wasn’t singing about drugs and guns all the time”, I hear something like this or Bishop Lamont or Lupe Fiasco at his most obsequious and think, “He’s a good rapper and all, I just wish he wasn’t rapping about how rappers all suck now”. Still, “Generation Lost” works because it really is as much about how B.O.B says as it is about what he’s saying. Like your favorite Southern rapper or the dumbest one out there, B.O.B embraces his accent and the specificities of how he enunciates and pronounces words, and he delivers his tough message in a lacksadasical Southern flow. He’s also having fun even as he’s telling you how it needs to be about more than having fun, bouncing his flow all around that piano loop. This song’s still fun and B.O.B knows he’s the outsider, bragging about his outsider status and joking about at the same time when he says shit like, “So, I’m a play my guitar/And rap about aliens and sing about stars”.

-Devin the Dude “I Can’t Make It Home”
Click here to download “I Can’t Make It Home”
Maybe the most overwhelmingly sad Devin song since “Doobie Ashtray”? The Dude’s entire persona’s based around being a scruffy fuck-up, so a lot of his songs have some sadness to them, but this song’s like, not even fun, like palpably sad. This isn’t a song about the fun kind of drunk (or drugged) driving, this is like, you’re still too drunk to leave, but the party’s ending and you feel weird chilling out for another forty-five minutes–especially “to sober up”–so you convince yourself you can drive home and it ends pretty bad. Really, the song has enough emotional pull and light humor that you can imagine it scoring the inevitable but still tragic drunk-driving arrest scene in some movie about a drunk or something. Especially effective and like cinematic is the way the first verse ends with Devin impersonating the cop saying “You Sober?”, it’s like fade-out, fade-in to Devin in the cop car thinking “I’m fucked.” What makes the song sadder is how Devin’s fairly level-headed about it all or accepting of it, describing it the same way he’d describe any other crazy adventure he stumbles into. Excellent use of rap and bullshit too, the chorus and the like, Freddie Jackson pianos add to the song’s pathos. Seriously, I sorta can’t get through this song, too real.

-Zilla Rocca “The First Order of Business”
Click here to download “The First Order of Business”
The hammering piano, squeaks of ghostly voices, and some space-age guitar in the hook, is appropriately cartoony for Zilla Rocca’s all over-the-place (in a good way) flow. Mid-way through Zilla’s second verse, the beat gets all flanger-y for a few moments and it doesn’t slow the song down or anything, it’s just some weird and fun switch-up, no different than the beat dropping out at certain points and the same fuck-it-all-I’m-going-in feeling as Zilla’s rapping. He stuffs more than one Frank Miller reference in there, a ton of other hilarious punchlines (“you’re a text message full of stupid-ass typos” is a personal favorite), and moves brilliantly between verses and a hook that doesn’t feel like the catchy part of the song or something, but just a logical extension of the verses and a breather before Zilla kills it again. Think about how a lot of 90s rap songs have these kinda long as shit chant-hooks that aren’t even really supposed to be memorable but just summarize the song or something, that’s what the hook on “The First Order of Business” is like. One of my favorite things about Zilla’s rapping is how he never affects any kind of “tough” or “street” or anything voice that even many good rappers do, it’s just his real voice and real Philadelphia accent dropping hilarious and insightful shit.

-Glen Campbell “All I Want Is You”
Click here to download “All I Want Is You”
Glen Campbell’s no joke and he’s always been no joke, and even though it’s easy to make “Rhinestone Cowboy” jokes and shit, his 60s lush country pop is incredible and warm and everything else. In a lot of ways, Glen’s responsible for the pop-country of the past twenty years–that’s not a negative although I see why you’d read it that way–and the album from which this U2 cover comes Meet Glen Campbell is a sort of quasi-comeback attempt, an updating of his lush sound, and showing all these dopey frat-boy country fucks how to make actual ballads and not the kind of ballads that get you Republican pussy at the State Fair or whatever. Comparing this album of covers to the Cash American Recordings series is superficial. This isn’t stripped down or emotionally bare, it’s a show-boaty and obvious as all of Glen’s work and it’s as full of longing too. The way he sings “all the promises we break” makes it sound hopeful but aware that we don’t keep all our promises and the wobbly, country solo in the middle is great because it’s covered by all these other instruments and never breaks-out, which is sort of what this song and this album’s about, an acceptance of what we have and what we can do with it, not all this sexy “dreamer” stuff that most songs are about.

Written by Brandon

October 10th, 2008 at 3:14 am

Aural Convergence: Vincent Gallo’s ‘So Sad’ & Hi-Tek’s ‘So Tired’

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-Click here to download ‘So Sad’ by Vincent Gallo off ‘So Sad’ Single
-Click here to download ‘So Tired’ by Hi-Tek featuring Bun B, Devin the Dude, & Pretty Ugly off ‘Hi-Teknology 2′

If you’ve ever made a trip over to the McSweeney’s website or browsed the many books they’ve published over the years, you’ve probably stumbled upon Lawrence Wenschler’s ‘Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences’. A “convergence” is basically, a visual rhyme or connection between two or more images. Wenschler also provides an essay that unpacks the convergence (this one from a reader, not Wenschler, is my personal favorite). The point and to some extent, the liberation of these convergences is that they are supposed to be created or “spotted” by the viewer and are projected onto the images (an intentional visual reference or rhyme is quite different).

Like a lot of stuff on McSweeney’s, “convergence” is better in theory than execution. It’s quickly devolved into a lot of people being very clever but saying very little about their convergences, but the idea is still interesting. Yesterday, while listening to ‘So Sad’ by Vincent Gallo, I stumbled upon a kind of musical- or aural as opposed to visual- convergence. I should add, that in addition to Wenschler’s book bouncing through my head, Joseph’s post B.O.B. Dylan influenced my “spotting” of the convergence between Vincent Gallo’s ‘So Sad’ and Hi-Tek’s ‘So Tired’.

The brief Gallo song sort of stumbles along, with clunky percussion and strummed guitar, as Gallo bemoans his ability to make everything “so sad”. He’s got this humble, almost-embarrassing croon and the lyrics are so upfront and beyond any sense of lyricism that it feels like a little bit of a joke (Gallo’s personality and the cover for the single seen above don’t help the questionable sincerity either). In the last twenty seconds of the 2 minute and 16 second song, ‘So Sad’ sounds like it’s going to pick up with a warm solo to punctuate the verse-chorus-verse structure but the solo doesn’t act as a bridge or a conventional culmination of the song, it too ends up puttering along, never really going anywhere, and then just ending. For whatever reason, I immediately connected the song, a song I’ve heard maybe a hundred times, with a detail from another song I’ve heard a great deal, ‘So Tired’ by Hi-Tek.

‘So Tired’ ends with nearly a minute of near-blues guitar noodling atop Hi-Tek’s rather clunky drums and that solo too, just sort of punctuates the feelings of the song, it doesn’t send it somewhere else, and while Gallo’s solo basically farts out and stops, Hi-Tek fades-out his solo, so it never really comes to an end. When the songs are put next to one another, they have a great deal in common much more obvious than a purposefully depressive guitar solo (those clunky drums, each have the emphatic “So” in their title, similar content), but this convergence for me, was all about the guitar.

What is interesting is how both songs use the guitar “solo” as a musical convention- to sort of solidify or add to the overall feeling of the song- but avoid the transcendence usually associated with solo-ing. Even a solo in a depressed rock or blues song usually kinda busts-out and tries to move above (or dive totally into) the sadness by wailing (think George Clinton to Eddie Hazel on ‘Maggot Brain’: “Play like your mother just died”), but these ‘So’-song solos just kind of wrap-up the shitty resignation that the rest of the song is already talking about.

Gallo’s solo lacks the structure that a good, affecting solo usually has and it just ends, like Gallo got bored with it. There’s something kind of brilliant about it. The solo matches what the song’s already been saying, but it also makes it physical or at least, a little more visceral. The solo comes, sort of builds, and then just stops, the final chords echoing out and the song ends. You don’t leave “wanting more” or anything, you just sort of leave the song confused and unsure of why it ended there. There’s also the sense of it being such an intimate and even embarrassing song and if- at least for the moment- you take ‘So Sad’ as sincere, then it’s almost as if Gallo just gives up, too depressed to properly finish his song. At the same time, there’s this sense of insincerity to the song that I suggested earlier. I own ‘So Sad’ as a record and I think I dropped like $8.99 on it whenever it came out and the only song on the single being really short and kind of anti-climactic could feel like a bit of a “fuck you” but if it’s a fuck you, well then, it’s the song itself exemplifying what Gallo so sadly and honestly sings about: His ability to make everything “so sad”. It’s easy to leave the song ‘So Sad’ being sort of annoyed.

The most apparent contrast between ‘So Sad’ and ‘So Tired’ is how although both are expressing a similar feeling of “I know what’s wrong with me but I’m too fucked to do anything about it”, Gallo still subscribes to conventional rock and folk intimacy signifiers, while ‘So Tired’, even at its most lethargic, still kinda bangs. That it is mixed so loud, exemplifies the confidence that rap music always employs even when delving deep into emotions. Hi-Tek’s decision to fade-out the guitar however, brings it back down a few notches and has it slowly falling away rather than abruptly cutting-off like Gallo’s solo. If this loudly-mixed solo, however pensive it feels, just suddenly stopped, it wouldn’t sound right. Hi-Tek and the rappers are sort of expressing their concern of deterioration and so, the guitar kind of deteriorates through the fade-out.

Fading-out a guitar solo has always seemed like a bullshit move in my opinion. Go listen to Neil Young’s ‘Cortez the Killer’, one of the best and wanky-in-a-good-way solos I know of and then think about how awful it is that it fucking fades-out. Maybe it was to fit it on the side of the LP or whatever, but it’s awful because it feels cheaply anti-climactic and even lazy. The fade-out on ‘So Tired’ isn’t a cop-out, it’s the only place for the song to go. The same could be said of Gallo’s anti-solo on ‘So Sad’. All that would happen after that solo is for it to go on a little longer, and then another chorus and two more verses and then it would end. There would be a confidence to the song’s structure that would make it one more sad-bastard song and not this weirdly, conceptual lament.

Written by Brandon

April 24th, 2008 at 7:02 pm

Baltimore City Paper Article: ‘The Dude Abides’

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It felt a little weird writing an article that’s even mildly comprehensive about a rapper I never listened to with any regularity until earlier this year, but I think I pulled it off…plus, (side)cover story!

“Parents, I’m not tellin’ your children to smoke, ya see/ ’cause if they just say no, it be more for me.” This line, from Devin the Dude’s “Mo Fa Me” off his 1998 solo debut, The Dude, set the blueprint for everything the Houston MC has done since. Namely, write a bunch of songs about weed. Such fixation suggests a lack of inspiration, but the Dude’s hazy tunnel vision belies the man born Devin Copeland’s ability to mine a subject obsessively. Cannabis is merely an oft-chosen metaphor in an endless stream of goofy–yet frequently poignant–songs, stretched out now through more than a decade of music, starting in 1994 with his posse project, the Odd Squad, and culminating in this year’s definitive Waiting to Inhale (Rap-a-Lot)”…

Written by Brandon

October 10th, 2007 at 4:27 pm

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Some Movies Rappers Should Reference Instead of ‘Scarface’.
SOHH listed a news item about a new Deniro/Pacino movie, inexplicably asking Styles P what he thought about this new, exciting movie. The item smacks of forced marketing; hyping a movie that isn’t overtly rap-related in content, using a rapper for a quote, etc. but nevertheless, Styles P’s comments were pretty interesting.

Styles discusses both actors’ appeal to “young impoverished people in the ghetto” citing their roles as “characters who came from nothing to become something” and suggesting that this shows they “understand the mentality of the poor”. You’re thinking ‘Goodfellas’ or ‘Scarface’ (or I was), but instead, Styles cites ‘Taxi Driver’ and a relatively obscure Pacino movie ‘The Panic in Needle Park’. These comments reminded me of my OhWord entry about Prodigy and blaxploitation. In it, I said Prodigy’s invocation of the Fred Williamson vehicle ‘Black Caesar’ makes more sense than the constant references to ‘Scarface,’ a quality but over-the-top cartoon of a movie. Most rap songs are not wish fulfillment but blow-by-blow descriptions, reflecting the minor victories of movies like ‘Superfly’ or ‘Black Caesar’ rather than the million dollars success of Tony Montana.

As a continuation of my post and a complement to Styles P’s comments, here’s a list of movies that rappers should probably start referencing…

Born To Win (1971).

Rap Album Equivalent: ‘Just Tryin Ta Live’ by Devin the Dude.

A former hairdresser now heroin addict named simply “J” putts around New York with his black friend Billy Dynamite, in search of drugs. More a series of scenes than a cohesive plot, ‘Born to Win’ is held together only by J, a hyper-charming piece of shit who always ends up on top. The movie can go from being deadly serious to ‘Benny Hill’ comedy and it all sort of works. At different points you feel like you’re watching different movies. When I first read that Styles P quote, this was the first movie I thought to add to this list. Although it doesn’t star Deniro or Pacino, Deniro has a very small part as an undercover cop. Available in a crappy but affordable discount DVD.

If you liked this try… Christiane F. (1981) – Teenage drug addicts in Berlin run around to David Bowie music!

Mean Streets (1973)

Rap Album Equivalent: ‘Return to 36 Chambers’ by Ol’ Dirty Bastard

You probably know about this one and maybe you even turned it off because you were expecting something closer to ‘Goodfellas’ well…give it another try. Deniro’s Johnny Boy is perhaps his most well-rendered “psycho” character, at least on par with ‘Taxi Driver’ as the acting never grows cartoonish or dependent upon indicating. When you see him blow up a mailbox with firecrackers all the way to the scene where he calls the bookie a “jerkoff”, kind of sealing his fate, there’s nothing like this wild performance. The movie is also full of really funny scenes that counter the menace that underscores it all: One of the neighborhood thugs shows everyone the tiger (?!) he bought and the scene grows even more absurd when the thug kisses the tiger like a puppy. Also the “mook” debate is pretty classic.

If you liked this try…Hi Mom! (1969) – One of the first movies by ‘Scarface’ director Brian DePalma and also starring Deniro.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)

Rap Album Equivalent: ‘What’s On My Mind’ by Dayton Family

Still derided as excessively violent and misogynistic (sound familiar?), Sam Peckinpah’s movie feels as stumbling drunk and fucked-up as the main character. Loser bar owner Benny (Warren Oates) needs money and takes up a reward for the titular head of Alfredo. Much of the movie is Benny driving around, in an increasingly bloodied/dirtied white suit, in shades, talking to the decapitated head of Alfredo and shooting everybody. Completely hopeless and fully aware of it, Benny comes off as a sort of brave, devoted, unfuckwithable loser. Maybe the best movie ever made?

If you liked this try…Cockfighter (1974) – Also starring Warren Oates, this time as a cockfighter who has taken a vow of silence until he wins ‘Cockfighter of the Year’.
Fingers (1978)

Rap Album Equivalent: ‘Resurrection’ by Common

Harvey Keitel plays the son of a pianist mother and a loan shark father (played by the dude who plays Pentangeli in ‘Godfather II’), unsure of which parent to follow. Sex-obsessed and conflicted beyond hope, Keitel’s Jimmy Fingers fucks girls, listens to doo-wop and classical music, auditions for piano recitals, and kicks the asses of deadbeats. Also interesting for quick appearances by a couple of dudes later to be on ‘The Sopranos’ and Jim Brown…rent it if only for the scene where Brown forces two girls to kiss and bangs their heads together!

If you liked this try… Five Easy Pieces (1970) – Another, earlier movie about a rogue male who is good at the piano.

Straight Time (1978)

Rap Album Equivalent: ‘Ain’t a Damn Thing Changed’ by Nice & Smooth.

Based on the book ‘No Beast So Fierce’ written by Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue in ‘Reservoir Dogs’), starring Dustin Hoffman as Max as a guy out of prison trying to go straight. At the mercy of his corrupt, asshole Parole Officer, Max ends up back in jail. When he gets back out, he steals his P.O’s car, handcuffs the P.O to a sign on the side of the road with his pants down (no really, he does!) and goes back to doing what he knows best: robbing jewelry stores.. Shot in realistic L.A locations with a bunch of good characters actors like Harry Dean Stanton and Gary Busey, ‘Straight Time’ glides along scene-by-scene, primarily concerned with detail and psychology over likeability and moral judgment.

If you liked this try…Straw Dogs (1971)– also starring Hoffman and from the same director as ‘Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia’; basically a movie about how sometimes violence is necessary.

Thief (1981)

Rap Album Equivalent: ‘Murda Muzik’ by Mobb Deep

The first feature by Michael Mann, who later made ‘Heat’ and ‘Miami Vice’ among others. ‘Thief’ stars James Caan as Frank, a professional thief with vague hopes of going straight. Caan is in full Sonny Corleone acting mode, speaking in contraction-less blurts of anger and just generally seeming awesome. An atmospheric electronic score by Tangerine Dream and a slow pace punctuated by scenes of violence and Caan rants, ‘Thief’ is what ‘Scarface’ should be.

If you liked this try…The Gambler (1974) – from the writer of ‘Fingers’ and also starring James Caan.

Written by Brandon

May 24th, 2007 at 3:32 am

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Devin the Dude Week Part Four: In Defense of Southern Rap Production.

The production on Devin the Dude’s music sounds conventionally “southern”, relying less on samples and more on live instrumentation. This same general style is found in work by Organized Noise, Pimp C, and MJG. Even the keyboard and drum machine-based beats of Three-Six Mafia, Lil Jon, and others is rooted more in composing than chopping-up samples. Instrument-based production is quickly embraced by critics when “advanced” producers like Kanye clutter ‘Late Registration’ with it or Just Blaze plays some go-go-rip-off drums on ‘Show Me Whatcha Got’ but in the South, this is the norm. Although East Coast opposition is not directed at Organized Noise or Pimp C. but at the more-recent rappers that influenced, created, or have run with the “crunk” style, there is a general disdain for the Southern style of production and it almost always go back to a lack of intelligence, the oldest stereotype about the South.

Guthrie R. Ramsey’s ‘Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop’ discusses this North and South divide in music in terms related to jazz and blues but it is still applicable. It can be simplified as the North being “urbane, sophisticated, and cosmopolitan” while the South is invariably connected to “musical gestures that evoke the Southern, agrarian past of African Americans.” (47). When this is applied to rap music it gets a bit more complicated because a conventional understanding of the music would apply a greater so-called “sophistication” to Southern producers who play their instruments while the New York producers are only sampling. Mannie Fresh is quoted in Tamara Palmer’s book on southern rap, ‘Country Fried Soul’ reflecting this view:

“For a long time hip-hop was just snippets and elements of other stuff…but when you get to the South it actually becomes music. You have more people playing it. You got structure, you got chords, you got strings as opposed to just taking a little snippet and doing something crazy with it. You actually got musicianship in Southern music.” (20).

Fresh’s quote is particularly loaded in terms of saying southern production is “music”, a term that should always be debateable. Furthermore, his invocation of “musicianship” is a bit elitist, and defining sampling as “taking a little snippet and doing something crazy with it” is the understatement of the century. However, Fresh’s view is something to consider if we are to begin to understand the Southern rap style rather than dismiss it as primitive or unsophisticated.

The North/South divide is also shown to be uneven because the New York types are comparing a music from ten or fifteen years ago with a style of music that is being created right now. What has New York done since 1997? The South does not compare Jim Jones to Goodie Mob. When Jim Jones or M.I.M.S are successful, it is also somehow the South’s fault. Two of the most successful rap artists of the decade, Outkast and Kanye West are “lyrical” and indeed socially relevant but neither come from New York, so they are conveniently ignored. The difference is attitude. Certainly, one would prefer Outkast to DJ Unk, UGK to Paul Wall, but that simply is not happening and rather than throws ones hands up and complain, southern rappers are simply happy somebody is listening. UGK will make an album that is better than Paul Wall; they won’t waste their time making an album about how they are better than Paul Wall.

It is an inalienable fact that rap began in New York. We all know the history, so I won’t go over it in-depth, but it is worth acknowledging the strange cross-over of the early rap world with stuff like No Wave, punk rock, and the “hip” art world. So, in addition to funk and disco and everything else, early rap in New York was connected to some pretty artsty-fartsy avant-garde shit. So yeah, the music is really discordant and noisy and chaotic like the cool art-scenes it was habitating with and informing as well as taking from. Of course, the actual location itself informs the music, so it makes sense that a big, crazy city like New York, especially in the late 70s/early 80s would be an environment for ferocious, noisy, but still fun oriented music to spring up. So…when you get to the South, the climate and culture also affects their interpretation of rap music. The open spaces in the production, the way things are allowed to ride-out and are not cut-short, is more countrified and slow-paced, which fits with the stereotypical “southern” way of being and even fits the physical southern landscape. The culture of the South is in significant contrast to New York; there’s just a lot less to do and a lot less shit to entertain you, so, you go to a lot more high school football games or attend church and these kinds of sounds ended up being “applied…to creating [Southern] hip-hop” adding “threads of gospel” and “the glorious horn and rhythms of marching bands of high schools and universities” (Palmer 20). Pimp C., in March/April’s ‘Scratch Magazine’ tells Noz that he was “a Division 1 trumpet player” (78). So, New York is hearing No Wave and Disco and city-sounds while the South is hearing marching bands, church organs, and crickets. It simply makes sense that when a Southern rapper wants to make a song, they would be more apt to follow in the tradition of conventionally-played music than a sampler.

Similarly, even as UGK or Eightball and MJG have taken from Kool G. Rap or N.W.A, they lack that same kind of aggression, depicting their story instead of angrily recounting it. There’s a greater focus on detail, exemplified by Devin’s Slick Rick of the South style but it can even be seen in the pimp talk of Eightball on, well, ‘Pimps’: “See, a real nigga believe in beatin’ them hoes down/Push they head into the wall until you hear that crackin’ sound.” Now, hardly lyrical genius, but in terms of presenting something realistic and honest, it is disturbingly effective. That, when mixed with the blissed-out production on ‘Pimps’ provides a unique experience. These references however, relate to a rap music that was simply ignored by the New York fans not necessarily hated-on. Something closer to the much-derided Southern sound on the radio now, would be Three-Six Mafia. Juicy J has a verse on ‘Smoke Dat Weed’ from his ‘Chronicles of the Juiceman’, part of which describes meeting a girl, fucking her without a condom, and getting an STD: “Get a little freak, take her to your home/Stuck ya dick in, with no rubber on/ Three days later you be on the phone/ Tellin’ your doctor “She burnt me Joe”/ Thats what ya get. Unprotected sex/Then ya took a pill called percocet/ It might keep you calm, but you’re still a wreck.” Once again, fairly simple but done with a heavy dose of realism that when mixed with Three-Six’s scary-ass production gives off a different impression than most music. Even the production of Lil Jon, which is nothing but diet, caffeine-free Three-Six Mafia has a certain disturbing edge to it that brings it away from typical, happy dance music. For the South, the focus is on the musical aspects, not only to make a hot beat but to express emotions and as a result, when lyrics take a backseat, the music is making up for it. It’s just different than the New York style, not better or worse, just different. In a perfect world, Devin the Dude would bring these sides together as a rapper moving closer to New York concepts of “lyricism” and storytelling but with a distinctive Southern style of production.

-Noz, Andrew. ‘Dope Boy Magic.’ XXL Magazine. March/April 2007. (76-79).
-Palmer, Tamara. ‘Country Fried Soul: Adventures in Dirty South Hip Hop’. Backbeat: San Francisco, 2005.
-Ramsey, Guthrie R. ‘Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop.’ University of California Press: Berkeley, 2003.

Written by Brandon

March 26th, 2007 at 5:19 pm

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Devin the Dude Week Part Three: ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ Review

A lot of people want their New York shit back, but those types have some form of their music to hold on to, something resembling the style persists, and yeah, Mobb Deep did tough-talk better than Young Jeezy or Lil Weezy but tough-talk is still there, even if it has been watered-down and de-lyricized. However, no one short of the ever-growing hyphy movement, is doing out-and-out insanity anymore…except Devin the Dude. If you yearn for weirdo rappers like the Pharcyde and others, Devin may be the only place left to go. I’m not bemoaning the loss, I’m just saying that there probably won’t be another point where a ridiculous amount of people are listening to ‘It’s Jiggaboo Time’. You know? That kind of poignant goofiness is something that is truly lacking in rap today. The hardcore rap of New York still manifests itself in some form, the Native Tongues guys’ influence is apparent in rappers like Kanye West or Lupe Fiasco, but no one besides Devin is rapping a song with a chorus like “Girl, this dick is so clean, this dick is so clean, that you could broil it in some collard greens….it’ll probably go good with your Broccolli and Cheese”. This is why so many are hyped about the new Devin the Dude. If you have fond memories of weirdo rappers, Devin fills that gap and not only fills that gap, but is a master at the craft of being hilarious and insightful, obscene and sympathetic, disgusting and legitimately touching.

Devin’s appeal also comes through in his remarkable consistency. The flow of the tracks on ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ feels the same way a good DJ or a friend’s mixtape, successfully moving song-to-song with some attempt at cohesion. As we go from ‘Boom I’ to the wah-wah-funk of the first track on the album, ‘She Want That Money’ it feels perfect. Speaking of funk, it is important to note that Devin’s production is indeed, actually funk-inspired, not some weird, super-clean misinterpretation of funk that ends up sounding like bar-band “phawnk”. He often lets the beats play-out as on ‘The Almighty Dollar’, a bleep-and-bloop beat that, towards the end, moves from the chorus to some wah-ed out guitar and synth screeching over audio of Devin purchasing some shit at a convenience store and then, for the last 30 seconds, some really hard-sounding drums and this warm 70s synth tone, that plays perfectly to the melody. I know many found it innovative or exciting when this sort of thing happens on Kanye’s ‘Late Registration’ but I found it pretentious because Kanye and Jon Brion weren’t just playing-out their beat, they were adding Chamberlains and Mellotrons and shit to show-off. It came off as pretentious; I remember thinking, “I wish ‘Roses’ would just end at the 2-minute mark…” When the music takes over a track on ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ it isn’t any less tedious but it is a lot less pretentious. Devin’s disinterest in being concise does make the album trying at times, but it works because it makes ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ an experience. The album is never unenjoyable, but it does require some patience, so if you’re looking for something tight and concise, Devin’s a bad place to look. Devin rarely takes the super-obvious approach to anything.

The only time the super-obvious is really done is on ‘Little Girl Lost’. Although hardly a bad song, it has emotions that ring a bit less true as it tumbles into ‘Runaway Love’ territory. Only Lil Wayne comes off good on this one because Wayne is still finding his voice, particularly in making the move from good-sounding rapper to rapper with something to say, so a song as simple as ‘Little Girl Lost’ is a good look for him but not so much for Devin or Bun B. because any listener can pull out any number of better-wrought, sad verses from those two. Due to Devin’s limited lyrical content, it doesn’t surprise me that he’d consciously reach for something a bit more obviously “mature” but he doesn’t need to because all of his songs are this great mix of insight and retardation.

‘Just Because’ is exactly the kind of song that properly mixes the two, a smooth R & B beat like L.L’s ‘I Need Love’ but instead of a love song, Devin lists a ridiculous series of threats to a girl, in a contained polite, croon. It’s the sort of thing that Eminem might do and it would be lame as hell, but it works for Devin because he totally sells it. Devin sells it by singing sincerely over a beat that legitimately sounds like an R & B rap song instead of a purposefully corny version of one. Devin never winks at the listener, the production sounds like ‘Dreamin’ from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s ‘The Message’ album, which is perfect because it’s the sort of song that Devin probably loves and legitimately respects. He’s not exposing the bullshit of love songs, he’s just using that formula to a different end. There is also no actual malice in the threats Devin lists and there’s no anger in his voice when he says stuff like “I’ll sweep you off your feet with a box of chocolates/But watch it, because it’s really balled-up hog shit”. So if you’re listening and not thinking very hard, it’s all pretty stupid and offensive but therein lies Devin’s greatness, he makes it work as entertainment and sort of hints at something pretty honest and realistic. The chorus, which comes after a verse of scary threats, goes “just because of what love does” and yeah Devin, love does make you feel that way, so the song’s sort of accurate in its own crazy way. It’s like that scene in ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ where Adam Sandler tells Emily Watson: “I’m lookin’ at your face and I just wanna smash it. I just wanna fuckin’ smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You’re so pretty”.

What Devin is thinking and feeling dominates these songs, so they have a sense of being immediate in their sentiments and this leads to a really messy but rewarding album. Sometimes songs contradict themselves but it all adds up in the end. ‘The Almighty Dollar’ is just a song about inflation and you really get the feeling Devin just thought about inflation and decided to write a song about it. It can also be a subtle jab at the President and gas prices but I did enough over-analyzing already. ‘She Useta Be’ is another track like that. He’s just talking about some hot chick that he liked in high school that went “from elegant to elephant” and expressing to us how he can’t wait to tell “all the niggas I went to school with” about it. I remember being at my friend Mike’s funeral and even then, noticing a few girls from high school who came and whispering to my friend about how they’ve blown-up. That’s the kind of shit Devin is talking about, these weird, inappropriate but totally real and honest thoughts and stories that go through your head. You get the sense that Devin is always thinking and observing and if you get what I’m saying, that doesn’t contrast with his weeded-out persona. Today, I went through the drive-thru at Burger King and as I drove away, I realized I wasn’t given ketchup for my fries and it led me on a half-angry rant in my head about the recent fucked-up trend of drive-thrus not giving you ketchup unless you ask…cheap motherfuckers…what kind of bullshit is that? Maybe Devin can write a song about it.

-Devin the Dude Week Part One.
-Devin the Dude Week Part Two.

And…R.I.P to Calvin DeForest aka Larry ‘Bud’ Melman.

Written by Brandon

March 22nd, 2007 at 1:20 am

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Devin the Dude Week Part Two: The Boom And All That It Entails…

The skit that begins ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’, ‘The Boom’, basically involves Devin doing a really believable southern accent and prank-calling some kind of music equipment store asking for a sound system that has “that boom”. ‘Boom I’ is a pretty good place to begin discussing ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ because it works as a miniature version of Devin’s comedic sensibility and how through that, Devin moves into some weird and unexpected places.

‘The Boom I’ only sounds like a classic prank call skit but it is different than, something like ‘Deez Nuts’ because the Customer Service guy Devin pranks is really nice and patient. The classic “joke” in a prank call is getting a pissed-off reaction from the prankee but this never occurs on any of the three ‘Boom’ skits. Prank calls are generally malicious and by removing the malicious aspect of the joke (pissing off the prankee), Devin makes something that makes me laugh as hard as a prank call but is kinder and more pleasant, more like Devin’s attitude.

The southern accent Devin adopts for the skit is supposed to be a parody but it is such a realistic impression that it too is done with some manner of respect to the kind of redneck it mocks. What makes Devin so good is his ability to render something no matter how outrageous, with a realistic and nuanced ear. Like all of Devin’s songs, ‘The Boom’ is funny but grounded in the details of reality which even at their weirdest or most out-there, are still firmly concerned with rendering real-life honestly. One of Devin’s favorite topics is weed but as Noz suggested, “Devin is successful in that he goes beyond glorifying those habits, exploring the wide spectrum of their after effects, from hilarious to somber.” That somber side is the part that makes Devin’s music stick because without the serious aspects of his jokes, he’d just be Paul Barman or something (not that there’s anything wrong with Paul Barman).

Devin’s jokes are grounded in the very- real but they also, dare I say, have some loose moralistic or even philosophical edge to them or as Devin said, songs that “have a funny ending or meaning behind it.” So, when a redneck guy is calling to purchase “the boom” and struggles over three skits to describe exactly what that “boom” is, it becomes more than just well, a redneck guy asking for a loud sound system. It becomes about a redneck, a white guy trying to purchase the inconceivable, the beyond words sound or feeling that makes a rap song or any kind of music really good. The boom could be the funk, the perfect sample, the exact bass tone, or swagger or anything else, so it’s sort of about one’s search for something beyond words. Some philosophical shit that never gets too serious. The fact that it is a redneck, a white guy, addresses white co-opting of rap music and the way that everyone thinks this rap shit is easy and quantifiable and if they just call their music store and purchase “the boom” they’ll be a rapper or producer. And seriously, I don’t think it’s pushing it too far to suggest that Devin’s got all of this in his head and that’s the real reason there’s hype about this guy: there’s just a lot to think about and experience in his music. I mean, fuck-I haven’t even gotten past the first skit yet…yeah I know I’m probably “reading too much into it” or “over-intellectualizing” but everyone else is under-intellectualizing.

-Part One: Introduction.

Written by Brandon

March 21st, 2007 at 6:50 am

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Devin the Dude Week Part One: Introduction

My knowledge of Devin is pretty limited. I know him from ‘Chronic 2001’ and a couple of songs and guest spots but I never really felt that interested, probably due to his label as “slept-on” and “slept-on” usually just means “not very good”. In the past few weeks, he’s caught my attention because of Noz’s two posts and other entries, so I ran to Soulseek and downloaded the first Devin folder I found. What I downloaded happened to be the first seven tracks of his 2004 album ‘To Tha X-Treme’. I listened to the tracks, particularly going crazy over ‘Cooter Brown’ and after work, I spent the new few hours driving around Baltimore looking for a copy of ‘To Tha X-Treme’, finally finding one in a Borders for 16.99.

Due to the blogger love Devin has received, some have cynically labeled Devin as the next “hipster” rap darling and indeed, that may be true, but unless it really does affect his future work, who gives a shit? Furthermore, the backlash against a bunch of bloggers using their relatively small but still influential clout to support a rapper as idiosyncratic and interesting as Devin, is the real reason “hip-hop is dead”: When support is sent the way of any rapper, that rapper still isn’t “lyrical” enough or “political” enough or whatever else. Nowhere does this hatred feel more real than on ‘XXL’ Blogs, be it the notoriously retarded commenters or their bloggers: uber-PC hoser Tara Henley talks about the time she saw a bunch of brown people in Bali listening to Biggie, while professional hater Byron Crawford praises the Arcade Fire, and Billy Sunday writes the most self-important, homophobic entries on the internet (He may even take that as a compliment?). Other than Noz, these XXL Bloggers would rather lazily caricature themselves and write entries that can’t take more than five minutes than take this rap stuff seriously. However, this Devin support by Noz and yes, even Billy Sunday is a refreshing excursion from the typical hate because. Something positive is going on, and not only on personally owned turd-blogs like this one, but on XXL’s, which is, to adopt the language of the HHID-ers, “a corporate entity”. So, Devin is bringing people together, which from what I’ve gathered about him, would make him pretty happy.

I’m maybe, the ideal candidate for Devin the Dude because recent blogging attention will correct the years that he’s flown under my radar. He’s also something of the ideal rapper for this blog because his everyman persona and incredible sincerity fits right in with a lot of the stuff I babble about…so, this week, I’m belatedly announcing ‘Devin the Dude Week’ here at ‘No Trivia’ and I’ll be using the Dude and his music to investigate a couple of issues perhaps only tangentially related to the Dude himself but were all inspired by my listening to the Dude.

I’m about to drive to here and sell them some shitty CDs for store credit to buy ‘Waitin’ to Inhale’ and I’ll have a review up later tonight.

Written by Brandon

March 20th, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Devin the Dude