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R.I.P Baatin.

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“Pregnant (Baatin)”

The story of Slum Village seems to me, to be in many ways the story of post-Golden Age hip-hop. Steeped in tradition but subtly bucking it and breaking it down until you had something new.

Working with the same blueprint as all those second-generation “real” rappers but minus the possibility of hit singles, so just choosing to get really insular and weird. Fantastic Vol. 1 is an absolute classic and it’s maybe what Tribe or De La would’ve made if the possibility of minor major stardom was completely out of reach and catchiness wasn’t something to even try to fuck with.

Baatin’s the clear star–rap wise–of all the SV albums he’s on, but especially Vol. 1 where the unhinged, stop-start, cloudburst of pop brilliance and then some trippy weirdness pattern’s pretty much perfect for his flow…and his attitude. Take “The Look of Love”, one of SV’s stone-cold classics, and a song that perfectly captures the group’s mix of the “conscious sound” with a beyond-healthy dose of ignorance.

“The Look of Love” sounds like a head-wrap love jam, but what’s stuck between the hook’s pure wanna fuck stuff. This is perfect though, the mix of the kind and aggressive, polite and destructive, smart and ignorant. This whirl of contradictions, anchored in that beyond healthy dose of ignorance could probably sum-up Baatin’s rap career and the personal life exposed in those raps as a beyond healthy dose of ignorance.

One of my favorites aspects of Baatin’s rapping style is how he can (could…) both expertly enunciate but also use his accent and like, the spit in the back of his mouth as a tiny little extra percussive device, again creating an odd tension between craft and emotion. You hear this on “Pregnant” especially.


Though Baatin’s influence certainly never left the group, well after his exit due to drug problems and a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, for better and worse, Baatin’s all over Detroit Deli, the first SV album after he left the group. There’s a palpable sadness and a wizened sense of empathy to Detroit Deli–the SV sound finally lining-up with the lyrics.

Still plenty of shit and fuck talk, but the moody, sadness of the production starts to align with the lyrics which work their way through disappointment. By 2004, when Detroit Deli dropped, Baatin’s mental issues and exit and Dilla’s leaving of the group and his illnesses were all realities. And it floats through the entire album.

Most telling is Detroit Deli’s closing track “Reunion”, intended to be a track that featured current members T3 and Elzhi as well as Dilla and Baatin. Baatin never made it onto the track, but they kept the “Reunion” title, giving it an angry but also palpably sad tone. Dilla begins his verse with “El and Tin killin them, 3 killin them…” as if it really is a reunion. T3’s verse wraps-up with a look to the future (“maybe we’ll reunite”) when maybe they can all finally rap together.

And then, there’s Elzhi’s verse, one of the most affecting and damned honest verses ever really…and now, a weird eulogy for Baatin. Groups like SV forever live their rap lives partially under the shadow of their influences but that’s really okay, because more often than not, SV were interacting verbally/musically with their heroes. “Reunion” is SV’s “T.R.O.Y” and Elzhi takes CL Smooth’s responses to the fuck-ups in his life further in terms frustration and his empathy.

The verse is transcribed below, because it needs to be, but that final line, of the verse, of the song, of the album, “Getcha mind right nigga”, a line full of straight-forward advice, friendly honesty (“Dude, figure your shit out”) and a hopelessness that’s communicated by the choked-up delivery, destroys. That’s a weird balance, really hating someone and really understanding them. In a way, it’s the balance of living and considering other people.

Yo, Tin killin ‘em, 3 killin ‘em
You thought we broke up and well you right we really did-
I wrote a verse that I recited, it was hot
But I had to rewrite ’cause I thought we was united and we not
And though, all the love that I got for you partner
I picked apart your words and I’m shocked,
In them interviews I’ve been accused of not caring
When the city threw your furniture out
It’s not fair what I’m learnin about
How stressed you feel in a article
Forget a rhyme, I’m just as real when I talk to you-
And you know that we share Kodak moments
I wish we could go back
But don’t act like you wasn’t buggin’ out like a phone tap
Chasing cars in the street
I saw you throw a part in the sink
Then after, hit the bar for a drink
Who asked you to slow down?
Even though niggas told me you was gone clown
But I tried, you didn’t know I cried
When I saw you wildin’ at the State Theater
Near the door by the side
Throw you in the trunk and find a preacher for you
Cause I thought you had unlawful demons on you
Sinkin’ fast in the deepest soil
Your parents finally got you some help
You came out seeming normal and
I heard you on medication
Had a illness you couldn’t heal with herbs and meditation
And believe me, Me and T3 kept it low
Don’t take this as a dis this is just to let you know that I love ya
But watch the company you keep
Swearin’ niggas don’t care, but they love you in the streets
Get ya mind right nigga…

Written by Brandon

August 3rd, 2009 at 5:14 am

Posted in Dilla, RIP, Slum Village

Biographical Dictionary of Rap: Disco D

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“50 Cent’s “Ski Mask Way” is a track that’ll pop-up on college radio mix shows or in-between sets at a hip-hop show and it makes everyone just kinda feel weird. No one really knows whether to just stand still like “Okay” arms crossed because it’s a track from 50 Cent or to nod their head approvingly or go nuts over it. I’ve seen hands swing up and then drop back down when an entire crowd didn’t totally go wild for “Ski Mask Way”. For most people, “Ski Mask Way” is producer Disco D’s legacy and it isn’t a bad one.

So clearly rooted in the the hyped-up soul production of the early 2000s–Kanye and Just Blaze grabbing from Pete Rock, but Puffy too–”Ski Mask Way” is still a stand-out of the micro-trend that ended up major. Especially notable is the embrace of empty space, the confidence to stop, start, roll back, and push forward the dusty, squeaky O Jays vocals over and over again. There’s moments of this song where all the music stops, which is crazy. This is what happens though when you’re some goofy white kid DJ responsible for developing “Ghettotech” (or however you choose to spell it), one of the many hundred high BPM, spastic strands of regional dance music. Those clipped vocals, the complete ripping-apart of the track, especially in the last minute or so, when it’s just sort of this malfunctioning loop of keys, strings, and vocals, is the kind of production prowess honed mixing and cutting balls-out dance music.

That’s to say, while it makes more sense for a Ghettotech kid to have made Trick Daddy’s “I Pop” , “Ski Mask Way” is operating similarly when it comes to warm, wizened open-space. Even the execrable “Popozao”, the first sneak-peek we got of Britney Spears ex Kevin Federline’s music career was mind-bogglingly, subtly, weirdly catchy. And contains the very same comfort in absence.

Or just think of it this way: Disco D got 50 to quote Goodie Mob. That a wonderfully goofy white kid DJ made the gulliest–and most soulful–track on 50 Cent’s otherwise hedge-betting The Massacre is an oft-noted irony, but it’s not really an irony at all. Disco was responsible for “Ghettotech”, as I already mentioned, and he was one of the many DJs of the early 2000s to get really into music from Brazil…but he briefly married some Brazilian Playboy model, which is some weird form of authenticity, right?

Committing suicide as your career’s just warming up is a weird form of authenticity too though. For an overview of Disco’s career and a piece of music journalism you’ll print-out and pour over for years to come, check out Adam Matthew’s “The Death of Disco” from the July 24, 2007 issue of The Village Voice. The producer/DJ/entrepreneur (like actually, not just a guy who jumped onto some weird trends, some of his business plans were prophetic) suffered from bipolar disorder and it ultimately led to his suicide in January of 2007. It’s real easy to reduce people to symbols when they commit suicide, but Disco seems to represent so many troubled, trying-to-cope suburban but not really suburban white kids that are into hip-hop. “Authenticity” doesn’t truly enter the picture ever in hip-hop, but there’s a deep, hardened sense of dejection and tough-minded realism that makes so many kids gravitate towards hip-hop. Whether the stuff 50 Cent or much better rappers describe in their songs hits home directly, it’s the carefree nihilism that only develops when you first, really, really care about like, everything, that bleeds through hip-hop and makes it “authentic”. There’s shit at-stake in hip-hop. Disco D knew this and he put it in those rap beats he made that are worth something.

Disco D hanged himself in his parents’ home eight or nine days before my best friend shot himself in his apartment. Mike made beats too. A lot of them. But they never got fully completed. He’d always stop and move on once they were a skeleton, a fairly complex skeleton with crumbling vocals or some super crazy organ flourish he’d tossed-in but a skeleton nonetheless. A great Mike story is him getting an organ from some old couple advertising it in the paper and then kinda sorta intimidating them into giving it to him for cheaper when he got there. Every beat hovered around 60% finished and then he stopped altogether really. He was pretty hopeless about the beats being much more than “okay”. You couldn’t even tell him why they were good or oh-so-close to being really good. He’d already decided they weren’t that good. Fucking asshole.”

Written by Brandon

July 21st, 2009 at 4:50 am

Nothing But Greatness: How Michael Changed My Life #1986

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by Monique R.

An uncannily strong desire to speak to both of my parents struck me last night after I had a couple hours to digest. I grilled both of them about their thoughts on his death and their experiences. Both born the same year as Michael Joseph Jackson (1958), they experienced, arguably, the best days of Michael Jackson but also experienced his career in its entirety. Both being children of recent immigrants, I think they both subconsciously related to Michael in the limelight as a child. Children used to be an investment and the returns were expected to be high. Nonetheless, his “golden years” were also their “golden years”; years I wasn’t available to be a part of. Part of the reason I think they both were disenchanted by the subsequent years, because like Michael, they lived too fast, tried to do too much, and age caught up quick.

After gathering some thoughts about these conversations, I started to realize he, symbolically, meant something different to me. My mom never treated me like I was a child in most ways but especially sharing and translating pop-culture for me. We used to listen to the radio and she would ask me to identify artists as well as pointed out Prince’s ass in that yellow print outfit on TV. I benefited from this in many ways, but even though it was sort of late, my mom introduced me to Michael Jackson as the coolest, best music ever. So, when I received a portable tape player for Christmas when I was 4, I jacked her Michael Jackson tapes, among other tapes. A couple years later, I went to school. Kids were making fun of Michael Jackson, whose “crotch grab” was fodder for 1st grader laughs. I felt embarrassed because I knew when I went home, I thought and heard nothing but greatness about him.

His celebrity only got weirder from there. His continued self-loathing plastic surgery was always an obsession of mine. I remember watching TV with my mom and her telling me that he wanted to be white. I was confused by this but also touched because it was so tangible that you didn’t have to be old to “get it” and it was especially weird for me because I went to a predominantly black daycare. I wondered if that was what every black person around me thought. His behavior informed my first thoughts about race that weren’t filtered through my grandparents and mother who, admittedly, have racist moments. I’d later realize that I was different from the other kids at my private catholic school and not too far removed from Michael Jackson in his self-loathing: my last name was weird, my hips and thighs were larger than all the other girls, and I used to bite my lower lip to make it look smaller in the mirror–typical. Now, I understand all this about myself and it’s this personal attachment and relating to his life experience that allowed his problems to never affect what I actually thought of him, only how I dealt with my fanhood in public.

I can see how Free Willy was not cool to my parents. But the weird and feeble Michael Jackson was as much to my generation as their Saturday morning cartoons, toys, and games. He was literally an icon in the same way Chilly Willy was and he was marketed as such. If you talk to genY folks, they may tell you they had a Michael Jackson toy or party of some sort. His pop culture icon status influenced all generations simultaneously even if you were less than 10 years old when it was all going down.

Without doing anything but doing exactly what he wanted, he taught an entire generation to love who they are by terrible example. If you don’t think the self-hatred Michael Jackson had for himself didn’t have some impact on the current climate we exist in where every young person struggles to be radically individual, you’re wrong. People of every age saw his downfall and like everything, some people understood and were compassionate while others expressed more obvious and less intellectually challenging attitudes of disinterest and disapproval. The worth of an experience is only identified by what one is able to learn and later employ.

Towards the end of the conversation with my mom, she blamed my “generation” for being unsympathetic and heartless towards him. I mean, this isn’t true for a number of reasons but like most misplaced blame, it’s representative of an in-hindsight anger. I think the early death of Michael Jackson at 50 years of age, is a stark reminder to my parents and their generation, the impact of bad choices made by themselves, their parents and that they are indeed closer to death than they think. For my generation, it’s a sharply defined image of either a failure to deal with “public life” or just how unforgiving this world can be.

Written by Monique

June 27th, 2009 at 12:29 am

Michael Jackson, 1958-2009.

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Trying to separate the parts that are exciting and enjoyable about an artist as mythic or folk hero-ish as Michael Jackson from the parts that are icky and weird and stuff is a waste of time and not necessary. The thing I’d often mention to people who’d dramatically sigh or roll out the cliches of “He used to be so talented, whuh hoppened??” is how Michael Jackson’s work has always been very insular and rarefied. That he somehow also found a way to make all the unfortunate stuff in his head come out as perfect boundary-pushing pop for 30-plus years (plenty of Mike into the 90s and even 2000s has its moments) is a feat.

A kind example of Jackson’s outre celebrity is the awesomely confident and personal but very out-of-place sketches found inside of Thriller. That a guy of his stature would even put these uncool sketches of cartoon him and cartoon McCartney battling over a girl, a kind of Daniel Johnston retelling of Thriller’s “The Girl Is Mine”, is illustrative of Jackson’s desire to express his vision in as many round-about and weird ways as possible: Turning into a cougar, grabbing his crotch, bleaching his skin, making paranoid pop masterpieces, releasing some oddly personal drawings to the world. These drawings feel like his work, specific and general, sincere and direct but mysterious and private too. I guess that’s all also a definition of mythic.

Written by Brandon

June 26th, 2009 at 5:28 am

Posted in Michael Jackson, RIP

Metal Lungies: Pimp C Beat Drop

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Props to Metal Lungies for getting Bun involved. He gives really thorough answers with a lot of back story and additional information. My beat choices were “Trill Ass Nigga” (Southern Way version, “Feel Like I’m The One Who’s Doin’ Dope’”, “Havin’ Thangs”, the “Outro” from Ridin’ Dirty, and “Underground Kingz”:

” One of the craziest and most disturbing pieces of music ever? Maybe. Kanye West teamed up with the fruit that produced Fiona Apple to make some “crack music”; Pimp C did it without a shit-ton of strings and indicating musical histrionics. It’s just squashed drums, screwed vocals, a synth-line that resonates for miles behind the song’s melody, and a whole lot of open space.”

-Noz has an excellent tribute along with 90 minutes of obscure Pimp C productions. Noz has also been twittering Pimp C words of wisdom all day.

-Here’s my obituary from last year. I remember writing it in about twenty minutes right before I went off to work. It was when I worked nights–8pm-5am–and I made everyone listen to Ridin’ Dirty and wanted to tell every customer how Pimp C was dead.

-Christopher’s entry for the Biographical Dictionary of Rap was written before Pimp died (maybe it needs an update?) but’s still an affecting portrait.

Written by Brandon

December 5th, 2008 at 1:56 am

Posted in Metal Lungies, Pimp C, RIP

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

Who’ll Take Care of His Dogs?: David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)


David Foster Wallace hanged himself at some point on Friday. He wasn’t “one of the best writers of his generation” or any of that eulogy stuff, he was the ONLY writer.

All the other dudes whose style closely resembled his, took influence from, or even influenced him, and shared some sort of loose, critic-created kinship with Infinite Jest, or his insanely smart and genuinely hilarious non-fiction, weren’t really doing the same thing. Wallace was funny and fun but not in a like, bon mot-making author way but in a like, everything is absurd and I can make poop jokes about it and reference stuff like Good Times or whatever and not be this writer being funny horse-shit guy and be intellectually rigorous and somehow not even like, be on some I’m reconciling opposites”/high-low/postmodern thing” but just being, inhabiting, both of those things because they were who “DFW” seemed to be.

Wallace seemed like a big guy. Soft-spoken and stammering in interviews, trying to find the “right” words to Charlie Rose’s silly questions but also sort of bursting out of his dress-shirt and in author photos–especially the recent-ish one with his beloved dogs (there’s a great interview in an old The Believer where Wallace gushes about his love of his dogs)–wearing these shit-kicker boots and looking like he could wreck you in a fight if push came to shove.

It was always hard to tell how much his public, bandanda-wearing, long-haired “look” was an image, a weird merging of like a DH Lawrence alpha-male character (DFW basically looked like a lumberjack) and the worst, most obsequious kind of grad student and how much of it was really just how he dressed, but it sort of illustrates his writing…both head-in-the-clouds intellectual insanity and hard-edged, morally serious confrontation with the sad, hard, and glorious realities of life.

Imagine that bigger-than-average lumberjack body hanging, a foot or so from the floor, the toes of his shit-kicker boots aimed back toward the ground. In my head, he’s wearing the exact outfit and looks exactly the same a he does in that aforementioned author photo.

Were his dogs in the house? Did he stick them outside or on the porch or something? As he undoubtedly dangled for awhile, were they barking? He would’ve realized the absurdity of that. I’m not saying it would or should’ve stopped him–the time I tried to kill myself, The Harder They Come OST was playing in my car and I realized this was sort of funny and absurd, but I was alone, so I could ignore the absurdity and not be embarrassed; beyond-palpable feelings of embarrassment are a big reason why people kill themselves–but no doubt, Wallace would’ve thought about these things. His non-fiction especially, showed that he wasn’t the kind of big-brain that could turn it off or adjust it. Why Kafka was funny, David Lynch, tennis, or the Adult Video News award all got approached the same way.

A mildly clever line about the author who never took the easy way out in his writing, taking his life by his own hand could be made, but that would sort of miss the point of Wallace’s work, which was always about the impossibility of figuring everything out and genuinely reconciling things and trying really hard anyway.

His work was about challenging and confusing readers but not in an author as smarmy trickster way, but in a “I hope by challenging you, you will accept the challenge and maybe become a little less desensitized from everything”. This is why he wrote a respectful profile of John McCain for the reactionary left silliness that is ‘Rolling Stone’ or why he spoke to a bunch of graduating students and told them how they needed to shy away from their core, condescension and try harder (and chuckled when they sort of missed the point), and wrote a rap book that hyper-intellectualized rap before it was cool to hyper-intellectualize rap.

“Anyway, but then I started to have dogs. If you live by yourself and have dogs, things get strange. I know I’m not the only person who projects skewed parental neuroses onto his pets or companion-animals or whatever. But I have it pretty bad; it’s a source of some amusement to friends. First, I began to get this strong feeling that it was traumatic for them to be left alone more than a couple hours. This is not quite as psycho as it may seem, because most of the dogs I’ve ended up with have had shall we say hard puppyhoods, including one past owner who went to jail… but that’s neither here nor there. The point is that I got reluctant to leave them alone for very long, and then after a while I got so I actually needed one or more dogs around in order to be comfortable enough to feel like working. And all that put a crimp in outside-the-home writing, a change that in retrospect was not all that good for me because (a) I have agoraphobic tendencies anyway, and (b) home is obviously full of all kinds of distractions that library carrels aren’t.”

A lot of book critic eulogizers who like to think too hard have said stuff about how there’s no “suicide” in Wallace’s writing, while say, Hemingway’s short, hard-ass lines and phrasing are brutally accepting of reducing the world to um, short, hard-ass lines and turns of phrase and I guess, more “suicidal”. Wallace’s work is the same as Hemingway’s and all other writers reaching for empathy and understanding and a weary acceptance of what this world’s all about (or not about). Wallace’s “trick”, where his brilliance begins, is in his ability to take all that silly, fun, show-offy, post-modern, meta-fictional, inter-textual crap and use it for something more than “experimenting with the form” or revealing through post-modern fiction the very post-modernity of the world we live in; “the porousness of certain borders” to steal a phrase from Wallace himself. The only difference between Hemingway and Wallace was in approach…minimalism and maximalism used for the same end goals.

Wallace used all that postmodern stuff but found a good home for it–these tricks were like Wallace’s puppies, Burroughs and Barth and Barthelme and DeLillo had over time, given the techniques “bad puppyhoods”–and re-directed it towards empathy and understanding and human emotions. Yeah, you open Infinite Jest and the jokes are about how each year’s owned by a corporation are there and the footnotes purposeful inhibit conventional readability and the titular film is a comment on how media eats our souls, but all that stuff was the obvious part of Jest. A “trick” in Wallace’s work was the way he exposed the superficiality of a lot of readers and critics who read Infinite Jest, or “The Depressed Person”, or “Incarnations of Burned Children” superficially and then smugly decried the work as superficial.

Wallace’s work, starting with Infinite Jest and up to his death was about sadness. He stated his goal in writing Jest in a interview as this: “I wanted to do something sad. I’d done some funny stuff and some heavy, intellectual stuff, but I’d never done anything sad”. Those footnotes are funny but they’re also joy-hindering interruptions. The kind of interruption you experience when you are watching your favorite TV show and there’s a commercial is the kind of interruption an addict experiences when the path of the straight and narrow gets de-railed is the kind of interruption that occurs when you wake up, determined not to mumble “fuck…” first-thing and expect the worst, only to you know, be confronted with the worst or something close to it…like the death of the only author who really seemed to get or care about what life was like for most people.

Written by Brandon

September 15th, 2008 at 7:14 pm

Isaac Hayes (1942-2008)


When Isaac Hayes became as well-known for being a voice on ‘South Park’ as he did for his funk-soul compositions, it didn’t negate or overshadow his musical contributions as cynics and snobs like to suggest. Rather it made explicit the weird tension between sophistication and willful goofiness that had always been a part of his persona. Late in his career, Hayes often performed outdoor venues and free festivals with a band that wasn’t perfect, but didn’t reek of super-clean studio bullshit, still did 10-minute plus versions of his hits, and also found a place for “Chef’s Chocolate Salty Balls” in-between “Walk On By” and “Theme From Shaft’”.

As he sang about his uh, balls, he did it in the same voice he was just singing about “foolish pride” and he sort of had this shit-eating grin on this face because he was getting away with it and because he was having fun and not racing through the hits. That same grin was probably on his face when he aggressively titled his album ‘Black Moses’–and meant it in a way, right?–or made goofy album covers like that one for ‘Chocolate Chip’ or ‘JuIcy Fruit’. And the grin was wider because he knew the albums themselves weren’t goofy love jams, but music that had its roots in popular genres like soul, funk, and R & B–there’s some psychedelic rock in there too–but also moved into far more unexpected areas of arrangement and composition. Think of those regal strings on “Walk On By” and how they quickly become terrifying and back to regal again. Or “Cafe Reggios” from ‘Shaft’ which balances being the kind of cornball elevator jazz played in a place called Cafe Reggios and being a signature Hayes composition full of subtle details…a guitar that gets thicker in sound as the song progresses or the perfect interplay between immaculate piano and warm keyboards throughout.

Hayes was basically a jazz musician in the sense that he relied heavily on improvisation and group/band interplay and understood that covers and reinterpretations were actually less restrictive than original material. And like the best jazz musicians, Hayes understood that music needed that tension between raw immediacy and mindful intellectualism. It’s actually not that hard to make “pop” music “sophisticated”–every few years some new rock band discovers electronics or an orchestra and dummies go crazy in ‘Spin’ or ‘Rolling Stone’–but it’s harder to find Hayes’ understanding of the high and low, and their merger (because he’s smart enough to see there’s not a difference) because his work never screamed out “I’m a genius composer who just happens to sing lots of songs about fucking over top baroque soul symphonies!” This is what made it not only okay but just logical that he’d also end up as The Duke in ‘Escape From New York’ or as a sexy chef on a cartoon.

Along with Hayes, the only other soul-based musicians that really seem to fully grasp this weird tension I’m babbling about are Donny Hathaway and Philly Sound pioneer Thom Bell. Hathaway understood the immediacy of a good hook but he also explicitly flirted with classical music. In the liner notes for ‘Extension of a Man’, Hathaway confidently but modestly discusses the “Romantic Period” influence on his own soul-suite “I Love the Lord: He Heard Me Cry Pts. 1 & II”–and adds “My writing was also inspired by George Gershwin”–and it’s a song that probably maybe wouldn’t exist without the work of Hayes a few years before. Thom Bell’s strings too, have as many roots in classical as they do the studio experiments and production flourishes of pop and R & B of the 60s. Bell himself cites one on his biggest influences as the booming string music from Gladiator genre pictures of the 50s and 60s. In 1971 of course, Isaac Hayes would score a genre movie himself, the “blaxploitation” movie ‘Shaft’ and elevate it to mainstream popularity and Hollywood recognition with an Oscar.

“Walk On By” off ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ (1969): This song’s been sampled plenty of times, most effectively on “I Can’t Go To Sleep” by Wu Tang, so I thought I’d highlight a few other excellent uses of the song.

-‘Walk On By’ by Pete Rock: It’s pretty telling that Pete Rock didn’t even change the title of this beat. Maybe it’s out of respect or some sense that no matter what it was called, those stirring strings would still be super obvious. As expected, Rock flips it well, giving it a more upbeat feeling than the original and subtly using Hayes’ breathy vocals for like, a half-second in the loop.

--”Dead Bent” by MF Doom off ‘Operation: Doomsday’ (1999)

Doom uses those super-identifiable strings but he takes advantage of the wobbly, disturbing stir of them instead of the elegant, catchy intro string-part. Like most of the ‘Operation: Doomsday’ productions, it’s cheaply or strangely looped–at least from a conventional musical perspective–and so, the strings bump into one another and whine, but that works because more than any song that swipes from “Walk On By”, “Dead Bent” feels the most like the original in terms of feeling on-edge.

--”Dead Presidents” directed by the Hughes Brothers (1996)

You can hear “Walk On By” faintly at the beginning of this clip from the climax of the Hughes Brothers’ ‘Dead Presidents’ as it scores the fucked aftermath of the characters’ bank robbery, and it comes back to score the final moments of the film, particularly the fate of Larenz Tate’s character Anthony. Setting the end of their movie to ‘Walk On By’ makes it clear that Isaac Hayes was making movie score-ready music way before ‘Shaft’.

‘Dead Presidents’ is the Hughes Brothers’ most realized and singular movie, even as it grabs from plenty of 70s American and 70s black cinema it feels more like it’s informed by those movies than it is totally paying homage. It’s over-the-top and clearly not that researched in its war scenes, but it has a kind of comic-book feeling that heightens the emotions and the political and message-oriented aspects of the film. That it ends with Martin Sheen of ‘Apocalypse Now’ damning Larenz Tate’s post-war actions is super-obvious but effective because it’s so obvious. It’s also brave enough to take on the failings of Black Power and the church and their roles–in addition to a government that had no interest in its soldiers–in moving the Tate character–and implicitly, the many Americans in the same boat as him–towards the fate-sealing bank robbery of the film’s climax.

“Man’s Temptation” off ‘Black Moses’ (1971)
-“Unknown Track” by J Dilla off ‘Pay Jay’ (Unreleased, 2001)
-“Animal Planet” by the GZA off ‘Legend of the Liquid Sword’ (2002): Producer Bink, best known for his Roc-a-Fella work, sampled “Man’s Temptation” for a beat that presumably first showed up on Dilla’s solo album back in 2001 when it was supposed to get a release, and then showed up on GZA’s ‘Legend of the Liquid Sword’ from 2002 when Dilla’s solo got shelved? I think my favorite part of this beat is how Bink occasionally uses Hayes’ keyboard plinks every few bars.

“The Come On” & “Light My Fire” off ‘Live at the Sahara Tahoe’ (1973): Sorry if the quality of this isn’t great, I couldn’t find it anywhere online so I had to rip it from my LP. Basically, a long-ass cover/interpolation/reworking of The Doors’ “Light My Fire”–also covered by Al Green around the same time on 1971’s ‘Al Green Gets Next To You’–that never ends up sounding much like the original but that’s more than okay. It’s technically two tracks and each part got it’s own groove on the record but I just made it one track because who the fuck knows exactly where “The Come On” ends and “Light My Fire” begins.

“The Come On”s just this epic, wah-wah chase music jam with a really incredible sonar-pling sounding keyboard workout before sort of turning into an actual cover. What’s additionally interesting about it–and shows the extent of Hayes’ musical brilliance–is the way Hayes ties all these not-so-apparent musical threads together between the Doors and his own music. Hayes’ voice sounds similar to Morrison’s infamous croon (and of course Morrison himself got a lot of his vocal and physical theatrics from 60s soulsters) and The Doors’ music is heavily influenced by jazz and fusion and soul, so there’s this interesting sense of borrowing and returning going on between the original and Hayes’ “cover”.

“Hung Up On My Baby” off ‘Tough Guys OST’ (1974)
-‘Tough Guys’ Radio Spot: Obviously, the sample used for Geto Boys’ “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” and probably one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. The guitars shimmer and glow, the horns wander along, and it’s all kept together by a really simple beat. Also, just for fun, here’s a radio spot for ‘Tough Guys’.

Isaac Hayes At the Movies
In addition to ‘Tough Guys’–which is sort of hard to find and only half worth-it–Isaac Hayes has been in a lot of really cool and interesting movies. He’s the star (and again, composer) of ‘Truck Turner’ which is a really solid action movie. The main thing I recall about it are the fight scenes which were sort of hand-held and shot with a really wide-lense which looked really cool. Hayes is a really fun and naturalistic actor who always seemed to be enjoy his roles. The same way he would use his deep voice and tone in music, Hayes did the same in acting, to both dramatic and comedic effect. Listen to him mumble “hey…” in the ‘Truck Turner’ trailer below and then say “i got some beer…”; it’s really funny and self-aware but vulnerable too.
In ‘Escape From New York’, he’s genuinely intimidating and scary and its a role where his fame and image work perfectly because he’s playing this weird, near-mythic Duke of futuristic shithole New York and Hayes’ stage persona is similarly appealing but commanding. Everything in ‘Escape From New York’ has this weird balance between being campy and over-the-top but somehow realistic too and Hayes dives into it with lots of sincerity.
And finally, Isaac Hayes as comedic straight-man to Chris Rock’s goofball jean-vest and yellow T-shirt-wearing cheapskate:

Written by Brandon

August 13th, 2008 at 12:58 am

Posted in Isaac Hayes, RIP, Sampling, soul