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Dance History Lesson: "I Wonder" (Scottie B Remix)

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As “spastic” or “hurried” as Baltimore Club can be, it still generally conforms to some kind of dance music structure (build-up, a breakdown, call and response, you know the deal) and it no doubt, does a whole lot within that structure (fart sounds, out of nowhere like sub-break beats, some Klaus Schulze-level of transcendent synth line) but Scottie B’s remix of Kanye West’s “I Wonder” from DJ Benzi, Kanye West, Plain Pat, George Bush, your mom, and Rue Mclanahan present The Sky High Mixtape does whatever it wants. Even someone with ears totally accustomed to Baltimore Club will have a hard time making sense of or predicting where this one’s headed.

A few moments in, that classic “Bmore club” breaks drops and proceeds to shuffle under the whole track, but those opening moments, it’s just a synth fart, clap, and Kanye’s vocals, slowed down, making room for a quick stab of drum or keyboards between Kanye’s already super-emphasized vocals. Scottie basically turns the track into Run DMC’s “It’s Like That” then gets bored, speeds up the Labi Siffre hook, slows it back down to normal speed, punctuates it with those “It’s Like That” stabs, and finally uses the “I wonder” part as a temporary typical club hook. The way he subtly shifts the Siffre sample makes it sound, if not for the deliberately slow piano of the original (“My Song”), barely even manipulated. But that piano dances all over the track–at least for the 40 seconds or so that it’s a part of the song–and Scottie’s speeding it up makes the track into some keyboard on “Piano”-setting Freestyle or pop House track production flourish.

And then, the energy halts for a clearly digitized, skipping loop of “you”–one can easily see that part of a second of the loop bouncing wavering back and forth in some sound editing program getting a little longer each time–and we’re out of the 80s of Run DMC and Freestyle signifiers and onto something newer, weirder, and crazier. The “you” sample’s smooshed into glitchy, CD skip modernism and stretched back out for one last affecting, sincere “for you…” before it finally like, truly drops.

The “you” fades into the background as a monster bridge builds up, falls out, and comes back to meet-up with Kanye’s goofball come-on of “How many ladies in the house?” lyric which here, turns into a typical DJ shout-out–Scottie makes Kanye the hype-man on his own song. The track ends with a super manipulated version of the Kanye vocal (or just some other dude saying “House”?), chanted like shouting-out the genre of music this really is, can be enough of a hook in and of itself.

Scottie probably didn’t sit down to give you a party music history lesson–and last time I over-speculated Scottie himself was nice enough to bring me back down to earth–but dude’s been doing it for a long time and it’s more like, all of these genres and sub-genres and signifiers and tricks of the trade rush around in his head when makes a track. And nonetheless, there’s a sense of time traveling here.

A mini-history itself’s contained within “It’s Like That” (which reemerged as an unfortunate but important remix by DJ Jason Nevins), those house pianos, that vocal looping, the jarring hyperspace warp into the 2000s through those obviously digital glitches, it’s everything that’s been going on since the 80s transferred through a Baltimore Club (a genre based in Miami Bass, Detroit Techno, and Chicago House) remix of a rapper that’s trying his own brand of party-rap retro-futurism lately. Time traveling too though, in the sense that Joseph mentions here (“distorting time”) which is something that electronic and especially dance music does particularly well, changing up, shifting, turning back on itself, until you don’t know if the song’s been playing for three minutes or three hours.

Written by Brandon

January 13th, 2009 at 7:11 am

People Get Ready To Wait On The World To Change

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-”People Get Ready” by The Impressions

-”Waiting On the World to Change” by John Mayer

-”People Get Ready” by Seal

One of the odd effects of working retail is spending a lot of time with music that at best, you’d never choose to listen to and at worst, is just plain awful. The new Seal album Soul is all soul covers and although most of it’s pretty useless, it isn’t exactly terrible and he’s backed by a band that sort of does its own thing, neither translating soul music grit into ready-for the mini van sheen or trying, trying, trying to sound like Willie Mitchell and friends (something some of Mitchell’s friends did on their own with Cat Power’s The Greatest). Soul’s produced by David Foster who I understand is a big deal if you’re a homosexual.

Most interestingly though, is the album-ending cover of The Impressions’ “People Get Ready”. Backed almost entirely by some scratchy guitar, Seal’s voice (which doesn’t hide his British accent) does a pretty heartfelt variation of this oft-covered song. The prominence of the guitar turns the cover, if you’re not listening very hard, into a cover of John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change”, a song Pitchfork hilariously described as “preaching the gospel of non-action and civic apathy”.

Of course, Mayer’s “Waiting” did the thing of quoting “People”s melody and so, it’s partially a case of reading music history backwards, but still, there’s something about the prominence of technically good but still a little messy guitar on Seal’s version that makes it sound like it’s trying to in part, reference Mayer’s song too. Maybe it’s just that Seal, like Mayer, doesn’t have the vocal subtlety of the Impressions, but there’s something interesting and weirder going on it seems.

It’s very hard not to contextualize a cover of “People Get Ready” in the fall of 2008 as having something to do with Barack Obama’s presidency and especially because Mayer’s song was such a mind-bogglingly stupid and problematic variation on political songwriting, Seal’s cover becomes a history of politically engaged pop and a comment on the shift from activism to apathy and back again through America’s recent, historic election.

Written by Brandon

December 8th, 2008 at 8:07 pm

Raymond Scott: Electronic Pioneer, Imminent Hip-Hop Sample Staple…Action Figure?

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For the 100th anniversary of Raymond Scott’s birth, PressPOP’s making an action figure of the composer/guy sampled in some Dilla and Madlib tracks/electronics pioneer and it looks pretty cool.

Similar to the Robert Moog figure–and a Kauffman brothers figure?–a couple years ago, this one similarly takes a retro cartoon style to the figure and design (done by Archer Prewitt of The Sea and Cake), but adds a CD that gives you a short but effective sampling of Scott’s work. You get “Powerhouse” one of his best jokey jazz tunes, three tracks of Scott discussing his electronic music inventions, and “The Happy Whistler” from his proto-Ambient Music Soothing Sounds for Baby record.

What’s interesting about the CD is how it takes the time represent every era of Scott’s musical career and also, accidentally charts the way that Scott’s posthumous reputation has changed. Most slept-on, didn’t quite make it, musical footnotes are lucky if they have a single un-earthing and recontextualization of their music; in the past decade or so, Scott’s gone through quite a few.

He’s gone from the slept-on dude that composed a lot of Carl Stalling’s Looney Tunes music, to novelty weirdo that made joke jazz with titles like “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals” that ended up in a lot of Looney Tunes stuff, to jazz weirdo that also made electronic music and invented electronic instruments, to a guy whose reputation’s now almost entirely tilted in the direction of proto-electronica prophet.

Much of Scott’s shifting reputation has to do with how his music’s been re-released and how it jibes or doesn’t jibe with what music dorks are really into at the time. His jazz music was first re-released on CD in the early 90s and pretty much contextualized as “this is the guy that composed a lot of that crazy, super-memorable Looney Tunes music” and was an attempt to gather Scott’s compositions and give proper credit to him. Not that Stalling did anything wrong, he’s usually credited with something like “Musical Direction” and all of Scott’s music was licensed to Warner Brothers, but still.

Scott’s jazz then, was mainly being connected to the cartoons which no doubt fit Scott’s music in both sound and song titles (“The Penguin”, “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals”, “Powerhouse”) but also relegated the music to being an odd footnote and essentially novelty music. In the late 90s, the Reckless Nights compilation came out and sounded way better and was more appreciative, with more biographical information–and the first hints of discussing his electronic work–and framed his music as whimsical and fun and fascinating.

Still, there seemed to be a distance between the actual music and why the music was significant enough to get a re-release. My ears have always heard some early rumblings of bop, for like Parker, Monk, etc. Scott’s jazz–all of which was composed in the late thirties making it pre-bop–was a response to the stale formulas of swing music. Because jazz writers are stuffy turds, they usually don’t like to think of this stuff too much, but it’s not hard to imagine that Parker or Monk took a little inspiration from that Looney Tunes music. Scott’s music is fun and it certainly does swing but it also wanders or waddles into weird, odd jagged corners of thumping drums and depressed squonks and then bursts into something really exuberant or wild and everything else.

A lot of instrumental music has goofy or weird titles but generally, you get the sense the composer thought of a title that explained how the music sounds after the fact. With Scott’s music, whether it’s true or not, you get the sense “Reckless Night on Board an Ocean Liner” came to him as a phrase and then he rushed down to his quintet and pulled out of their instruments and his brain, a song that was the jazzy approximation of a restless night on an ocean liner.

And semi-violent adjectives like “pull” aren’t too off if you read the liner notes of Reckless which makes Scott into a pretty strict and demanding composer. It sounds like the same way James Brown handled the J.Bs, nothing written down but this already-perfect vision of the song that’s then hummed and sung to the performers until somehow, they fucking play exactly what Mr. Brown hears between his ears.

Scott though, kept the music to those same hard-ass strict rules performing live too and so, the music was jazz without the cornerstone of jazz: improvisation. While the lack of improvisation mixed with the bumpy fun of the the tracks confused stuffy jazz critics–here’s a really fun and in a lot of ways not necessarily incorrect review from 1939–it’s really brilliant on Scott’s part to have this odd tension between the inherent, however hyper-rehearsed chaos of the tracks and the fact that they didn’t move or waver from their pre-planned start and end. It made the music useless in a way, it wasn’t jazz music and although apparently popular, it wasn’t exactly the pop of the time either, but useless in the way really good art should be useless…as this weird, rarified thing that doesn’t totally connect to any specific audience or genre or whatever and just kinda is. Weird and “useless” the way an action figure of a electronic music pioneer is weird and useless, you know?

Interestingly though, most of the re-issues of Scott’s music since 2000 or so have been of his electronic music. This no doubt, is because the music itself is truly deserving of re-release, but it also has to do with the audience or intended audience for record nerd oddities, and up, up, up cartoon jazz isn’t anymore appealing in 2000 than it was in 1939, while a dude fiddling in his basement with home-made electronics and keyboards and everything else totally is.

Which explains the release of Scott’s electronic experiments, soundtrack work, and commercial jingle work from the 1950s and 60s Manhattan Research. For a CD like this to come out in the early 2000s was fortuitous, as it made music that was previously impossible to hear relatively easy to obtain and ingest (I recall picking it up in the TOWER records that was once at the bottom floor of Trump Tower). A small group of electronic music fans and crate-digging, sample-grabbing rap kids have latched onto this release–you now see it on record way more than CD–and a few people here and there have sampled it, most notably perhaps, Dilla on Donuts’s “Lightworks” and Madlib on Beat Conducta’s “Electric Company (Voltage-Watts)”.

-J Dilla “Lightworks”

-Raymond Scott “Lightworks”

The relevance and prevalence of Manhattan Research will only grow and grow as two of the most worshipped sample-flipping beatmakers around have gone to Raymond Scott’s music. This mixed with the apparently here to stay trend in rap and R & B towards scronky, retro-futurism might just turn Scott, when it comes to sampling, into the next James Brown.

Interestingly though, no one’s really flipped or done anything too crazy or cool with a Scott sample. Dilla and Madlib just sort of loop it and chop it, and while that’s to be expected from Madlib, one could easily imagine Dilla obsessively rearranging and editing Scott’s crazy sounds into something almost unidentifiable.

So far though, my favorite Scott sample has been the use of “Cyclic Bit” on El-P’s “T.O.J”:

-El-P “T.O.J”

-Raymond Scott “Cyclic Bit”

The track employs a couple of other Scott samples that I hear but can’t immediately identify without consulting Manhattan Research but the most effective is “Cyclic Bit”. El-P uses it towards this pretty amazing like, clouds-part and the sun comes out feeling of musical epiphany as his really affecting and minus the space-shit or hyper-lyrical hard-assisms opening verse stops after a resigned “I used to be in love…” and we get maybe a half-second of silence and then Scott’s wobbly electronics flutter through to punctuate the heaviness of the verse. Interestingly, El-P too, doesn’t really chop or flip the sample, he just sort of inserts it in there and builds upon it for an extended, slow-building breakdown that blows-up into a coda-like rap-chant to end the song.

Written by Brandon

December 2nd, 2008 at 6:58 am

Corrective Rap: Ghostface’s "Computer Love"


From battling to sampling and anything that falls between, the roots of rap are in opposition. There’s always been a sense that indignant anger about misrepresentation, misinformation, or this-dude-did-that-and-he-shouldn’t-have type shit’s fueled the music of nearly every rap great.

But around the same time rap got actually kinda bad (1997 to the present), something changed. It suddenly got really annoying and even pathetic to hear your favorite rappers remind you how many wack emcees were out there. Maybe it was because you didn’t really want to be reminded of how bad it got, but also because it seemed kinda cheap to point out what’d become the obvious. This wasn’t the spirit of competition or anything, it plain preaching to the converted.

While Ghostface has occasionally been wrongheaded in this corrective fervor–calling out D4L for example–so much of his career since day one has been the right kind of oppositional or corrective rap. He’s always been more a “show” and not a “tell” rapper when it’s come to schooling other rappers, which makes his correctives more like a dialogue or exchange than simply, your favorite emcee bitching too much on record.

Even without it being semi-explicit on “Shark Niggas (Biters)”, it’s clear listening to Cuban Linx that the album’s something of a response or correction to Ready to Die. “If you thought Biggie was describing the life accurately…”, Ghost and Rae seem to be saying, “here’s what it’s really fucking like”. And they give you almost twenty tracks of obsessively detailed drug-dealer rap, with the same cinematic and emotional sweep as Ready while making it (arguably) even more palpable. The result: Two great records instead of one great record and a response record entirely contingent upon telling you why the first record was stupid.

Ghostface’s two most recent proper albums, Fishscale and Big Doe Rehab, had him returning to something resembling his mid-90s storytelling days and away from hyper-abstract wordplay or slice-of-life narratives of late. This obviously had to do with Ghost’s anger at the popularity of so-called “crack rap”, a sort of bastardization or gross misreading of the sub-genre Ghost had a big part in founding.

One of the more interesting convergences was the release of Fishscale on pretty much the same day as Rick Ross’ first single “Hustlin”. I can recall putting in Fishscale having just bought it and getting to the first song, the jaw-dropping “Shakey Dog” and thinking of it as the opposite of “Hustlin” in every way. Rick Ross was repetitive and slow, the song’s all-hook, Ghostface’s song has no hook and teases you with a hook–“Why you behind me, leary, shakey dog stutterin’/When you got the bigger cooker on you/You a crazy motherfucker, small hoodie dude, hilarious…”–but then Ghost just keeps rapping and you realize that just because you heard the title of the song in the song, does not mean you’ve arrived at the chorus. Interestingly, a few songs later Ghost is doing the less fun, played-out version of oppositional rap when he shits on D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” on “The Champ”; doesn’t he realize by simply making and releasing Fishscale, he’s fighting D4L?

Last week saw the internet-release of “Computer Love”, which is Ghost doing the “Holla” off Pretty Toney treatment to Zapp & Roger’s “Computer Love”. Like “Holla”, Ghost eschews sampling altogether and just raps over the original song, finding a sort of internal logic and rhythm without the aid of a proper beat.

Also like “Holla”, he’s doing more than being hilarious/show-offy. It seems in some way, the idea behind rapping right over the Delfonics was to remind people of where all these great Ghostface beats came from. The song equivalent of that moment of every Ghostface show and a ton of interviews where he tells you how this was the music his parents used to fuck to and sways and squeezes to say, “Natural High” by Bloodstone.

Doing the same to “Computer Love” has an even deeper context though and I probably don’t really have to spell it out for you: T-Pain. T-Pain’s use (and abuse?) of auto-tune is certainly on some Roger Troutman type shit and I can see it bugging a guy like Ghostface that a lot of young people probably don’t even know anything about Roger-all the more depressing given Roger’s death-by-gunshot at 47. But rather than simply complain about it, Ghost takes an old Roger song and straight raps over it, invoking–if we read R & B history backwards as so many do–the feeling of a T-Pain-assisted rap song through raps atop Roger’s vocoder croons.

Interestingly, “Computer Love” concedes a bit to 2008 rap standards as well. Ghost slows his rapping down just a bit, which gives it more of a feeling of the rap you hear on the radio. With a punchline like “Martin Luther Bling”, he even engages in some particularly goofball, purposefully bad lines like all of our favorite rappers in 2008. There’s a little more open space in this song than we’re used to from Ghost, which too plays into the ways that radio rap in the past few years has pretty much totally merged rap and R & B. “Computer Love” just kinda of plays out at the end, it doesn’t have the momentum build-up to sudden-stop and end the song feeling that most Ghostface tracks have, and there’s points where he’s barely even rapping, more like spitting a line or two, taking a pause, and saying a few more. It’s about as Jeezy-like as Ghostface can get. A good example of how to ingest all that’s weird or problematic with rap these days and still retain personality.

Written by Brandon

November 4th, 2008 at 8:38 pm

Metal Lungies: Alchemist Beat Drop

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“The weird loops of nostalgia and reverse nostalgia coursing through Alchemist’s “The Man/The Icon” beat are nearly too much to parse out. Let’s start with Alc taking “Lucky Me” — a piece of near disco from Philly soul legends The Stylistics — and chopping it back into the warm R&B they were doing five years earlier. Those disco party strings become warm Thom Bell orchestration, near Santa Esmeralda horns revert back to the gloriously maudlin sound we associate with The Stylistics; it’s all tight and immediate instead of loose and bell-bottom ready…”

Written by Brandon

October 27th, 2008 at 4:46 pm

Baltimore Club Week: DJ Excel Listens To Metal

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-DJ Excel “Open the Doors (Alright)”

When I first heard this song on DJ Excel’s MySpace a bunch of months ago, it was that warm, rolling bassline that kicks the song off that grabbed my ears. It’s sort of bluesy and Southern soul-sounding, like it was swiped from a Booker T & the MGs or Willie Mitchell recording. Not the kind of thing usually stuffed inside of a Baltimore Club track at all, but it’s perfectly integrated and throughout the song, Excel chops and turns it every which way, moving it about as far away from it’s original sound as possible. It stops and stutters to meet-up with a Jim Morrison sample, it’s turned backwards into a Disco-y, quasi-dance punk bass riff, and it’s stuck late in the song into super-tiny pieces to be a slab of pulsing bass for atmosphere.

Slowly though, the bassline’s original source hit me. Again, I assumed it was just identifiable as one of the hundreds of STAX records that’ve imprinted themselves in my brain but then I realized it was the fucking outro bassline from proto-doom metal/Stoner Metal Gods Sleep; their song “Dragonaut”, the devastating opening track to their album Holy Mountain! Or was it? I e-mailed Excel who indeed verified the source.

-Sleep “Dragonaut” off Sleep’s Holy Mountain

Maybe you recognize “Dragonaut” from the movie Gummo

From Crunk and all that it took from and inspired (that was more than five years ago now!), to stuff like “Party Like a Rock Star”, and even Baltimore’s own Blaq Starr calling last year’s release King of Roq, there’s been a focus in party music towards the aggressive sounds of metal, but Excel instead, treats Sleep’s music like any other sample for a club song: Something to sample and rearrange and totally fuck around with. It’s used with the same disinterest in convention and open-mindedness as the Jim Morrison vocals or the sped-up Manzarek organ that also pops-up throughout.

As pretty much every terrible article on Baltimore Club will joke about, there’s a lot of yelling on Club tracks. Either the artists themselves or samples, namely Lil Jon right now and before that, DMX and Mystikal. Here, Excel employs the voice of another classic yell-er, Jim Morrison and uses Morrison’s gutteral ad-libs and classic “Break on through” croon the same way others use a Lil Jon “Yeeeaaahhhhh!”.

-DJ Excel “Skratch Break” off The Underground Files: The Prequal

There’s also this interlude from Excel’s excellent hip-hop mixtape–emphasis on the mix part, this is an incredible, forward moving mix of throwback-style hip-hop–which samples the interlude “Embryo” off Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. As a shout-out by the Lords of the Underground plays-out, Excel loops a small part of the “Embryo” turning it into an angular, looping riff, before letting it play-out identifiably over some heavy drums of death.

-Black Sabbath “Embryo” off Master of Reality

Check out DJ Excel’s My Space for some exclusive tracks–especially his version of “Love Lockdown” and an insane 11 minute mix called ” Bmore A.D.D” (is that a Notwist sample I hear in there, Excel?)–his blog, 41yo, and as always, his label is BMore Original Records.

Written by Brandon

October 14th, 2008 at 3:02 am

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

Technics vs. Rod Lee (Knucklehead/Phat KIdz Records)

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‘War Niggaz’
‘Poke Ya Ass’
Breakitdown 99′

‘Luv My Niggaz’
‘Don’t Waste My Time’ featuring Lucky
‘Where Ya At?’ featuring Mz. Thang

I like the A-Side/B-Side concept of this, with a song called ‘War Niggaz’ on one side and then an answer to that with, ‘Luv My Niggaz’ on the B-Side. The tracks also feature samples of the two of the most overly-sampled artists of Baltimore club: Mystikal and DMX. ‘War Niggaz’, I think is sampling ‘It Ain’t My Fault’ by Silkk the Shocker which featured Mystikal and ‘Luv My Niggaz’ grabs DMX’s guest verse on Jay-Z’s ‘Money, Cash, Hoes’; there’s some Jay-Z thrown in there too.

The progress of most Baltimore Club songs and well, all post-Disco dance music is that you start out with a sound or two and just keep fuckin’ adding shit on top of shit until it’s just this like, glorious danceable chaos. These songs follow that structure but feel even more chaotic and stumbling, especially ‘War Niggaz’ because it begins with the chopped-up vocal sample of Mystikal, sampled right from the song, no ‘Acappela’ version or clever stereo mixing to highlight the vocal, so under it you get this awkwardly chopped part of the music as well. When the song finally breaks out, the sample’s cut even shorter and more sounds are added- I especially like that high-pitched beep- and finally, the club break you expect drops. On ‘Luv My Niggaz’, it’s really cool that Rod Lee or Technics heard the Swizz Beat production and grabbed those weird descending keyboard sounds which not only sound cool but would fit right-in on any song made by either of these guys. That’s one of the more interesting aspects of Baltimore Club in relation to sampling, the way they pretty much sample stuff that totally fits their aesthetic, hence yell-rappers like Mystikal and DMX or dinky-sound keyboards from Swizz Beatz.

Written by Brandon

November 23rd, 2007 at 9:58 pm