No Trivia

Archive for the ‘Timbaland’ Category

Ghetto Techno

leave a comment

The video for DJ Class’ “I’m the Shit” finally dropped and though it’s a tad too low-budget for it’s own good, it’s also sorta perfectly insular and Baltimore, full of cameos (Sean Caesar, DJ Booman, Jimmy Jones, Mullyman, Labtekwon, lots more), and within that insularity, grabs some of the equally, awesomely weird plurality of the city’s current club scene: Thugs, nerds, skateboard hipster types, old dudes, really hot girls, the whole deal. The song’s still thrilling and one can imagine it losing none of its dancefloor power in ten years when it’s still a club staple.

At the My Crew Be Unruly 2 event back in July, there was a point where Baltimore’s James Nasty got a big, sly grin on his face and dropped 2 Hyped Brothers and a Dog’s “Doo Doo Brown”–those super-identifiable, down-tuned keys on the intro rolling out to a room of shouts, screams…hands thrown in the air showing approval. The song’s from 1991.

It’s worth pointing out that the videos for “Doo Doo Brown” were directed by a then, not that well-known Baltimore video director named Chris Robinson. This Class video’s produced by Chris Robinson’s Robot Films, directed by some dude named Iren. A few people’ve mentioned a rumor that Chris Robinson wants to do a documentary on Club music, a piece of information that even as rumor floating around is enough to make me cry with excitement.

That said, there’s a sense that “I’m the Ish” has already been passed over by the main, mainstream and I doubt DJ Class or Unruly Records care all that much. This is a good thing. Club music needn’t be Crunk or Hyphy or Jerk music or whatever, a blast of popularity followed by nothing really…all the artists crawling back and doing what they do. Nothing wrong with that, but sometimes I feel like my city’s musical heart couldn’t handle it.

-Pitbull “Juice Box” (Produced by DJ Class)

Production work like this is hopefully how Baltimore’s homegrown, handmade, worker-bee, avant dance music’ll wedge its way into the mainstream. Less classicist than “I’m the Ish”–this is closer to what you’ll hear young people in a club dancing to right now–it’s all the rubbery horns of newer Club music while wrapping the sound around an aggressive template basically invented by DJ Class on his old club hit “Tear Da Club Up”. Pitbull slaps on a regrettably silly hook–in Baltimore Club, there’s no interest in euphemism–but he chant-raps around the beat enough and knows when to be quiet and let the menacing club drone takeover and a few listens in, even the hook totally destroys.

-Jay Z “Ghetto Techno” (Produced by Timbaland)

Daniel Krow already pointed out that this song is a kind of remake of Rod Lee’s “Dance My Pain Away” which is pretty fascinating. Undoubtedly, there’s some Club influence in Timbaland’s work and so, who knows when and how this song came about.

It’s basically a late 90s Club production dipped in Timbaland’s video game electronics sheen. Did Timbaland give this to Jay with an mp3 of Rod Lee’s local hit attached? Between Kanye, Pharrell, and TImbaland, some of Jay’s closest musical collaborators are/were fucking with Club music. I’d like to think this song was recorded a bunch of months ago when the success of “I’m the Ish” made it seem like maybe, just maybe, Club music would be the next production trend to jump on and so, Jay did his approximation.

And it’s a damned good one. A respectful one too. The Club aspects go beyond the production and into Jay’s hook and verses and even the working-class thematics of the whole thing. Jay’s a killer mimic, he knows how to inhabit other rappers’ flow and cadences and here, he does a fairly convincing throaty Rod Lee yell. Kinda like how Jay does this startlingly hilarious 50 Cent impression at the beginning of “Hate”.

further reading/viewing:
-”The Right Track(s)” by Daniel Krow
-DJ Class and DJ Scottie B performing “Tear Da Club Up” at MCBU2
-”Pharrell and Twista Discover Baltimore Club” by Tom Breihan
-”My Crew Be Unruly 2: Words and Photos” by Josh Sisk and ME from City Paper
-2 Hype Brothers & a Dog “Doo Doo Brown” (Version One) Video directed by Chris Robinson
-2 Hype Brothers & a Dog “Doo Doo Brown” (Version Two) Video directed by Chris Robinson

Written by Brandon

September 18th, 2009 at 4:01 am

Posted in DJ Class, Jay-Z, Timbaland

Rap’s Post-Lyrical Phase Pt. II: How We Got Here.

leave a comment

The focus on Kanye West and Lil Wayne as “post-lyrical” rappers and for the sake of simplification, the post-lyrical rappers, is due to both their popularity and favorable critical reception. They also transcend or just don’t fuck around with a lot of the cliches of rap (although they’re slowly building a whole new group of cliches for future rappers) and so, the moral quandaries about crime glorification and all that mostly doesn’t apply to either of these guys, while say, a discussion about Young Jeezy (certainly post-lyrical) would be hard to go into without sort of discussing that stuff.

Yes, Wayne might fall into the “crack rap” category but his work, especially as of the past few years, seems less interested in it and drug dealing’s only invoked as some fucked-up foggy memory from his teens or a violent/drug-dealing threat/boast is now used to exemplify his strength and power as a rapper. Like Chuck D. saying his “uzi weighs a ton” or something, it’s a boast about skills transferred onto well-worn rap cliches.

Kanye of course, has never dealt with raps about drugs and violence and has wisely balanced a persona based on his lack of experience/familiarity with “the life” with a persona that doesn’t remind listeners every few minutes that he indeed, does not rap about those things. This doesn’t make these guys “better” than rappers following the “Nas formula”–indeed, Wayne falls back on gun talk when he feels like it and Kanye’s got plenty of clothes and shoe references to keep him afloat–it just makes them different.

Their basic eschewing of violence and/or relative refusal to fall back on well-worn rap cliches is something of a return to the “Native Tongues” stuff. The main focus for Kanye and Wayne is fun and an all-encompassing need to stand-out. Sure, it doesn’t have the hyper-explicit politics of the Tongues who indeed, wanted to stand out in part, to oppose (what we now call) “gangsta rap” but part of critical and popular embrace of my post-lyrical posterboys is that they bring a rarified and individual voice back to hyper-corporatized hip-hop. Whether you like them or not, Kanye and Wayne are very strange and very unpredictable pop stars.

In the first part of this, Noz asked me how De La Soul didn’t engage in the same kind of “weirdo wordplay” that I connected to the post-lyricists or to my super-obvious examples of Kool Keith and Grand Puba. The short answer is, De La Soul do engage in that kind of wordplay (and do it better). The slightly longer answer is, De La Soul are total fucking geniuses and completely transcend whatever era or trend or whatever me or any other dopey rap pseudo-scholar sticks them in. The long answer is, De La Soul do the weirdo wordplay game, but they do it within the frame of conventional, metered, rhyming raps. They are technically proficient, lyrically smart, and purposefully sloppy as well. De La Soul’s wordplay still fits within the expected understanding of “rap” and “rapping” while Kanye and Wayne don’t always do that and it seems, their fans and detractors sometimes have a hard time defining what exactly these guys do on the mic.

This is interesting because when both of them started out, Kanye and Wayne were fairly conventional rappers. Like most trends or slowly-gestating almost-trends, the guys that best exemplify or represent the trend are to some extent, bandwagon jumpers. While snobs and nostalgics will completely dismiss the rapping on The College Dropout and Late Registration as not very good–arguing about technical ability is a waste of time and a task that will never result in full agreement– there’s undoubtedly a significant shift in Kanye’s rapping on the first two albums when compared to Graduation. His flow is significantly slowed-down (something I think, he swiped from post-retirement Jay-Z, which makes this whole thing way more complicated) and his focus went from funny punchlines and rap references to near-nonsense word-association. Example: “They got the CD, then got to see me/Drops gems [pronounced like "Gym"] like/I dropped out of P.E”.

Lil Wayne has always been a very good rapper, even when he was like, fourteen. The critic-created story arc of his rapping career was developed by a bunch of dudes that never heard anything he did before Tha Carter and made jokes about CASH-MONEY, but retroactively bought all those CDs for 6 bucks used and pretend like they’ve been bumping Tha G-Code since 1999. Wayne has always been something of a throwback–or was before his mixtape blitz which radically changed his style–and even in the Hot Boys, he was doing the Nas formula by way of his more immediate Southern influences, while Juvenile (a very good rapper too) is strictly or mostly “Southern”. Wayne’s “mixtape” flow on the other hand, grew increasingly odd and experimental and strayed ever further from the “Nas formula”.

The medium of the mixtape allowed Wayne a place to do whatever he wanted and the availability of these mixtapes, coupled with the hyper-immediacy of the internet allowed direct, non-corporate/non-audience-tested feedback about these “songs”. Listening to the Wayne of “Georgia Bush” now sounds quantifiable when compared to the Wayne of the stuff on Drought 3 or Carter 3 (or at least, the weirder parts of Carter 3). Example: “They cannot see [Nazi] me/Like Hitler”.

There’s also a lot more conventional melody in Kanye’s songs and more than enough singing and crooning in much of Wayne’s work. This too, has always been a part of their work, Dropout in particular, succeeded beyond being a weird, “conscious” rap album (which is what it is) because Kanye’s melodies were all sung and performed by him and we, the listeners could carry a tune just as well. The sing-song feel of the album made it relate-able and memorable. Wayne’s flow has always been more melodic and bouncy. Undoubtedly, this is the result of being a Southern rapper and in Southern rap, conventional musicality is much more pervasive. In that sense, Wayne and Kanye are just bringing to the forefront a key part of their success because they now are famous enough that we’ll even eat up their auto-tune experiments and also because, popular music is way more ready for auto-tune experiments.

Which brings us to the next reason for post-lyricism: the changed pop music climate. The example that’s often referenced–and again, the one that every dumb Popular Music Prof will be using in thirty years–is Timbaland, particularly the baby sample in Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody”. In Timbaland and that beat in particular, so many of the trends that now pervade pop, R & B, and rap can be traced: weird merging of experimentalism with straight-forward dance music, electronics over instrumentation and/or sampling, the Southern rap takeover, a weird Futuristic aesthetic, etc. The “Nas formula” just doesn’t work as well over top of skittering synths and rave-ready drums (look no further than “Hero” by Nas as proof) and so, as the sound of the music-makers changed, so did the raps put over that music. That’s not to say auto-tune warbling or half-rhyming raps sound all that good over electronic beats either, but it makes a lot more sense.

Additionally, there’s more music in the beats of Timbaland, the Neptunes, etc. Once again, this has a lot to do with the South’s musical influence on rap. The open spaces in the beats fit the open space of the South’s landscape, the South’s rich musical history coupled with a more laid-back, relative lack of New York hustle and bustle, encourages the playing and mastering of musical instruments, and the importance of the church and church music in Southern communities makes so much of the black Southern population keenly aware of musicality. Singing and melody made their way into the raps and rhymes and slowly, through guys like Timbaland (and many, many, many others that will get lost in the shuffle that simplifies music history for textbooks), this all wormed its way into the pop landscape. Rapping tightly constructed rhymes (with or without nonsense style wordplay) and then getting a crew of dudes to shout a hook just doesn’t work over the sounds constructed by the new guard of rap producers.

Written by Brandon

September 22nd, 2008 at 4:01 am