Mittwoch, 25. März 2009

The Real Hip Hop - Bongo Barbershop

"The Bronx is the home of hip hop", as the Infinity Rappers and Grandmixer DST once proclaimed. Watch how East African rapper Balozi walks into a Bronx barbershop on his quest to find the real hip hop. The barber turns out to be DJ EZ Mike and in the chair next to Balozi we find none other than Grandmaster Caz. Caz and Balozi spit some rhymes while shopsweeper DOA provides the human beatbox.

Charlie Ahearn (of Wild Style fame) directed this little short movie which can be found on the 25th anniversary edition of Wild Style.

P.S. Attentive readers of my blog will recognize the Rocket in the Pocket break right at the beginning of the movie and during Caz's first freestyle.

Sonntag, 22. März 2009

Hip Hop Genealogies - Rocket in the Pocket

This is a little clip from a live concert by disco artist Cerrone in Paris, 1978. Cerrone (who is the guy behind the drums) had an international breakthrough hit in the 70s with the epic "Love in C Minor" and has continued to produce disco music to this day (here's a great song from 2002). If you ever come across one of those "The 10 sexiest/most controversial album covers" lists, you will probably find one of Cerrone's albums in there.

Anyway, back to the video: After an extended drum solo Cerrone goes into a super-heavy slow-motion breakdown part backed by weird guitar sliding noises and the chant "got a rock... rocket in the pocket" before he picks up the speed again and everything turns into a funky uptempo disco song. It will already sound familiar at this point ... just in case you're missing it, here's the break again speeded up to 45rpm:

The break became a staple in early hip hop, being played in many DJ sets and finding a way into quite a few songs. My guess would be that Afrika Bambaataa, known for his eclectic taste in obscure music, first introduced it. The Cold Crush Brothers also used it in their routines – check out this clip from the Cold Crush Brothers' MC battle against the Fantastic Five:

This was in 1981 - the first recorded use of the Rocket in the Pocket break as far as I know. The first time it was put to vinyl was in 1983, on the popular B-Boys track "Two, Three, Break":

One year later (1984) it was subtly appropriated for the intro of one of my all-time favorite tunes: Captain Rock's "Cosmic Blast" ... and I gotta admit the write-up about the break was just an excuse to post this song:

There are a lot more tunes that have sampled Rocket in the Pocket and I put some of them in a rar file:


1.Cerrone – Rocket in the Pocket (live) (1978)
2.Cold Crush Brothers – live at Harlem World (1981)
3.The B-Boys – Two, Three, Break (1983)
4.Captain Rock – Cosmic Blast (1984)
5.Run DMC – Hit it Run (1986)
6.Original Concept – Can You Feel It? (1986)
7.Eazy E – Radio (1988)
8.Beastie Boys – 59 Chrystie Street (1989)
9.MC Lyte – Cha Cha Cha (1989)


Samstag, 14. März 2009

Trans Europe Express Revisited

In my last post (which you might want to read as an introduction to this) I broke down the famous train sound pattern from Kraftwerk's Trans Europe Express. For the sequel I put together an (incomplete) selection of tunes that all sample this particular sound. The diversity of the material is truly reflecting Kraftwerk's cross-genre appeal, with songs ranging from hip hop (old and new) to electro funk and even some krauty ambient stuff ... Keep an open mind!

DOWNLOAD the Trans Europe Express compilation

1. Afrika Bambaataa & The Soulsonic Force – Planet Rock (1982)
The most famous sampling of Trans Europe Express – not the beat though. An emulated version of the train sound is played in the background when the synth melody from Trans Europe Express sets in. Search the blog for more stories about this track.

2. Anthony Rother – Trans Europe Express (1998)
That's a no brainer ... outstanding remix and probably the only one that can hold up to the original. To quote myself: Rother „took the sluggish juggernaut steam engine and remodeled it to a REAL express train by increasing the bpm. The driving beat features prominently in the mix while the rest of the instrumentation is reduced to a sparse frame. Whereas the original version was still rooted in a long musical tradition - a symphony that went through several movements -, Rother's tightly composed Trans Europe Express has finally arrived in the Modern Age, thus realizing what was only hinted at but not unfolded by Kraftwerk.“

3. Kool G Rap – Rhymes I Express (1989)
Only samples the pattern in the chorus but it's such a dope song that I had to throw it in. Nice play on the double meaning of „trans“ and „express“.

4. Special Request – Salsa Smurph (1983)
Electro novelty track (what the hell is a salsa smurph anyway?) that was quite a hit back in the days. I have no idea why; it's just SO odd. I'd say it's the musical equivalent of what art historians call bad painting, an opposition to the canons of good taste. Weird sounds, lo-fi production, weird keyboard playing ... did I mention this is really weird (and fascinating)?

5. Kartoon Krew – Inspector Gadget (1984)
Nowhere near my favorites from the era but it still is a nice little tune, featuring some solid synth and vocoder work.

6. Sir Mix-A-Lot – Society's Creation (1990)
Heavy minimalistic beats and some unusual socio-political commentary from the Bumpasaurus. We are treated with a chopped up and barely recognizable version of the Kraftwerk sample. The 909 snare drum sounds a bit too technoid for my taste ... but then again even Mantronik used the 909 and he is the king of the beat, so who am I to complain?

7. Ras Kass – Ghetto Fabulous (1998)
That song is way past my usual timeframe, but it is a strong track and remarkable in its own right for slowing down the Kraftwerk sample to the point of disintegration. The relation to a train sound is completely lost, but it still retains its floating, ethereal character – „essence precedes existence“.

8. Professor Griff – Last Asiatic Disciples (1990)
PE's own conspiracy theorist/wingnut Professor Griff with a nice upbeat version of the sample which drops quite unexpectedly and is over before you know it. Well seasoned dosage of subsonic boom provided by Luke Skyywalker of 2 Live Crew fame.

9. Ultramagnetic MC's – Crush Kill Destroy (1984-1990)
Traveling at the speed of thought isn't the only Ultra song sampling Kraftwerk. I think I even prefer Crush Kill Destroy for its raw and unpolished minimalism ... even if the production is a bit on the „raw and unpolished“ side too. Call me biased but how can you not like Kool Keith's wacky space scientist lyrics?

10. De La Soul – Ghetto Thang (1989)
Very subtle use of the pattern and a great example of freeing a sample from its original context to create something completely different.

11. Wolfgang Riechmann – Wunderbar (1978)
Riechmann was a contemporary of Kraftwerk and part of the Düsseldorf electronic scene. His only album (also titled „Wunderbar“) is one of the most slept on gems from this time, eclipsed by the artist's untimely demise and by the success of Kraftwerk's Man-Machine which was released around the same time. It is not exactly the same pattern as in Trans Europe Express but you can clearly hear the similarity. This is a wonderful song with a slight spaghetti western feel that always reminds me of the For A Few Dollars More theme (as used in Babe Ruth's „The Mexican“ ... as used in Afrika Bambaataa's „Planet Rock“. And there we are, full circle.).

12. Cosmic Rockers – Exodus (2007)
I couldn't resist sneaking one of my own songs in. Probably the darkest and most Detroit sounding tune I ever made. The percussion pattern adds to the chilling and mechanical atmosphere. A little challenge (not too tough though): Can you ID the two vocal samples?

Dienstag, 10. März 2009

Guest Appearance on T.R.O.Y.

I just finished the sequel of my last post about Trans Europe Express - it can be found on the T.R.O.Y. blog. I will repost it over here in a few days, but for the time being: click here.

Sonntag, 1. März 2009

Trans Europe Express - The Deconstruction of a Train Ride

When Arthur Baker and Afrika Bambaataa „sampled“ Kraftwerk's Trans Europe Express in 1982, they changed the sound of hip hop forever. The success of Planet Rock almost single-handedly put an end to what I'd like to call hip hop's infant stage: the early era of happy, feel-good party raps based on disco breaks. What was about to follow was a more mature sound: a wave of synth-laden tunes with heavy electronic drums, based on dark minor chords and sometimes exploring an unheard of lyrical realism of street topics (like Planet Rock's equally important counterpart The Message).

Much of this new signature style was due to the influence of Trans Europe Express which juxtaposed its cool and mechanical soundscape with an ominously haunting, almost romantic harmonic structure. This was no coincidence – Kraftwerk always sought to combine futuristic elements with a consciousness of tradition and a nostalgia for the past:

The album cover ironically features the four members in a classical pose and even the lettering alludes to a vintage Art Deco style of design. (And that's nothing compared to the hilarious inner sleeve)

The dominant concept of Trans Europe Express – the whole album - is the train metaphor. Most of the songs are built around the notion of a train ride. The title track also has one of Kraftwerk's more interesting beats - a very funky, layered and playful pattern with lots of fast 16th notes. Legend has it that one night while working on Trans Europe Express in the studio, Kraftwerk went over to the Düsseldorf train station to actually listen to the trains. It's not impossible that a beat can be inspired by the sound of a machine – after all, if a sound is repeated in a mechanical fashion, it will necessarily become rhythm. So let's see if there's any truth to the story. As you probably know, most train cars look like this:

I'm mostly interested in the wheels cause they are responsible for the train sound:

There are 2 wheels at each end of a train car. When multiple train cars are coupled this will result in a pattern of 2+2 followed by an empty space:

Any time the train crosses a rail joint, this pattern will produce a characteristic rhythm:

There are different possible ways to translate this into a percussion pattern. Let's treat the first train wheel of the 2+2 pattern as an upbeat, so the second wheel will become the first beat of the bar - sounding like this:

If we straighten this out just a tiny bit by adding a hit where the snare drum would usually be played, the resulting pattern will sound like this:

And voila, there's the famous percussion pattern of Trans Europe Express - a relentless motion against the backdrop of the kickdrum's sluggish thump.