Donnerstag, 30. Juli 2009

Disorderly Conduct

In light of recent events ...

I only found the dub version on the tube.

The Latin Rascals were the kings of edits: a style of remixing that chops up the original track in a stuttery, stop-and-go kind of way. Here's another sweet (pun intended) example of innovative editing ... Omar Santana's remix of Sweet Sensation's freestyle classic "Hooked On You":

Freitag, 24. Juli 2009

I Should Tell Ya Momma On You

Some incredible funk beatboxing by Red whose single dropped today ... and you can also download it via iTunes. Red rose to internet fame with a youtube video of him beatboxing in a backyard (check below). Even Justin Timberlake got caught up in the buzz and referenced him in a recent tweet. Add Mr. Timberlake to the steadily growing list of people who get confused about this auto-tune thing. Red's certainly not emulating any auto-tuned vocals - this is old-school talk box funk. Roger Troutman would have been proud.

If only DJ Quik had made that remix ...

(via Steady Bloggin)

Donnerstag, 23. Juli 2009


A while ago, Jay-Z proclaimed the Death of Auto-Tune, now hip hop's "grand oak" KRS One and Black Moon's Buckshot weigh in. The visuals are compelling, the beat is well-done but I cannot shake off the feeling that something is very wrong here. At first sight, it seems like another "the youth of today ..." lamentation - a story of generational conflict and the loss of authority on Jay-Z's and KRS One's side who have been left behind by a bunch of young and successful rappers. But there's more at stake here.

The general suspicion against the auto-tuning device rest on the bias against technological enhancement in music: the resentment that "we are being cheated". But can there be cheating in music? Only if you believe in the ideal of a true musician as master of his trade, working his ass off and shedding a lot of blood, sweat and tears for his art. Of course, this sounds much like the critique of "real" musicians when synthesizers and drum machines were introduced. Or even worse, a few years later when digital samplers became established. It's a bit unsettling to hear KRS One reproduce the same prejudice that hip hop had to face whose proliferating creativity was only made possible by new democratized technology.

He must have realized this, so we get a distinction between good and bad use of the technology. And as much as i like seeing Roger Troutman, Afrika Bambaataa, Kraftwerk and the Jonzun Crew mentioned (and even their cover art shown - good PR for some good music!), I cannot help but wonder: What do they have to do with Auto-Tune? Nothing of course - he is not only talking about Auto-Tune. A pitch correction via Auto-Tune is a very subtle effect and will go unnoticed in 99% of the cases. In today's Pop music, all vocalists use some sort of auto-tuning device. It is quite ironic that only the reflective, self-confident use of it draws critique: artists like T-Pain or Lil Wayne make no secret of the artificiality of their vocals.

KRS One's beef is not primarily with voice modulation. "Robot" is a metaphor for all that's wrong in today's hip hop: commercialization, selling out, going pop, fake rappers ... you name it. And that's a paradoxical situation: Hip Hop has always been haunted by the trope of realness. It cannot do without the appeal to authenticity, but the identification has alway been imaginary and fragile. Thus all the hyperbole, all the symbolic staging to conceal the nagging fear of the emptiness of the real. Pop music on the other hand doesn't know any authenticity, it embraces surface and dissolves any substance or essence. With hip hop's entrance into the pop canon the contradictions have only become more apparent - which isn't necessarily a bad thing, cause the resulting friction might convert into some great music.

Freitag, 17. Juli 2009

The Third Rail

This is the intro to L.S.D.'s 1991 album "Watch out for the Third Rail" which is probably the most important hip hop album to ever come out of Germany. L.S.D. were Germany's Bomb Squad, pioneers of the Golden Age, unleashing dense, layered and sonically overdetermined songs onto an unprepared audience. These 4 school kids were certainly not aiming for commercial success: their songs had no hooks, choruses or ANY radio friendly content. It was just tons of funk and jazz samples, fast rapping and a lot of scratching. There's an imminent sense of urgency about them, as if their creativity was literally overflowing and had to be crammed into each song chock-full of ideas.

Being a crew of four with just one mc, the beats and production was what really set the album apart. The competitive spirit which made this masterpiece possible is palpable, and it even prevailed inside the group - there are stories of members going on secret crate-digging missions, not even revealing names of records and sample sources to their fellow band members. Needless to say, they didn't score high on the charts, but they gained a lot of reputation in the underground and have been - to this day - admired by true hip hop lovers as the only German crew who was up to par with their American contemporaries. Last year, their legendary album was re-released ... you might want to check their myspace for details.

If you were to make a list of samples on that album, it would be longer than the infamous Paul's Boutique list. I couldn't even figure out all the samples from the 30-second intro ... well, here are the most obvious:

"Third Rail" is taken from Eric B and Rakim's "Follow the Leader".

The horn stabs are lifted from James Brown's "Cold Sweat" ... the snippet starts off with the horn stabs and proceeds with an excerpt of the James Brown tune.

Most obivously, the beginning "Watch out for the third rail, baby ..." is Fab 5 Freddy's voice from a scene in Wild Style.

Realness and selling out seem to have been major issues as early as 1983. Z-Roc - the white kid who is such a fervent advocate of staying underground - is actually played by Zephyr, himself a renowned graffiti artist.

Quite recently, Zephyr was mentioned in a song by New York folk singer Suzanne Vega. She describes meeting him and reminiscing about the old times - the late 70s when graffiti and hip hop were new and exciting for New York's youth.

It's a beautiful song, a brief impression translated into unpretentious yet lyrical prose. And there's even a subtle pro-graffiti message - which is a rare surprise, especially considering that it's coming from a middle-aged woman who is catering to an overwhelmingly white and bourgeois crowd. On top of it, it is probably the most poetic plea for graffiti I have ever heard:
The graffiti's gone and the walls complain
The flowers go but the earth must still remain

Montag, 13. Juli 2009

Changes & Subtleties in 25 years of Pop Music Vol. 2




Mandre's "Solar Flight" is a lot less known than the omnipresent Isaac Hayes sample from the last installment of our "Changes & Subtleties" series. Mandre was a persona invented by synthesizer pioneer Andre Lewis who concealed his true identity with a helmet. Was he the first in the long line of behelmeted pop (Jonzun Crew, Devo, The Residents, Daft Punk, ...)? That's open to debate, but French disco group Space are at least close contestants, as their 1977 video "Magic Fly" proves.

DJ Jazzy Jeff appropriated this weird, sinister and spaced out piece of jazz-funk for his "Rhythm Trax House Party Style". Imagine my surprise when I found out about a recent (well...) house tune that also used it (or rather: replayed) it. I won't be covering much house music on here, but you have to admit they flipped it quite well.

Montag, 6. Juli 2009

Hip Hop goes Pop Culture Part 3: Evian

A while ago it was Cadbury, now it's Evian.
Seems like old school hip hop & the 4 elements are quite popular with the advertising folks at the moment. Prepare for another revival?

And a longer version:

Dan the Automator and some folks from Jurassic 5 are responsible for the new version of Rapper's Delight which they apparently put together exclusively for the Evian commercial. Just when you thought De La Soul's Nike album was the maximum of brand integration.

P.S. And Web 2.0 has now officially made it. At least it is the first corporate commerical I've seen that exploits the youtube esthetic.

P.P.S. The Rapper's Delight 2009 single will drop today. Check myspace.

Sonntag, 5. Juli 2009

Rap is not Pop

"Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop."

Well, I really don't know. I think we can all agree that Q-Tip's statement (which he made in 1991 as a diss against MC Hammer, btw) has been disproved by history: Rap IS pop. Most probably it has always been. And even if we don't read the quote as a positive, empirical desription but rather as a normative claim, I am still hesitant to agree that rap shouldn't be pop. I've always liked hip hop with a pop sensibility and I've always had a soft spot for truly cheezy, mainstream crossover hip hop. Think of: The Rocksteady Crew. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Skee-Lo. Hell, even MC Hammer.

So here's a little pop quiz (pun intended) for you: What were the first 3 rap songs / songs with rapping to reach the Billboard Charts' number 1 position?

Now If I was asked I'd probably say The Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" was tremendously successful. And "The Message" of course, as well as anything by Kurtis Blow. "Hey You" by the Rock Steady Crew was a major hit even if it didn't have much rapping. A few years later the crossover got even bigger with Run DMC scoring hits like "Walk this way" or "It's tricky". And finally, the one that inspired Q-Tip's "rap is not pop" sentiment: "U can't touch this".

In reality though, these were the first 3 rap songs at #1:




Notice anything? I'm just saying ...