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

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