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Of Thangs Past

The Coolidge High Five (class of ’75) — Bayray, Romeo, Kidd Funkadelic, Tetragrammaton, and Homeboy — were cozied up around the back table at their fav­orite Japanese deli, winnowing down vessels of sake and brews­kis, and winding down the debate of the day. They’d spent this re­union haggling over future rela­tions with the hiphop nation. For these aging voyeurs of the move­ment their connection had been thrown into crisis by a recent and desultory gig at the Ritz featuring 3rd Bass, Jungle Brothers, and A Tribe Called Quest.

All the fellas had agreed on one point from the jump. Hadn’t no­body been looking for a second childhood, but when hiphop came along they had no choice but to get down with the program, same as their contemporaries, those equally long-in-the-tooth and ata­vistic elocutionists from the Pub­lic Enemy posse.

“Yeah I regressed,” confessed Bayray. “Regressed like a muh­fuhkuh who had neither a law de­gree nor proper home training. And was ready to fight anybody tried to tell me grow up, stop grabbing my dick in public and yelling ‘Yo, yo, yo, wotup Bee?’ All the hos in the house say, ‘La­dies.’ Excuse me, I mean all the ladies in the house say, ‘Ho.’ ”

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Kidd Funkadelic went for his. “It was like this for me, man: when the US Funk Mob folded, shut down, went bankrupt, got lawsuited tighter than an outta­-mating-season mandrill’s ass, what choice did funkateers like us have but to hip, to hop, to up and jump on the boogie of the bang­bang boogie to be? If it wasn’t for hiphop, all the brothers that didn’t sound like Michael now would be sounding like Lionel Ri­chie. Or worse.”

Romeo took his cue. “Freddie Jackson. Fat Luther.”

“Yo man, why you got to dog Fat Luther out? If Fat Luther ain’t dope then the Mona Lisa was a man. You know he got soul.”

“Right. Courtesy of Kenneth Cole. But what does the big boy know about gittin’ busy?”

“Word, brother,” came the af­firmation from the Darth Vader-­pitched pipes of Tetragrammaton. “Yet do I detect a certain disen­chantment with hiphop as heir ap­parent to the funk?”

“From my perspective,” ranted Kidd Funkadelic, “I’m seeing Black rock on the comeback trail, and you know that’s more me than hiphop. So I’m kinda like, ‘Fuck hiphop.’ It served its pur­pose in my life and I’m outta here.”

This last statement struck Homeboy like a paper cut on the chin. “Damn if you ain’t about a mercenary muhfuhkuh. I mean hiphop is Black rock too. I still hear more freedom and rebellion, not to mention raw funk, coming straight outta Compton and Long Island than outta Living Colour. Even if Living Colour is more threatening to white boy hegemony by virtue of (a) de-ghettoizing the whole concept of black music, and (b) housin’ that travesty, the Elvis Awards! My beef is, okay, you got De La Soul, Jungle Broth­ers, A Tribe Called Quest, and that whole new Afrocentric, boho hiphop posse and they’re progres­sive, but the muhfuhkuhs put on the weakest shows in God’s creation.”

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“Yeeeah,” slid in Romeo, “like that wack overpacked-ass show at the Ritz last month where you had some main ingredients like the JBs, the Tribe-sters, and 3rd Bass. Every one of them said, Throw your hands in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care.’ That line is older than they are. The new school needs some new lines. And some lessons in show­manship. They got to understand when they step out on that stage they ain’t stepping into the spot­light, they’re stepping into that long shadow cast by the likes of Bessie Smith and James Brown. Because right now it’s all the pimp mentality muhfuhkuhs who put on the most slammacious shows in hiphop, like Big Daddy Kane. If Monie Love hadn’t housed the gig sitting in with the Jungle Brothers, I would have left mad instead of just depressed. Monie Love is gonna be a cold craaazy star! She’s my hero, my idol, nu­mero uno. She’s not a Puerto Ri­can, but for free I’d chauffeur her limo.”

“I hear these wild-assed West Coast boys Digital Underground throw down live,” offered Kidd Funkadelic. “Their videos are wicked. That album on Tommy Boy, Sex Packets, is a motor-boo­ty affair and a half. It’s like a hiphop follow-up to Parliament’s Trombipulation, right down to that elephantine nose Shock G be wearing. The ‘Humpty Dance?’ That mug drops bass on me like I thought only Bernie Worrell could. And yo, check ‘The Way We Swing,’ how they not only sample Jimi’s riff from ‘Who Knows’ offa Band of Gypsies, but they scratch it up. So bold I for­give the blasphemy.”

Homeboy kicked it. “Yeah, them Digital boys are total fools. Remind me of my glory days as a fiendish Q-Dog frat brother. But now that I’m older, wiser, and damn near senile, I don’t know if I can be down. All they be rapping about is rapping, partying, and fiending for that fantasy drug they’re hyping, Sex Packets. I can relate to them trying to sell people on the pleasure principle over crack — very Clintonesque, right? And OK, they’re knee-deep into funk. I mean ‘The Humpty Dance’ does get your ass wriggling like the Blob was busting down a slob on you in the backseat of a bubble-tire jeep. But I want to know their position on class-as opposed to ass-struggle. They’re not N.W.A., ‘life ain’t nothing but bitches and money,’ but life ain’t nothing but a bowl of orgies nei­ther. Great food jokes, however. ‘I’m spunky, I like my oatmeal lumpy … I get ridiculous. I’ll eat up all your crackers and your lico­rice. Yo Jal girl, come here. Are you ticklish? … I’m a freak. I like the girls with lhe boom. I once g01 busy in a Burger King bathroom.’

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“Well, yo, even though I didn’t care for A Tribe Called Quest live, their Jive/RCA album People’s ln­stinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm is upliftingly dope. It’s so sweet and lyrical, so user-friendly. You could play it in the back­ground when you’re reading Proust. Their sound is so mind­-caressingly mellow, like old Jazz Crusaders with those motivatingly melodic bass lines and chestnut-­roasting Fender Rhodes chords. And they rhyme on some truly sui generis themes, like veganism and treating your woman right. Like their song ‘Description of a Fool’ basically busts this muhfuhkuh out for beating on his squeeze. Who ever did that on a hiphop record before? And this other jammie, ‘Luck of Lucien’ is a tes­tament to friendship, especially as far as its being a means for mugs to keep each other on the straight and narrow. It’s about how the Tribe adopted this sorta ignorant lumpen proletariat immigrant muhfuhkuh over from France to keep his ass from falling in with the wrong crowd. ‘Ham ‘N’ Eggs’ is the one about being vegetarians and shit. ‘A tisket a tasket, what’s in mommy’s basket.’ Some veggie links and some fish that stinks.’

“How you feel about ‘I Left My Wallet in El Segundo?'” chimed Kidd Funkadelic. “It reminds me of some classic Frank Zappa, like moving to Montana soon, gonna be a mental toss fly-coon. What I can’t figure out, though, is why my man Q-Tip, ostensible leader of the Tribe, left his wallet behind in the first place. Now that was some nonsense. Like Dr. Seuss.”

“So what’s the consensus y’all? Are these new-blacks the answer? Is hiphop as we knew it on the way out, or what?”

Before anybody could answer. Tetragrammaton went for his, quoting very, very loosely from his latest reading, Egyptian Mys­teries, New Light on Ancient Knowledge, by Lucie Lamy (Thames & Hudson, 1981).

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“Brothers listen: there is no doubt that we are dealing here with the incarnation — the becom­ing flesh — of the divine principle of light. This principle travels in a skiff in which rides Khephri, the scarab beetle, the future rising sun, framed by two Osirises sym­bolizing cyclic rebirths. The scar­ab Khephri is the preeminent symbol of the Dwat, the world of metamorphoses. He is found again where the divine entities must make darkness descend — as conducive to the germination of grains as it is to the development of the scarab’s egg enveloped in its dungball.

“In this time we must remem­ber that there can be no metamor­phoses without the destruction of the old form. The male with the voice of thunder reminds us that on one level the theme of the Egyptian Mysteries is the regener­ation of the sun. This is also the time in which we are told to ex­pect the annunciations of Tait, an Egyptian divinity of weaving. He will declare that the moment for the making of the cocoon, or the mummy’s wrap, is drawing near. Yes, the mummy’s wrap, itself a larval symbol of the transubstantiation of the flesh.”

Surprisingly, it was Bayray who immediately grasped the esoteric significance of TTGT’s ramblings and deciphered for the rest of the posse.

“Yeah, yeah I dig what you’re saying TTGT. That like with the emergence of hiphop bands like De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, 3rd Bass, who are on that positive path to enlighten­ment, that hiphop has finally tasted the maggots in the minds of its less-evolved members so it’s gonna rise above it all or drown in its own shit. But even though they’re moving to a higher level of consciousness they’re all still in that dungball larva stage.”

“Brother Black that is precisely what I am divining.” ❖

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Oddisee

This DC-based rapper has maintained a cult following longer than some hip-hop characters can keep a major label interested, yet he’s never made a full foray into the mainstream. Melding conscious, thought-provoking raps with string-heavy instrumental backing and traditional melodic structures, the lack of radio material is assuredly part of his pigeonholed status. Still, the man born Amir Mohamed el Khalifa raps with the power of predecessors like Rakim and borrows from the sonic junkyard of groups like A Tribe Called Quest.

Sat., Oct. 12, 8 p.m., 2013

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Purple Reign

In New York, location is everything. So it’s no coincidence that music journalist Touré set up the release party for his new book, I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon, at Housing Works Bookstore Café—half a block away from Prince Street. Smarter, though, is the fact that this is no regular author event; it’s titled I Would Die 4 U: A Prince Dance Party, and it will feature the music of His Royal Badness in all its purple splendor as spun by A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Although Touré’s tome offers a 176-page explanation of why Prince matters, tonight will make for a pretty poignant addendum. Best yet, the entire price of admission will go to Housing Works, an organization that fights homelessness and AIDS.

Fri., March 22, 7 p.m., 2013

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Strained Vibes, Excellent Scenario in Beats, Rhymes & Life

So much petty drama has clouded the release of Michael Rapaport’s A Tribe Called Quest documentary. One version of the backstory casts the first-time director as a doofus actor wannabe (arguably best known for his role as Phoebe’s boyfriend in Friends) who persuades the seminal, but privately splintered, hip-hop crew to participate in a consummate career doc. After two and a half years of the corny B-lister shadowing and interviewing the foursome (in gratingly affected street patois), the final product gets accepted to Sundance and suddenly the group’s de facto leader, Q-Tip, reneges his support via Twitter. The actor/director always seemed like an opportunistic jerk-off, so when three-fourths of ATCQ boycott Park City and later whine on MTV about an errant production email they received conspiring, “We’ll fuck them,” it’s not particularly surprising. Everybody knows you don’t trust a fanboy poseur.

The wrinkle in this retelling is that Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest is a phenomenal documentary. Making a “love letter” to his all-time favorite musicians, Rapaport devotes the film’s first half to deftly curated archival material, golden-age hip-hop perspectives from the likes of DJ Red Alert and Monie Love, and testimony from an impressive constellation of Tribe’s peers and pupils—from the Beastie Boys to Pharrell Williams to ?uestlove—on behalf of “the Miles Davis of hip-hop,” as the Roots’ Black Thought remembers the band’s initial influence. (Black Thought also hilariously calls ATCQ’s early kente-cloth and dashiki wardrobe “some real questionable-type shit.”)

The fawning is more deserved celebration than drooling hagiography. Then comes the film’s second half, which veers into cinema vérité, focusing on the disintegrated ties between boyhood friends Tip, who has evolved into dapper VH1 royalty, and his 20-year collaborator, Phife Dawg, a squeaky-voiced sports nut who’s grown to resent how Tip’s calculated swagger shrinks him into a sidekick. (“It’s Diana Ross and the Supremes” is how Phife casts Tip’s attitude to the rest of ATCQ. “I guess Ali [Shaheed Muhammad]’s Mary Wilson and I’m Florence Ballard? Get the fuck outta here.”) Pitbull-stubborn and type-one diabetic, Phife becomes the movie’s wounded dark horse, enduring a desperately needed kidney transplant, calling his boyhood buddy a “control freak,” and venting about their “love/hate relationship.” At one point during a 2008 Rock the Bells reunion tour, Phife gives Tip the silent treatment so resolutely that an awkward shouting match ensues, with Ali and Tribe’s spiritual backbone Jarobi White left ducking the crossfire.

Despite the passive-aggressive bickering, Beats, Rhymes & Life is not, thankfully, hip-hop’s Some Kind of Monster. (At one point, when Phife’s wife suggests band therapy, as Metallica underwent in that doc, he rebuffs her with, “I know what the problem is, I’m not paying for you to tell me nothing!”) And instead of editing his subjects into pre-ordained music biz roles, Rapaport uses his access to present the members as full dynamic characters, both letting a subway-stairs climbing scene linger long enough to catch Tip politely let an older lady walk in front of him while also portraying the rapper as a perfectionist headcase—as former Jive Records exec Barry Weiss puts it, “I love Q-Tip, but he’s a fucking nut.” It’s easy to see how a control-freak perfectionist would mistake such character assessment for assassination. It’s not, and even a fanboy poseur like Michael Rapaport knows that.

cdodero@villagevoice.com

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Lauryn Hill

Performing at Rock the Bells this past summer alongside Snoop Dogg, the Wu-Tang Clan, and A Tribe Called Quest, the former (and future?) Fugee proved that her time away from showbiz hadn’t depleted her love for hip-hop. That said, don’t be surprised if she shows up for this cozy small-room gig with only an acoustic guitar and a notebook full of poetry for company.

Sat., Jan. 1, 9 p.m., 2011

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Lykke Li+Wildbirds & Peacedrums

Lykke Li has said she doesn’t like dance music—at an October Bowery Ballroom gig, she covered Ray Charles, Vampire Weekend, and A Tribe Called Quest. Yet now, the pouty indie-pop singer, whose undeniably danceable music is mainstream-pop in her native Sweden, has risers for her to climb onstage and show off her latest moves. Maybe it’s this quirky conflict of ideals that pushes her to be such a captivating show-woman. Not to be missed are the similarly ambivalent Sunday night openers (and Li’s countrymen) Wildbirds & Peacedrums, a husband-and-wife duo who alternate between contemplative, percussion-heavy indie rock and convulsive tribal-soul outbursts.

Tue., Feb. 3, 9 p.m., 2009

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A Running Diary of Hip-Hop Superfest Rock the Bells

Ah, the exquisite joys of a sunny Sunday afternoon on the Long Island Rail Road, whereupon we’re toughing out signal-problem delays en route to Jones Beach for Rock the Bells, the annual retro-minded hip-hop extravaganza headlined this year by Nas, Mos Def, Raekwon and Ghostface, and the freshly reunited A Tribe Called Quest. Thumbing through a copy of Vibe, we stumble across the following quote from Rich Boy, describing the evolution of his craft: “Even when you read Nas’ lyrics, sometimes you have to go get a dictionary to see what that word means. Instead of just saying, ‘I did this, I slapped this person, I shot this person,’ you can really get deep with it.” This is an excellent way to describe the Rock the Bells ethos.

1:45 p.m. On the bus from the LIRR station to the venue, unsure of the right stop, we resolve to follow a blond-haired kid in a Wu-Tang T-shirt who seems to know what he’s doing. This, too, is an excellent way to describe the Rock the Bells ethos.

2:17 p.m. On the second stage, which is relegated to a parking lot and almost universally ignored by the crowd all day, we encounter B.O.B., a rapper from Atlanta. “Do y’all like smokin’ weed in New York City?” he asks. This would be an excellent lie-detector-test control question, along the lines of “Are you currently indoors?” or “Are you a woman?”

2:46 p.m. On the main stage, we kick off with Kidz in the Hall, whose DJ, Double O, has a Burger King crown, an eyepatch, a cast on his left leg, and severe computer issues. At least one of those things is unironic. “Oh, I see—someone unplugged my hard drive,” he nervously informs an irritated crowd during his 10-minute impromptu soundcheck. “Anyone who has a Mac understands this problem.” Just Blaze comes out to help him.

3:27 p.m. We would’ve set the over/under for Obama references today at, like, 15. There were five, maybe, including the observation from Dead Prez that “Al Sharpton ain’t my leader . . . Obama can’t save y’all.” The duo actually leaves the stage in a huff so “the soundman can get that shit right”; incredibly, the soundman does, and Dead Prez return to do several vitriolic political jams, as well as “Mind Sex,” a slow jam about foreplay that rhymes croutons with futon.

3:58 p.m. We do, however, hear the phrase “Fuck the police” at least 15 times, currently from Immortal Technique, who allows for the possibility that maybe your dad is a cop, in which case: “Fuck your dad. Fuck your family.”

4:11 p.m. “I’m rapping in swim trunks!” announces Chuck Inglish of Cool Kids, incredulously. Briefly drawing an actual crowd to the second stage, he and cohort Mikey Rocks address such topics as Fruity Pebbles, lame kids who still play Sega, and their vested interest in “bringin’ ’88 back.”

4:39 p.m. De La Soul are bringin’ ’89 back: “Potholes in My Lawn”! They bring out Dres from Black Sheep (who’s rocking a splendid green sweater vest) and Biz Markie (who invests every atom of his being in howling the chorus to “Just a Friend”).

5:38 p.m. Pharcyde, reunited. Just four MCs, nobody else onstage, no adornments (the DJs mostly hold court from a towering ledge overhead). Which makes their set feel like some kind of minimalist experimental dance piece performed by possibly stoned gentlemen with Looney Toons voices. “Passing Me By” kills.

6:09 p.m. Conversely, at least 60 people join Raekwon and Ghostface onstage; the chorus of “Be Easy” sounds wonderful when shouted en masse. They’re on a bill surrounded by hip-hop hippies, of course, but they politely keep quiet about it.

7:15 p.m. As we wait in an hour-long concession-stand line, Spank Rock closes out the second stage, loudly and angrily decrying this show’s lack of alcohol.

7:29 p.m. Mos Def is wearing a basketball uniform seemingly designed by whoever does M.I.A.’s album covers. He mentions Spoon’s song “The Underdog,” sings luxuriously in a bellowing reggae patois, and brings out Talib Kweli and Pharaohe Monch to rampant crowd approval. Calls for “Ms. Fat Booty” are eventually heeded.

8:30 p.m. Here’s where we tell you that Method Man and Redman ran away with this thing. Shocking, we know. Out come the beach balls, off come Meth’s pants midway through the second song. They stalk the stage in tandem like a sniper team. They bring out EPMD. They threaten to make How High, Part Two. They climb the speaker cabinets. They bring out Slick Rick for a 10-second cameo—it seriously would’ve been longer if he’d walked leisurely from one end of the stage to the other. And during “Method Man,” Meth climbs into the crowd, balances on the tops of the seats, and triumphantly smokes a joint offered by the guy standing next to me. This is without question the greatest moment of that guy’s life.

8:42 p.m. Wild the fuck out! Smoke the fuck out! Drink the fuck out!

9:26 p.m. The soundcheck for Nas involves a keyboardist, a guitarist, a DJ, a full drum kit, another keyboardist who also plays trumpet, and a bassist, both electric and upright. Audience apprehension is palpable.

9:48 p.m. But it’s fascinating, actually, to hear such an overwrought beast tear into “One Love,” “If I Ruled the World,” etc.—no need to merely sample “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” this way, right? Plus the man himself is in fine narcissistic/messianic form, thanking us for gifting him a No. 1 album and advocating that we kick Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to the curb and replace them with . . . himself. The guy has an entire song about Obama and doesn’t even mention him.

10:15 p.m. Jay-Z. “Black Republicans.” Mass hysteria.

10:51 p.m. Q-Tip’s warm-up set features a bass solo, which you may find instructive.

11:15 p.m. We are resistant, inexplicably, to the charms of the Tribe Called Quest reunion until “Bonita Applebaum” and “Electric Relaxation,” during which the ramparts fall, hard—they all look weathered, sure, but the sultry sweetness and easy charm with which they play off each other remains, an echo of the camaraderie that made Meth and Red so exhilarating. Busta Rhymes leaps out for “Scenario,” busting a huge grin before nearly convulsing with adrenaline: He screams “Check the rhiiiiiime” as the next song begins and goads crowd and performers alike to new heights of intensity. It’s the apex of the masterful, respectful, confident but not violently megalomaniacal age of New York hip-hop that this whole day has been constructed to make us revere. And we do revere it, an Award Tour we’re all on together now, too blissed out to even dream of shooting or slapping anyone, getting deep with it deep into the Long Island night.

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More Articulate, Politically Charged Flame-Throwing from Immortal Technique

“Is our destiny something we control?” asks Immortal Technique. “Or are there an infinite amount of ones we can pick from? That would mean that our destinies are sort of preordained anyways, no matter what we pick at the end of the day, because if God is limitless and infinite, then He would know every infinite possibility that we could possibly have to choose from.”

He pauses to inhale without breaking eye contact, not for a flinch. Not even for a forkful of the yummy rice, black beans, and baked chicken laid out before him. Instead, he continues to build: “And I think, because we don’t have the ability to deal with that, and because we haven’t come up with a way to conquer ourselves, we overcompensate by trying to control other people, our women, and other lands that don’t belong to us.”

Passionate? Yes. Heartfelt? Si, refreshingly so. Freaking intense? Absolutely. Immortal Technique, born Felipe Coronel in a military hospital in Lima, is sitting at a table in Mi Floridita, a popular Cuban eatery in Harlem. Clad in a black baseball cap and a T-shirt with a bright-yellow graphic depicting Harlem (his home since he was two years old), the 30-year-old rapper is forthcoming and brimming with introspection.

“I read everything I could get my hands on,” he recalls, “whether it was about our people or wasn’t. Because if you want to understand the black and Latino struggle, and not just have some idea about the pain we’ve endured, but the possibilities for a real change—we throw that word around a lot, you know. . . . ” His freight train of thought is briefly held up by a waitress bearing two cups of café con leche. “I think in terms of change, what’s going to eventually happen is not that we’re going to stop the war in Iraq, we’re just going to change it.” Yes. His interviewer nods in agreement. Internally, she is ecstatic not to be stuck in another boring chat with a boring rapper. Whenever she recalls hip-hop’s versatile landscape and soundscape during the ’90s, she sighs.

Immortal Technique embodies those halcyon days—a man flowing with, well, infinite possibilities for shaping the world around him using hip-hop as a tool for sociopolitical change: exposing Third World police brutality and ethnic cleansing; reminding us about the monstrous effects of Agent Orange on Vietnamese children born three decades after the American invasion; warning black and Latinos here and abroad about neocolonialism and recidivism. You may not be ready for the ominous truths he speaks, but you need to hear them nonetheless.

Once you’re through the egress, however, you might come to a different conclusion regarding man’s power to shape his own destiny. As a teenager, the Peruvian ruffian-cum-MC-cum-international- activist spent a year in jail for aggravated assault: what other rappers might call “street credibility.” But instead of glorifying the hyper-violence that’s had mall rats creaming in their panties like forever, Technique chose to veer left and push self-determination. His rapping style mirrors who he is as a person: exigent, rapid-fire, and—you guessed it—intense, babies. With each listen to any of his tracks, you’ll pick something up that you missed the last dozen times. This is especially true when diving headfirst into Technique’s latest bilingual contribution, The 3rd World: a disc likely overwhelming for Hannah Montana and Nelly fans, but trenchant and necessary political and social fodder for everybody else. Released in June on his own Viper Records imprint (because “I realized that a record deal is nothing but a loan with terrible interest rates”), it’s his first full-length album in five years, and it has what’s been missing from his other joints: Made in collaboration with DJ Green Lantern, the sound is uncluttered, but still catchy and playful enough to bounce, too, while nicely underscoring its star attraction’s rapid-fire delivery. The result is musically superior to earlier efforts like Revolutionary Vol. 1 and Revolutionary Vol. 2, which makes Technique’s message all the more digestible: a sweet spot similar to the work of Public Enemy, Sao Paolo’s Racionais MCs, or Fela and Seun Anikulapo Kuti.

“You had N.W.A., Tribe Called Quest, and Public Enemy all co-existing on the same scene, and that balance is gone,” writes Green Lantern in an e-mail. “Tech provides that other side of the coin to rappers who just rap about making coins, which helps me keep my sanity.”

Technique also shows us, on any given bar of any given track on the album, the insanity that’s resulted in the West’s distorted foreign policy. Consider a few lines from the title track: “I’m from where people pray to the gods of their conquerors/ And practically every president is a money launderer/From where the only place democracy’s acceptable/Is if America’s candidate is electable.” Oh, and then there’s the locally relevant “Harlem Renaissance,” which strikes a chord with folks who don’t necessarily hate The Man (it’s way too easy), but rather all the shit that happens when The Man takes over your ‘hood: “So they start deporting people off the property/Ethnically cleansing the ‘hood, economically/They wanna kill the real Harlem Renaissance.” Consider The 3rd World a Nuevo Internationalist manifesto; Ban Ki-moon might consider taking a listen or three.

Immortal Technique is unlike many of today’s “socially conscious,” fashion-forward MCs. Trust. Not only does he frequent prisons here and abroad, but in a show of hip-hop’s transformative mojo, the MC announced, via a MySpace post the day his record dropped, a partnership with a human-rights nonprofit organization called Omeid International to build an orphanage/clinic/school in Kabul, Afghanistan. “Hip-hop already is a bridge between cultures, and we have seen it transpire throughout South and Central America, Palestine, and from the Iraqi diaspora, with young kids using hip-hop to tell the stories no one else cares to report on,” says Shamsia Razaqi, Omeid’s co-founder, vice president, and chief operating officer. “Being a man of great conviction, [Technique] promised to help us upon the completion of his album—and sure enough, the day his album was released, he pledged his support to us.”

Our interview over, Immortal Technique is ready to exit stage left, but not before opening the window into his mind’s eye once more: “America is not the Great Satan, but finds a lot of little Satans around the world to do its work. People like Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, who they needed to finish what they started; people like the Taliban, who we worked with, gave money to. It’s not just us being prostituted by white people—it’s us prostituting ourselves.”

It’s a matter of fact, he says. “There is much work left to do.” He rises, and heads off to do it.

Immortal Technique performs at the Rock the Bells Festival at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater August 3, along with A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Mos Def, and myriad others

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Charlottesville Family Values Give True-Schoolers a Tasty Meal, Cause for Hope

If you’re still waiting around for that Tribe Called Quest reunion, don’t hold your breath. As of August they’re M.I.A., and their solo projects have been shelved. But an indie imprint called 7 Heads, started by a group of true-school graduates of Thomas Jefferson’s Charlottesville alma mater, is cause for hope. Since the D.C.-based duo Asheru and Blue Black struck a chord in the East Coast underground with “Sun Up From Sun Down” in 1996, the label has provided a home for a new breed of B-boys—J-Live, the Lone Catalysts, Mr. Complex, El Da Sensei, Ritchy Pitch.

The jazzbo overtones that highlighted Asheru and Blue Black’s 2001 debut, Soon Come, resurface on 48 Months. The pair eschews the jingoism of “keeping it real” for lean, ingenuous exchanges of rousing lyricism that unselfishly address ubiquitous issues in the black community; “Dream Birth” and “Setting Sun” bear witness to ties that bind a family together with prosaic depictions of a child’s corporeal and spiritual birth by means of the father’s death.

Family values also suffuse Uncle Junior’s Friday Fish Fry, the second album from Asheru and Blue Black’s labelmate and frequent collaborator Djinji Brown. On this mix-CD prequel to a six-part installment of music to rock at your trawling parties, Brown offers tips from Uncle Junior himself on how to make things hotter than the kitchen on the “16th Floor in Apartment C in the 880 Building on Boynton Ave in the Soundview section of the Bronx” concurrently with a jambalaya of musical styles that’d turn an Iron Chef leafy green with envy. After the medium-high heat of Dennis Coffey’s theme to Black Belt Jones, Brown brings the pot to a boil with a succession of searing dance tracks: Mongo Santamaria’s Afro-Cuban “O Mi Shango,” NuSpirit Helsinki’s Afro-beatific “Makoomba,” the Afronaughts’ smooth progressive house “Transcend Me.” Simmering with Gregory Isaacs’s slum dub, garnished with Pevan Everett’s silky neo-soul, and taking its final touch of sax seasoning from Djinji’s father, Marion, Fish Fry’s feast is hearty enough to make even Uncle Junior himself lay back and loosen his belt, jam his hand down the front of his waistband, and nod off.

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I’ve always had my doubts about the notion of the hip hop “community” or “subculture”— too easy to claim, too hard to verify empirically. But the eight multiartist comps below, only two of them Honorable Mentions, must prove something.

BEATS & RHYMES: HIP HOP OF THE ’90S, PART I (Rhino) Between 1990, when old school went emeritus, and 1992, when gangsta stuck daisy age’s pistil up its stamen, came a nondescript downtime that Rhino maps without recourse to rap crossovers, which meant less than nothing to the loyalists who were just then insisting that what they loved was called “hip hop.” But though all three volumes are pretty subtle for nonloyalists, only here are the high points obvious— hits from key Jungle Brothers and A Tribe Called Quest albums, BDP’s “Love’s Gonna Get’cha”— and the selections from minor figures like Special Ed, Def Jef, and K-Solo open to challenge from the likes of me (I nominate “Taxin’,” “Fa Sho Shot,” and “Tales From the Crack Side”). Even so I love the YZ, Poor Righteous Teachers, and D.O.C. tracks, not to mention the BDP radio edit with sound effects where the bleeps should be. I also love Cold Chillin’ ‘s “Erase Racism.” B Plus

BEATS & RHYMES: HIP HOP OF THE ’90S, PART II (Rhino) Meet and greet such subculturally certified rhymesmiths as Leaders of the New School, Organized Konfusion, Main Source, the UMC’s, and the oft-odious DJ Quik. Plus, for some reason, three predictably solid Chubb Rock tracks. Plus minor hits from Rakim, Lyte, and Run-D.M.C. Think wordplay not signification. Think beats not hooks. Go with their flows. A Minus

BEATS & RHYMES: HIP HOP OF THE ’90S, PART III (Rhino) This bumps along for eight tracks distinguished by two new to me— Lord Finesse’s “Return of the Funky Man” (“you’re softer than baby shit”) and Double X Posse’s “Not Gonna Be Able To Do It” (“I’m not gonna be able to do”)— before vaulting off Naughty by Nature and A Tribe Called Quest into four consecutive guaranteed great, hilarious records: Del Tha Funkee Homosapien’s Three Stooges bit, Humpty Hump’s nose, the Pharcyde’s dozens, and FU-Schnickens’ advertisement for Jive Records, which has steadfastly kept their catalogue in print. Then Romy-Dee expands the legend of funky Kingston. A Minus

THE CORRUPTOR (Jive) Obsessed with death, declaring 1985 the Golden Age, counterbalancing two pieces of pimp shit with two pieces of ho fuck you, these tough, articulate third-generation voices document a gangsta myth innocent of all hope. Nostalgic credo: “When niggaz keep their weapons concealed it’s all real.” Guys, that much could happen. Maybe it’s already started. B Plus

HOUND DOG TAYLOR: A TRIBUTE (Alligator) The natural evolution of chops and technology renders this inauspicious vehicle the best houserocking record by anyone since the honored slidemaster, who died in 1975 leaving his Houserockers to bequeath their name to a boogie blues style never truly replicated. Bigger and faster than the prototype, which is fun, it lets virtuosos-in-spite-of-themselves give free rein to their baser natures: flash-fingered Luther Allison, Sonny Landreth, Dave Hole, and Warren Haynes come on every bit as crude as neoprimitives George Thorogood, Elvin Bishop, and Cub Koda. Respect to Vernon Reid and Alvin Youngblood Hart for powering up acoustic. Shame on Ronnie Earl for showing off. A Minus

LIGHTNING OVER THE RIVER (Music Club) Although compiler Christina Roden rightly distinguishes between speed soukous and the old bipartite kind that gives the singer some, the thunderbolts she catches in her bottle are all thrown by guitarists. Admirers of Kanda Bongo Man, Tshala Muana, and especially Syran M’Benza (Symbiose, two tracks) may find a few selections familiar. More likely, however, they’ll just own them. Even for Afropop fans, an enjoyable tour of a terrain that tends to blur into itself without a guide. A Minus

RANDY NEWMAN: Bad Love (DreamWorks) After an annuity’s worth of soundtracks, a box stuffed with marginalia, and Faust, his first true album since 1988 finds him more cynical than ever, about himself above all. Having called one cheap joke “I’m Dead (But I Don’t Know It),” he explains the belated tribute to the wife and family he kissed off in the ’70s with a simple “I’d sell my soul and your souls for a song,” then announces: “But I wanted to write you one/Before I quit/And this one’s it.” Thing is, cheap jokes and cynicism have always been his gift to the world, and when he’s on he can twist the knife. In joke mode, cf. not only “I’m Dead,” so anti-Randy it’ll have young yahoos saying amen like they just discovered Mahalia Jackson, but two of his cruelest political songs ever: one a history of early imperialism where the punch line is HIV, another addressed with dulcet malice to Mr. Karl Marx. For cynicism, try “My Country,” which might just be about his family too, and “Shame,” where Newman plays a hateful old hard-on indistinguishable from himself. Twisting his croak a turn further are the most articulate arrangements of his singer-songwriting life: jazzlike, but in a piano-based rock context that shifts at a moment’s notice to any voicing (Hollywood-symphonic, country march, pop-schlock) that might reshade a meaning or make the ear believe what the mind can’t stand. There are a few ringers. But the last time he was so strong in this mode he was married to the wife he misses. A

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RAWKUS PRESENTS SOUNDBOMBING II (Rawkus) Whoever’s representing— Medina Green eating crosstown beef or Eminem tripping on a minivan or Company Flow dissing AmeriKKKa or Pharoahe Monch toasting the mayor or “hairy fat slob unshaven” R.A. the Rugged Man conjoining his “white trash nation” with “all the starvin’ artists”— the Rawkus subculture is always peering over its own edge. The beats aren’t invariably propulsive, but they never relent, with timeouts for DJs to scratch themselves minimized. Although the us-against-society mood is far from asexual, nobody macks and nobody flosses. Nobody deals either. Racism is an issue, race isn’t. In our present-day dystopia, no wonder so many make this imaginary world their home. A Minus

RUFFHOUSE RECORDS GREATEST HITS (Ruffhouse) The Miseducation, Score, and Cypress Hill lifts have their own lives. “Insane in the Brain” is worth hearing twice. “Fuck Compton” is history. Kriss Kross weren’t always has-beens. Nas wasn’t always nasty. John Forté and Pace Won have their own futures. Few labels have done ’90s hip hop so proud. A Minus

SLICK RICK: The Art of Storytelling (Def Jam) The music on this unflappably deft comeback is unlayered, highlighting spare beats with simple scratches or vocal sound effects to showcase the feyly effeminate king’s-
honeydrip singsong that’s been identifiable at 50 yards since “La-Di-Da-Di.” Mostly he boasts about how pretty he is and how good he raps, proving the latter with cameos from such modern-day flowmasters as Raekwon, Nas, Snoop, and Big Boi. He plays his prison card by trumping the two-line auditions from the wannabes who serenade him as he walks to freedom with “Kill Niggaz,” which describes a fictional crime spree far deadlier than the attack he got sent up for. And he writes about fucking with the detailed relish of someone who’s read a lot of pornography. A Minus

DON WHITE: Brown Eyes Shine (Lumperboy) White gigs every weekend, mostly tiny folk venues and “private shows”— gather some friends in your rec room and he’ll make it worth everybody’s while. Yet though he lives just 220 miles away, he hasn’t hit Manhattan since 1996, because his wife says he has to come home with more money in his pocket than when he left. And come home he does. Thus he stands as the only folkie I can think of who’s never footloose or romantically bereft— his subject matter, most of it autobiographical, is domestic, focusing here on parent-teen relationships after a debut about marriage proper. The monologue where his brain explodes after a homework discussion with his 14-year-old can only be understood by someone who’s been there, and anyone who’s been there will immediately play it again. With or without his band he’s a strained singer with an unmediated New England accent and barely a guitarist at all, and when he isn’t funny he’s corny. But usually he’s original enough to turn corny into a virtue. A Minus

DWIGHT YOAKAM: Last Chance for a Thousand Years: Dwight Yoakam’s Greatest Hits From the 90’s (Reprise) Whenever I ponder this multithreat singer-
songwriter, honky-tonk ideologue, Hollywood role-player, published author, and hunk-if-you-like-your-meat-lean, I remember what Sharon Stone said about the prospects for their reunion: “I’d rather eat a dirt sandwich.” Normally with country music you swallow the male chauvinism and figure guys feeling sorry for themselves is what makes it go; with Yoakam, so talented and so conscious, you expect a little movement within the paradigm, and conclude that he chose neotrad because movement was the last thing on his mind. But even if his most romantic moment is the Waylon cover where he goes back to his old lady because his new lady was playing games, he’s sung and written his way into the male chauvinist canon. His best song of the ’90s, for its heartbroke melody: 1990’s “The Heart That You Own.” Latest rock cover: the finale, Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” He “just can’t handle it,” “must get ’round to it,” etc. Right, Dwight. Or is that just Dirtbag? A Minus

dud of the month:

NAS: I Am . . . (Columbia) Nas covers his ahzz. If in one song he’s “wetting” (lovely word) “any nigga” (another) his fellow playa Scarface doesn’t like, in another he’s fomenting revolution: “Combine all the cliques and make one gang.” Yeah sure. The question is how convincing he is, and only two themes ring true: the bad ones, revenge and money. His idea of narrative detail is to drop brand names like Bret Easton Ellis; his idea of morality is everybody dies. Ghostface Killa’s “Wildflower” is far more brutal than the she-cheated-while-I-was-playin “Undying Love,” and far less bloody; Biggie’s “Playa Hater” is far more brutal than the Wu-Puff cameo “Hate Me Now,” and far more humorous. Blame his confusion and bad faith on a conscience that’s bothered him ever since he bought into the Suge Knight ethos. I’ve never met a ho in my life. This kind of sellout starts with a “W.” B Minus

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Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:

Terry Allen, Salivation (Sugar Hill): for an artist, a pretty good songwriter and a fine village atheist (“X-Mas on the Isthmus,” “Salivation”); the Scruffs, Midtown (Northern Heights): it’s Memphis, it’s the ’80s, and darn it, Big Star lives (“Machiavellian Eyes,” “Judy [She Put the Devil in Me]”); M People, Testify (Epic): four years later, 13 new tracks including five remixes— who do they think they are, Sade? (“What a Fool Believes,” “Testify”); Brad Paisley, Who Needs Pictures (Arista Nashville): there’s words in that there cowboy hat (“He Didn’t Have To Be,” “Me Neither”); Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince, Greatest Hits (Jive): the antigangsta, as only a master of light comedy could render him (“Summertime,” “Lovely Daze”); Ginuwine, 100% Ginuwine (550 Music): thump, bump, hump (“Final Warning,” “No. 1 Fan”); Profilin’: The Hits (Arista): beyond “It Takes Two” and “It’s Like That,” which nobody considering this purchase doesn’t own, long on novelty (Poor Righteous Teachers, “Rock Dis Funky Joint”; N2Deep, “Back to the Hotel”); Maria Muldaur, Meet Me Where They Play the Blues (Telarc): last of the red hot mamas (“Soothe Me,” “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion”); the Robert Cray Band, Take Your Shoes Off (Rykodisc): T-Bone Walker as Jerry Butler, only not as good (“There’s Nothing Wrong,” “What About Me”); M-Boogie, Laid in Full (Blackberry): here comes the West Coast underground, sunnier than the East Coast underground (Kut Master Kurt Presents Masters of Illusion Featuring Motion Man, “Magnum Be I”; Rasco Featuring Defaro & Evidence, “Major League”); L7, Live Omaha to Osaka (Man’s Ruin): “It’s a long way to stay where you are in rock and roll,” and
also, “L7 would rather be with you people here tonight in Omaha than with some of the finest people in the world” (“Shitlist,” “Lorenza, Giada,
Allessandra”); The Gospel According to Earthworks (Stern’s/Earthworks): joy to the world music, South African style (Makholwa Vumani Isono, “Izikhova Ezimnqini”; Holy Spirits Choir, “Siyakubonga”); the Cardigans, Gran Turismo (Stockholm/Mercury): with a hit on their résumé, they’re free to be the depressed Swedes they always were (“Paralyzed,” “Do You Believe”).

Choice Cuts:

The Go-Betweens, “Karen” (78 ’til 79: The Lost Album, Jetset); Stereo Total, “Get Down Tonight” (Stereo Total, Bobsled); Kenny Cartman, “Come Sail Away” (Chef Aid: The South Park Album, American); Joey Sweeney, “My Name Is Rich” (The Book of Life Soundtrack, Echostatic).

Duds:

The GrooveGrass Boyz, GrooveGrass 101 (Reprise); Ice Cube, War and Peace (Priority); Pras, Ghetto Supa-star (Ruffhouse); Snakefarm, Songs From My Funeral (RCA); Vengaboys, The Party Album! (Groovilicious).

Addresses:

Alligator, Box 60234, Chicago IL 60660; Blackberry, c/o Nu Gruv Alliance, 430 East Grand Ave., Complex B, South San Francisco CA 94080; Lumperboy, 643 Broadway, #150, Saugus MA 19106-1995; Music Club, c/o Koch, 2 Tri-Harbor Ct., Port Washington NY 11050; Northern Heights, Box 111197, Memphis TN 38111; Rawkus, 676 Broadway, NYC 10012; Rykodisc, 530 North 3rd St., Minneapolis MN 55401; Stern’s/ Earthworks, 71 Warren St., NYC 10007; Sugar Hill, Box 55300, Durham NC 27717-5300; Telarc, 23307 Commerce Park Rd., Cleveland OH 44122.