Posts from 11th April 2000

11
Apr 00

Rawkus Presents The Cleaner

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Rawkus Presents The Cleaner (mix CD, free with the May 2000 issue of Hip Hop Connection magazine, out now priced £2.99)

A few examples of the best recent outputs of Rawkus acts, mixed by arguably Britain’s greatest hip hop deejays, Tony Vegas and Prime Cuts of the Scratch Perverts.

Initially I found this CD slightly disappointing, expecting something of the standard I’d heard from Rawkus’s “Soundbombing” mix series. Common and Sadat X’s “1-9-9-9” (mp3) is a predictable highlight, seeing as it’s lifted directly from Soundbombing II, but there are other indicators of a bright future.

Mad Skillz’s excellent “Ghost Writer” consists of the emcee claiming to have written rhymes for almost all his more successful contemporaries. “I’ll probably make more money off your album than you.” The names of the guilty parties who allegedly pass his rhymes off as their own have been “bleeped” out in a fashion which would undoubtedly make the Ego Trip Book of Rap Lists’ list of best edited versions if only it was an edit rather than the rapper’s own censorship; a snatch of James Brown here, a snippet of Fab 5 Freddy’s “Change Le Beat” there… Mad Skillz threatens “Y’all keep fuckin around, I’ll put this back out with your names in it!” Unfortunately, Mr. Solinger looks to be right again: the track’s let down by an extremely dull backing track; using a one-bar loop for over four minutes doesn’t always make for the most interesting listening.

The Scratch Perverts’ mixing lifts the CD above the sum of its parts and it certainly implies promising output from Rawkus over coming months but again we’re left bemoaning the tired production which is evident on all but a few of the tracks.

COMMON – The Light

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COMMON – The Light (from the album Like Water For Chocolate)

Greg brings up “The 6th Sense” which is the first single from the
new Common album in his last post. He mentions how it has the
intelligence for the street and the beat for the clubs, which it
indeed does. What the post reminded me of was this track
taken from the same album which I’d argue has an even
stronger club beat and makes better use of an R&B chorus.

Common is one of the sole hip-hop acts I can think of who
uses R&B in an intelligent manner. Even still, I’ve read reviews
on the rap sites and on the newsgroups that feature the
masses carping about Common “selling out,” so I think to
that one portion of the hip-hop community, Common is losing
a bit of cred for his forays into the club sound, Premier’s
production notwithstanding. And on the other hand,
I freely admit that it’s been a while since I’ve been to a club,
but I’m not sure even that in there Common is getting play
(though I could be wrong).

Efforts like “The 6th Sense” sort of scream out to me “record
company mandate” more than anything else, for when one
looks at the actual album, it isn’t typified by tracks like
“The 6th Sense.” As much as I admire artists like Common,
I usually squirm when I hear tracks like this put forth as the
first single unless it’s something of uncommon quality (no pun
intended), and in this case I don’t find that to be the case. But
a man’s got to eat, I suppose. Here’s hoping he gets his
chance.

Common – “The 6th Sense” (mp3, also a single and from the MCA album Like Water For Chocolate)

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“The revolution will not be televised… The revolution is here!” Perhaps the revolution Common (n_ Sense) refers to is what’s generally seen as his big push for crossover success.

“In order to get the critical praise and street cred that are the only rewards for your typical Rawkus act, you can’t put together a beat for the club,” says Fred. In enlisting the production skills of DJ Premier, Common takes that vital step on from the other Rawkus-related acts. The backing track has the flipped piano riff and melodic groove which screams “Primo”, while maintaining that beat for the clubs and the sampled hook for the radio.

Common’s rap, meanwhile, is what takes the track a bit further than the rest. The lyrics read like Common’s thoughts on hip hop as he goes about his business, a less contrived sequel to 1994’s “i used to love h.e.r.” if you like. Yeah, he drops into the typical lyrical bragging on occasion (“A king with words”) but ultimately it’s a refreshing change from the materialistic “hate me now” lyrics of many recent hits: “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want millions / More than money saved, I wanna save children…this little girl / She recited raps, I forgot where they was from / In ’em, she was saying how she made brothers cum / I start thinking, how many souls hip-hop has affected…Who am I to judge one’s perspective?…I just want to innovate and stimulate minds”

I can’t help but feel that with the right production all the Rawkus acts could be this good. Imagine Shabaam Sahdeeq and Pharoahe Monch’s brutal “WWIII” (mp3 here) with the same excellent production and picture a time when Rawkus acts don’t have to rely on swearing (“Simon Says”, anyone?) for chart success.

DMX – BugoutEve – Do That Shit (both from the Ruff Ryders Compilation “Ryde or Die Volume 1”) Hot Boys – Help (from the album “Guerilla Warfare”)

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DMX – Bugout
Eve – Do That Shit (both from the Ruff Ryders Compilation “Ryde or Die Volume 1”)
Hot Boys – Help (from the album “Guerilla Warfare”)

One of the problems with dissing the gangsta ethos which thoroughly rules street hip hop today is that the boasts, threats and graphic violent details are vital to make these widescreen beat-popping frightmare soundscapes relevant. Swizz’s hotwired synths and pounding beats are what drive both “Bugout” and “Do That Shit”, but the former’s woozy keyboards would sound like meaningless toytown schlock without DMX’s incoherent shouts and hilariously crazy delivery over the top. Fred hates DMX, and I can understand why – he’s the most unpoetic of rappers, with plenty to say but without the requisite craft to make his message lyrically compelling. Thing is, his sudden mood swings, grunts and dog impersonations have that same crude-but-effective cheap thrill as the wondrous backing music, his instablity perfectly matching the destabilising nature of the beat.

“Do That Shit” is one of the hardest things Swizz has produced, with hyperventilating sirens, stabbing beats and a brutal electronic mentasm whir (further proof that the hip hop producers are down with Belgian techno) both subjected to his trademark “stuck on the beat hammer pound” trick (which suggests he’s down with gabba too). Obviously if Eve rapped some Lauryn Hill social-consciousness essay over the top the entire momentum would be lost. It only makes sense that she would make it a paen to sex, drugs and herself.

I suppose people will here cite Public Enemy and Tricky as examples of artists who match scary hip hop with an individual lyrical style, but the entire nature, the sheer velocity of the post-Timbaland and bounce-influenced hip hop sound requires the raciness and menace of graphic and scary first-person accounts. In the same way that the panicky world of current r’n’b is in no way suited to the warm, syrupy sentiments of TLC’s “Unpretty”, but rather only meticulous, forthright ice-divas, rappers have to match the sheer bravado of the music with suitable lyrics.

Tricky must know this, as the two most stylish tracks on “Juxtapose”, “I Like The Girls” and “Hot Like A Sauna”, whether ironic or not, sound like gangsta rap lyrically as well as musically. This horror-requirement is especially true for Cash Money’s bounce style. On “Help” the swirl of the brass and string blasts is smooth and precise, but also dangerous, like Barry Manilow’s backing band playing at the Mos Eisley Cantina, while the timekeeper hi-hats evoke a sort of black Bladerunner dystopia. The production’s so sharp, so detailed and focused that anything but an all-out rapping blitzkreig will fall short. There’s no room in this music for equivocation, deepness or irony. Of course the boys are gonna come up with something violent and melodramatic – what else should they do?

The other thing that baffles me about this criticism of street rap for its overly violent portrayal of black culture is that it’s hardly the only representative of all of black culture. Blues, jazz, r’n’b, soul, house, detroit techno, and of course underground hip hop, are all “black styles” which show a different facet of black culture. Gangsta hip hop shouldn’t bear the full weight of social criticism just because commentators are too lazy to investigate the representations of blackness in other genres. It’s the equivalent of suggesting that sports metal, punk or heavy metal are “false representations of white culture”. Which may seem obviously misguided to yer Rolling Stone audience, but what about The Source’s readership?

I have no idea whether Pitchfork is right about Steely Dan’s

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I have no idea whether Pitchfork is right about Steely Dan’s Two Against Nature, because having asked for and got the record for my birthday I’ve played less than a third of it, out of a fear that it sounds exactly like Brent DiCrescenzo says it does. But it’s a funny review anyway, right up to the last paragraph.

What’s really funny, though, is that on the same day as giving SD a 1.6, DJ Food gets a 9.3 in a review which made my eyes bug out with rage. Regular readers of FT will no doubt be able to spot the red-rag phrases. Meanwhile I’m off to listen to Nasenbluten.

Oh, one other thing. You can tell Pitchfork has ‘arrived’, because cool young music sites like kempa are spluttering about its jaded reviewers, just like cool young fanzines used to do about the NME.