MOS DEF – “Ms. Fat Booty” (MP3)
CHRIS MORRIS – “Motherbanger” (Flexidisc, given away with Select June 1992)
KOOL KEITH – “Intro” (from the album Black Elvis/Lost In Space)

Mos Def is kind of like Sysqo, i.e. he likes big bottoms, but he’s a lot more artistic about it, being as he’s one of those clever underground rappers that my most excellent blogging colleague Mr.Carmody says we should be listening to. You can tell that “Ms Fat Booty” is real tasteful because Mos Def plays out his seduction scene to Gregory Isaacs and Sade, and because he samples a gospel singer, just like that nice Moby man who made techno human and emotional. This all makes his record sound like Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”, only without the paranoia or nobility or polyvocal power or visionary grooviness. In other words, it’s solid stuff and it goes with a swing, but ultimately it’s just not nearly exciting or touching enough to do the job for me. (Unlike, I have to say, last year’s Scritti Politti album, so that’s my headz credz right out the window.)

I always thought Fur Q was one of the worse jokes from an who’d no doubt have said all rap “sounded the same” anyway. Chris Morris was always better tackling the stuff he knew: his Kurt-Cobain-doing-a-sanpro-ad sketch from the same Day Today programme was much sharper than “Uzi Lover”, and his Pixies tribute “Motherbanger” is too. This is mostly because “Motherbanger” and the tampon song actually sound like the Pixies and Nirvana, whereas Fur Q sounded like an indie band ‘doing rap’, which dulled the parodic edge somewhat. “Motherbanger” gets the band, circa Surfer Rosa, exactly right: enthusiastic psycho-smut lyrics, token Spanish bit, artfully primitive garage-retro beat. It’s really funny, and almost uniquely for Morris it’s really warm too.

Who should we look to for some proper pop critique of the hip-hop scene, then? Who else but Kool Keith: “Intro” buzzes with frustration, Keith a fly trapped under smoked glass and keen to bite. Black Elvis? No – try Black Mark E. Smith, doing “Music Scene” or “Idiot Joy Showland” or any of his bilious editorials on the pitiable state of music. For the first half of “Intro” Keith hypnotises just like Smith does, spitting out imagist dream-disses of hip-hoppers with fish-eye lenses and rented Benzes and off-the-rack attitude, punctuating his questions with the unanswerable jabbing refrain “Why? WHY?”. It’s the question alternative music, be it alt.rock or underground rap or experimental dance, exists to put. The reason Keith (and Mark E. and V/VM for that matter) are necessary is that they don’t give a damn about what’s cool, or what’s authentic, or what’s sold-out: all they care about is that things be less stupidly predictable than they presently are, and they know that ‘educated’ rhymes or ‘intelligent’ lyrics or obscure samples are part of the problem, too.

As for ‘Street Rap’, a lot of the problem boils down to whether you think the nice production touches are just that, or whether you think they’re the point of the whole scary cavalcade. Lo-fi disdain for production is in my book precisely what keeps underground rap from achieving very much, what keeps chunks of it lost in its old skool world of block parties and turntables and digging in crates (which is an even more romantic vision of ‘street roots’ than seeing the street as a killing ground). Of course I’d like it if the lyrics to some of these tracks – and it is only some of them – weren’t so stereotyped and dreadful, but focussing on the words and refusing to hear the beats puts us back forty years in critical terms.