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Archive for the ‘Hip-Hop’ Category

Borrowing CDs from the radio station

Saturday, April 7th, 2001

My apologies for being utterly delinquent in updating the website. I usually refrain from giving my reasons/excuses, but I feel like whining, so here: I have three books to read, three papers to write, and two problems sets to complete, all in the next week. Plus, Yale Cup, an Ultimate tournament here at Yale, is next weekend, and it involves coordinating the activities of some six hundred athletes (some from as far as Texas or Utah) for two days and one to three nights. Hence, I’ve been busy, which is still no excuse, I guess.

My two latest borrowed items from the radio station have been The Fucking ChampsIV and Einstürzende Neubauten’s Silence is Sexy. I listened to the latter album first, while doing some homework, and it did nothing for me. IV has been in my CD player almost constantly for the past five days, though. It’s mostly instrumental guitar-rock — I hear influences ranging from punk to metal to King Crimson (a bit). It’s all electric; usually I find this sort of thing monochromatic and grating - even 80s Crimson turns me off after just one or two listens. However, for some reason I was captivated by this stuff - maybe it’s the melodicism, the complexity hiding underneath the stereotypically metal-sounding riffs. I dunno. I’m going to buy this album soon.

As for Silence is Sexy, I listened to it again, and now I find it absolutely fascinating. There’s an intriguing mix of whimsically (insanely?) bouncy, catchy stuff and subdued, muted, repetitive, subtle stuff. The former is flat-out fun: techno-ish backbeats and a sense of humor bring Höyry-kone to mind, oddly enough. The latter stuff is transcendent: a few listens to the opening track or “Redukt” really bring out very small, subtle parts of the music that are truly beautiful, stimulating, and unique. Even the spoken word piece “Beauty”, juxtaposed against a droning, almost (but not quite) static background, has a certain air of mystery and intrigue to it. The closing track of the first disc is a beautiful and appropriate ending. The only piece I really don’t get is the sole track on the second disc, the nearly 20-minute long “Pelikanol”, which features an endless interplay between laid-back vocals and what is listed as a drill. Hmm. In any case, this is an album that really rewards close attention - leaving it on as background music isn’t going to cut it. Highly recommended to those who enjoy more experimental Krautrock and post-rock.

In Rob Kroes’ book If You’ve Seen One, You’ve Seen The Mall (1996), which I am reading for a paper, he writes in his chapter on rap music:

Instead of seeking fusions and crossovers, black artists, fearing a renewed expropriation of what they consider to be their cultural property, have time and again resorted to a strategy of defiant protectionism. Thus, for example, bebop was meant to take jazz music to such dizzying heights of complexity that white musicians could no longer hope to steal and adapt it. More recently, similar trends seem to have occurred in rap music. In their lyrics some of the more notorious rap groups express a vicious sexism and racism, an utter obscenity and nihilism, whose sole aim may seem to be to erect barriers beyond which white groups will fear to tread.

I’m not sure this thesis holds up to scrutiny. Obscenity and violence, after all, have long been a big part of hip-hop - old-school gangsta-rap groups like NWA are arguably as offensive as anything out there today; this is not a new phenomenon. And the emergence of Eminem indicates that perhaps there are no “barriers beyond which white groups will fear to tread”.

Mos Def, electric Miles, and more

Saturday, February 24th, 2001

For some reason, I just can’t seem to really get into Mos Def’s Black on Both Sides. I can’t really put my finger on why, but if I had to guess, I think it’s because the production gets in the way. It’s too forward in the mix, and distracts from the actual rapping. Also, it tends to be quite choppy and stop-and-go, which makes it still more distracting. The whole affair, because the production is so loud and so distinctive, gets to be overbearing after a while.

After reading on the ProgAndOther list that Miles DavisAura is probably the best of his otherwise pedestrain 80s output (complete with weird time sigs, spacey synth work, and John McLaughlin), I picked it up on a whim today (also got the new Tortoise). I must say, I don’t much like it. The electronic drums really rub me the wrong way, especially when they lay into lame beats, as in the first half of “Orange”. Davis’ soloing is still great, but I can’t get over those goddamn drums. Oh well.

I was at an interesting party last night in which the music consisted of two guys improvising (quite skillfully, I’d have to say) on acoustic guitars, one on dulcimer, and one playing percussion with hardcover books and metal cups. It was pretty damn cool. Someone there mentioned that she always thought the dulcimer was a much, much better instrument than the guitar, with a sweeter, more soulful sound. I’d have to agree that it has a very pleasant timbre, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a better instrument necessarily. Hmm.

Recently I’ve been listening a lot to the new Mori Stylez album. It’s in a similar vein as their first album, but a bit more polished and with much more emphasis on the wind instruments. I like it a lot, but some of the compositions are still a bit too long. I’ll write a full review soon… it’s taking me a lot longer than I expected to digest the whole thing.

Do I hear engines?

Friday, January 19th, 2001

How do lyrics that one has not heard for months, and that are completely unrelated to anything one is doing or experiencing, suddenly randomly pop into one’s head? Today I found myself unable to get not one, but two lines out of my head: “Do I hear engines?” (Thinking Plague) and “butt naked, streakin’ through the ever murky streets of the urbanized areas” (Tribe Called Quest). I mean, what the hell. I haven’t listened to either of the albums in question for a really long time, and neither line had ever particularly stood out for me. So why would they suddenly resurface out of the depths of my subconscious and assert themselves so vigorously that I’ve been singing them over and over and over ad nauseum?

Speaking of Thinking Plague, if I’d listened to “Pinwheel” from Regarding Purgatories blind, I would have sworn it was from some new album by that band.

I’ve been spinning Deltron 3030’s self-titled album a lot recently. It’s a “hip-hopera”, a rap album with a wildly farfetched concept and futuristic bleeps and swooshes to accompany it. The music is great: Dan Nakamura and Kid Koala are right on the money with solid beats, some great “orchestration” (I have no idea how to express that concept in hip-hop-speak), and great turntable work (of which I actually think there should be a lot more). However, I can’t say that I’m sold on Del tha Funkee Homosapien (what the fuck?) and his MC style. Just doesn’t seem particularly smooth, and it seems like his lyrics throw in as many scientific and technological buzzwords (read: this is nerd-hop) without actually saying much that’s meaningful. Oh well, I still like it.