Let the Beat Build #15: February 2014
Spotify playlist: Let the Beat Build #15: February 2014
Diversions playlist: LTBB #15 Diversions
1. “The Next Level” - The Alkaholiks. JW: Somehow, we haven’t had a true rap celebration list. I have not only high expectations for this list, but also high hopes for the Diversions list. I thought about making it a 90’s only jam, but just when we needed it, rap got good again in the 2000’s (no thanks to you, Will Smith). I kicked it off with this track because it has the hip hop trinity: beats, rhymes, life. It’s narrative, it flows, and the Liks always have really creative lyrics that are totally relatable. They also rep Cali but flow like NY, doing their best work at the height of the East Coast/West Coast rivalry, yet they avoided being a part of that theater.
2. “Return of the ‘G’” - Outkast. KW: I was going to drop “Die Like a Rockstar” by Danny Brown, but it’s a little too dark to start it off. “Return of the ‘G’” is one of my favorite Outkast tracks. I was glad to hear it reimagined by Danny Brown on his latest. Both versions explore the fertile ground of hip hop culture looking at itself, at the expectations imposed from within and without. This Outkast jam is so good that it just barely makes up for their last couple records. JW: Also, you played it a year ago, on Let the Beat Build #3: February 2013. And it rocked. KW: Fuck, I’m repeating myself. Well then.
2. “The Return” - Danny Brown. KW: Everything I said above, with some changes that I’m too lazy to make. Also, Danny Brown’s track doesn’t have the obligatory nineties rap skit at the end. Goddamn those rap skits, killing playlists.
3. “Above the Clouds” - Gang Starr (feat. Inspectah Deck). JW: “Accompanied by Deck, plus the DJ you respect.” I’m sure we’ll spend plenty of time on the G’s. Spend some time with the G.U.R.U. This is one of my favorite Wu guest appearances. And Inspectah Deck is an MVP. If Wu Tang is Voltron, and GZA is the head, Deck is the neck. The neck with a fist coming out of it. I guess that would make him Chuck Norris?
4. “Detroit State of Mind” - Elzhi. KW: I’m going to keep running with this snake eating its own tail thing. I predicted this in 2004, that as records become classics they will be reimagined and re-performed, the way that people continually rework Beethoven and Shakespeare.
5. “Wu Tang Live” - Rahzel. JW: I can tell you from experience, that seeing isn’t even fully believing. If you’re new to Rahzel, all the sounds on this track are performed by Rahzel, in his mouth, all at once. It’s mindboggling. You should hear him to Wagner.
6. “Rhymes Like Dimes” - MF Doom. KW: Walking down Avenue C on the hottest day of the year listening to this jam. Playing this jam for all my friends. Becoming deeply obsessed with MF Doom for like a year. There are not too many real virtuosos in hip hop. Rahzel comes to mind. J Dilla. Here’s Doom killing it, at the top of his game, back before many people even knew that he existed. As debuts go, this one is up there with “Good Times Bad Times.”
7. “Old School Rules” - Dangerdoom (feat. Talib Kweli). JW: I’ll play another virtuoso in a minute. Maybe Rakim. But I think part of Doom’s magic is that he can pair with nearly anyone. And pairing never compromises his dopeness and uniqueness. Carlos Santana and Rob Thomas is an example of the opposite of that. The cool thing about this track, is that all three of them have that amazing power to collaborate, retain each auteur’s voice and have an additive effect. Dangermouse is a genius. And Talib is just as amazing in a collaboration as he is solo. Just ask De La, Dead Prez, Black Thought, Busta Rhymes, Seu Jorge, Jean Grae, Gucci Mane, Jay Electronica, Kanye, Mary J, Common, Hi-Tek or Mos.
8. “Auditorium” - Mos Def with Slick Rick. KW: I first heard Mos Def on one of the greatest hip hop records of all time, Stakes is High. I saw him join De La onstage back in 1997, incredible concert, I remember Mos climbed up onto a speaker array and jumped from the speakers to the balcony. Plus he was pretty good at that rapping thing. Shortly after that I got the first Soundbombing compilation. For a few years there, Mos Def could do no wrong. Then it got a little quiet until this track, which is the nasty.
9. “Making A Name For Ourselves” - Common (feat. Canibus). JW: This next track should’ve been Pharoahe Monch, but alas. The Soundbombing mixtapes were amazing. Mixtapes? Compilations? Electronic Press Kits? Whatever, they were amazing. Eminem’s Any Man should also be on here, but, alas. But to continue with the Rawkus family, we’re going back to ‘97 with Common. This is a battle track, but strangely, a buddy battle track. Like Tango & Cash. Since it reads like Common and Canibus, back to back, knives out, against the world. I don’t really know the story of Canibus and why he disappeared? I have a vague notion that he wasn’t a likeable or agreeable person, but I’d love to have that fact checked or corrected. Maybe the industry didn’t feel like they could control him. Post east/west beef, DMX was the only wild dog allowed a long leash. But his skills are undeniable. If you find any clips of him freestyling, you’ll see.
10. “Lady Don’t Tek No” - Latyrx. KW: Soundbombing was my intro into so much great music. So was Latyrx. From there I got into a bunch of California artists. Quannum Spectrum was hugely underrated. Latyrx is/was at their best when they mashed up styles, like this track that sounds like it came out of 1982 but with lyrics from 1998. Fucking quality.
11. “Rock and Roll” - Edan (feat. Dagha). JW: Ahh, you beat me to Lyrics Born. I was trying to remember the name of the track yesterday. Say That is now on Diversions. Back in the days when I was in my twenties, before I had status and before iPods were pennies… I used to have massive copy orgies. P2P IRL, if you know what I’m sayin’. That’s where I got my Quannum Projects. That’s where I got my 20,000 Leagues Under the Street. And that’s where I got Edan. Dude, Edan is a Jewish kid from Rockville. I know one or two of those, and they all actually rock pretty hard. This rocks harrrrrrrrrrd.
12. “Car Thief” - Beastie Boys. KW: The entire album Paul’s Boutique, just all day, every day.
13. “Run’s House” - RUN-DMC. JW: Jam Master Jay’s son is a dj. He spins dubstep. No lie. Really nice kid.
14. “You Took Your Time” - Mount Kimbie featuring King Krule. KW: Is this hip hop? I think it is. It isn’t? Isn’t it crazy how wide hip hop has traveled?
15. “Hold” - KRS-One. JW: Is Mount Kimbie hip hop? Or is it spoken word? Is there a difference? I feel like it’s in the constellation that has Kid Cudi, Shabazz Palaces, Bus Driver and even to some extent Frank Ocean and Childish Gambino. There was a generation before that which was all about talk-rap, deep, street, navel gazing, emo, real, beat poetic, slam poetry, grimy sweatshirt shit. Atmosphere, Sage Francis, Murs and Slug, even Quasimodo, Blackalicious and Digable Planets sort of fit into that space. But before that, before Saul Williams, was the Preacher, Blast Master KRS. I once worked on an episode of Bill Moyers Journal, when the guest was Robert Bly. He started going off about wordplay, homonyms, and repetition. I thought, this dude sounds like KRS! This guy is a muthafuckin master of his craft. They should teach about him in high school poetry class.
16. “Diamonds & Wood” - UGK. KW: I’ve spent a lot of time listening to nineties Houston hip hop. UGK, from Port Arthur, Texas, was riding high during that time. They went for shock value quite a bit (lines like “I’m so bad I can suck my own dick” and titles like “Pregnant Pussy”), but every once in a while they hit on something that’s up there with Scarface’s best work, that real conflicted interior shit. This sits right next to that KRS track. “Even though I’m gaining street fame coming from this rap game, lustful thinking and compulsive drinking is a normal thing.”
17. “Dear Mama” - 2pac. JW: I was never a huge Tupac fan. I think my favorite track is the live freestyle with Biggie. There are some choices that I’m not totally down with and I was just talking with Roopa about the conflict between loving/feeling hip hop and being forced to tacitly endorse foul overtures and expressions of misogyny, homophobia, consumerism and bravado. How do we reconcile that with
“I finally understand for a woman it ain't easy
Tryin' to raise a man you always was committed
A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how ya did it
There's no way I can pay you back
But the plan is to show you that I understand
you are appreciated”
KW: I don’t. I never liked that faux sensitive Tupac rap ballad noise. I jammed on All Eyez On Me and the Makaveli record, a lot.
18. “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” - Outkast. KW: Or this is how you reconcile that, by telling a story that is nuanced as reality. “Who else want to fuck with Hollywood Courts?” I love that shit. I love the part where there’s a girl whispering in one year while “Set It Off” blasts and a fight is about to break out.
19. “July 3rd” - People Under The Stairs. JW: “even though he’s still alive it put a damper on the day.” There was a video mart on 3rd and Hobart. And Korean swap meet. I bought Wyclef bandanas there. 8 of them. Not a lot rap tracks about cat scans.
20. “Cab Fare” - Souls of Mischief. KW: Spotify fail. I heard they caught a cease and desist from this track because they didn’t clear the sample of Theme from Taxi.
20. “Flavor Part Two” - The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion with Beck and Mike D. KW: This song was one of the many factors that inspired me to move to NYC. Seeing the video of Beck accosting a rider while carrying bags of toys on the subway, and Jon Spencer jamming on the sidewalk in front of Gem Spa on St. Mark’s, I was like yeah, that’s where I should live.
21. “New York (Ya Out There)” - Rakim. JW: There were three “New York” songs that were all in my rotation when I moved out here in 2003. Richard Ashcroft, Interpol and Rakim. Ashcroft got me nostalgic for the present, like I was outside myself looking in, going to portfolio meetings, bar hopping, riding in a cab. Interpol got me pre-nostalgic for a future New York, looking back on the New York I had lived. This was the prototypical hipster emo experience of the early 2000’s before pop-emo took over. And then there was Rakim. This was the nostalgia for the New York I had not actually lived. It is so rich with THAT New York and HIS New York, that it’s easy to forget it’s not YOUR New York. I walked the streets with this inflated sense of ownership and pride to be in New York. There’s a bridge to E.B. White’s New York in here somewhere.
22. “Damage” - Ol’ Dirty Bastard with GZA. KW: Rakim is like the embodiment of mic control. That’s not Ol’ Dirty. No no. There’s no father to his style.
23. “I’ll Be Dat” - Redman. JW: No father indeed. Jersey Yo! Is apparently not available in the United States. But Redman is a dad. And, “carried Def Jam on his back”.
24. “Protect Ya Neck” - Wu-Tang Clan. KW: The classic. I wanted to put “Recognize” by ODB here because it has the most punk rock line in history (“What’s my name? Shut The Fuck Up!”), but I guess that’s too much ODB fandom for one playlist. I love that guy though.
25. “Bastard” - Ruthless Bastards. JW: I want to say your ODB infatuation is unhealthy. But it’s HEALTHY. I’ve always considered your Drunken Fist Style to be supreme. This Wu Tang Killa Bees 2nd Gen album was always an interesting chapter in the Wu chronicles. I always wanted more. Wasn’t it you who said Wu Tang is for the babies? Plus, this supports my theory that “piano rap” is one of the most reliable winning elements in rap track archetyping. Just take a beat, some piano, make it dark and then flow over it. Presto!
26. “Let the Beat Build” - Lil Wayne. KW: Or don’t make it dark. Still works.
JW: So good. I still love this one more. “Make you wish hard like return of Jafar…”
27. “Still D.R.E.” - Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg. JW: This one’s so easy to play, Billy Joel could do it. Oh man. How much do you think we’d have to set the Kickstarter to get Billy Joel to cover ALL of Chronic 2001? Maybe get Rick Rubin to produce? Who would guest on that album? Tony Bennett obviously. Elton John? The part of Nate Dogg (R.I.P.) would be played by Bowser from Sha Na Na. KW: Somehow, I feel like Billy Joel would have no trouble throwing around the N word. Maybe he would almost pull it off.
28. “On Top” - The Moldy Peaches. KW: Back in 1999 I listened to Chronic 2001 a lot. The Nate Dogg break at the end of “The Next Episode” was so goddamn good. But sometimes I think that instead of grinding at house parties and bars, maybe I should have been losing my shit downtown at a Moldy Peaches show. I’m putting this jam here unironically, I actually dig this song. Plus it comes back to how much rap was really starting to suck around 2000. Fuck that shit. “We hate dance and we hate rap / But we like to contradict ourselves, that’s our act.” JW: It’s pretty amazing watching that video, that not ONLY did rap suck around 2000, but this clown, Will Smith represented the corporate commodification of all things that were testing well in the years leading up to that point. The cadence and references were so heavily influenced by Biggie. Sisters Sledge is basically Juicy. The Hype Williams fish eye lens, lateral dolly track and hermetic set dance numbers were already played out like the Philly Fade. Big Willy Style basically sounds like a Li’l Cease parrot with Ma$e’s hand up his puppet ass.
29. “Ya Playin Yaself” - Jeru the Damaja. JW: “With all that Big Willie talk, hop, you're, playin' yaself” Man, I don’t know why I get so riled up by Will Smith? He&