Spotify web link: Let the Beat Build #3: February 2013
1. “Proud To Be Black” - RUN DMC. JW: So I’m calling it. African American History Month! That’s the deal. This track isn’t just thematically obvious. It’s also emblematic. This song, like this album Raising Hell, was an essential bridge connecting Hip Hop and by extension African American culture with suburban White America. In 1986 this album and Licensed To Ill opened up rap to a new pool of pop and rock loving white Americans. This album gets talked about for its quality in Hip Hop history, and has important record sales stats. The stats get cited as evidence of its crossover appeal. But deeper and realer than that was its ability to help White America understand and relate (in their heads) to the African American experience in 80’s NY. We learned all the words (the ones we understood) to every song and sang them at school. We role played. In the most innocent and sincere way. You Be Illin’? Shit. I was 8. The ability to do this empowered us and made us hunger for more. The quantum leap in record sales and diversity of rap between 1988 and 1993 owes significantly to the power of Raising Hell.
2. “Machine Gun” - Jimi Hendrix. KW: I doubt psychedelia ever got any blacker than this performance. People who were at these shows (this is a live recording from the Fillmore East on January 1, 1970) said that the crowd was stunned and listening hard. Discussing a potential collaboration with Hendrix, Miles Davis cited “that muthafuckin’ Machine Gun” as the reason why he wanted to work with him. Davis recognized "Machine Gun" for what it is, a phenomenal weaving of the threads of black culture in white America: blues, jazz, rock, and R&B. This song is proof of his genius in finding that synthesis. But more than that, Band of Gypsys was his overt effort to reconnect with black audiences, instead of resting on easy successes in the rock world.
3. “Miles Runs The Voodoo Down” - Miles Davis. JW: Ken Burns noted in his recent column in VICE that, “Bitches Brew pre-dates the use of ‘bath salts’ by 40 years, but YOU’d never know.” If Kind of Blue is the Bob Marley poster in your dorm room, then this is that bag of mushrooms you found in your brother’s sock drawer.
4. “Oh Babe It Ain’t No Lie” - Elizabeth Cotten. KW: I first heard Elizabeth Cotten on a hot summer day driving through Pennsylvania. I don’t remember how I got that CD, and I don’t know where it went. The version I heard back then was the one on Live!, which is fantastic, but let’s go back to the old school. We’ve been trucking with virtuosity, listen to this.
5. “I’m Bad Like Jesse James” - John Lee Hooker. JW: Betrayal. Vengeance. Flossing. Territorialism. Power. Narrative. Referring to yourself in third person. John Lee Hooker IS Hip Hop. That is to say narrative cultural expression of this sort did not begin with The Message. And John Lee would smack Auto-Tune in the face with the 2x4 underneath his boot.
6. “Got Your Money” - Ol’ Dirty Bastard. KW: John Lee Hooker is undeniably blues, all the way down. Ol’ Dirty was a big fan of R&B and soul music (notably Rick James, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye), but at the end of the day Dirt was hip hop all the way down to the dirt. But with “Got Your Money” ODB contributed some damn fine blues lyrics to the canon. Take this line, possibly the greatest blues line of recent times: “Baby you know I’m-a take care of you / ‘Cause you say you got my baby and I know it ain’t true.” God damn I love that line. That is up there with Howlin’ Wolf, that strange and lifelike combination of love, deceit, devotion, abandon.
7. “Triumph” - Wu Tang Clan. JW: I love your fixation on Dirt McGirt! It should be investigated as part of some Sociology PhD thesis. ODB has hits (Brooklyn Zoo) and misses (Goin’ Down) but without the support on every level from RZA and the Wu, we would be as familiar with his greatness as we are with Xzibit. Xzibit is actually pretty dope, but got ruined by Dre and candy-ass record industry hip pop. But I digress. More so than Wu Tang: The 7th Chamber, Triumph masters the “crew track”. All 9 members, plus Cappadonna, rock individual verses that could be proper tracks in their own right. RZA says:
My beats travel like a vortex, through your spine
to the top of your cerebrum cortex
Make you feel like you bust a nut from raw sex
Enter through your right ventricle clog up your bloodstream
now terminal, like Grand Central Station
Only when you’ve seen someone do Triumph at karaoke, changing voices for each verse, can you say you have truly lived.
8. “Mothership Connection (Star Child)” - Parliament. KW: Parliament is the original stage full of motherfuckers. I remember seeing them on TV as a kid and thinking they were from another planet, and my child mind filed them somewhere near Frank Zappa. My sister got me into Parliament later, when I was a teenager, around the time I got into James Brown, also around the time I was playing drums for hours every day. Anyway, this one song is the inspiration behind countless other songs, and Parliament is the main ingredient in practically all of Dre’s The Chronic.
9. “It Was A Good Day” - Ice Cube. JW: The fundamental difference between East Coast and West Coast rap is where the music first lived. East Coast beats were pulled from the breaks of party djs chopping up the dance tracks and MCing began in the cyphers on the blacktops. The main difference in the West is that they spend more time in cars.
I gotta go 'cause I got me a drop top
And if I hit the switch, I can make the asssssssss drop
Had to stop, at a red light
Lookin' in my mirror, not a jacker in sight
And everything is alright.
If you’re going toe to toe with someone, the character of your bravado is different than if you’re mad dogging someone from your 6-4 Impala.
10. “Use Me Up” - Underground Kingz. KW: Isley Brothers. Damnz they got a lot of jamz. Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” is great because it is rooted in reality. It’s not “I get head from every bitch I meet” and “This morning I killed five hundred playa haters.” The line “Plus nobody I know got killed in South Central L.A.” sums up what I’m talking about, but so does “Drove to the pad to hit the showers, didn’t even get no static from the cowards.” Anyway, as much I wanted to drop some Isley Brothers in honor of your choice, I creeped into the cut where I found Bill Withers, and then I was reminded of another killer R&B reappropriation, UGK’s “Use Me Up.” The first time I heard this song was on a cassette tape cruising down I-45 in Houston, coming back from the airport with two of my best friends, windows down, blastin’. “I used to be the player, now I’m getting pimped, I used to be hard, now I’m livin’ all limp.” That’s reality and a half. Bonus points if you find yourself blasting “I’m So Bad.”
11. “Let Me Get Down” - The Notorious B.I.G. (Feat. Craig Mack, G-Dep & Missy Elliott). JW: I used to be the chick to lick the lollipop
Now I pop through your body parts
Blaow, blaow, you like the way I interact
Proceed to smack, any MC that's whack
There’s some flavor in your ear.
12. “I Feel For You” - Chaka Khan. KW: When I want to get down, I call Chaka Khan. Chaka Khan. Ch-Ch-Ch-Chaka Khan. Dig the Stevie Wonder on this jam. Also the Prince, the Melle Mel, and the Motown samples.
13. “Rockit” - Herbie Hancock. JW: This video was the first time I’d ever seen a robot that wasn’t a cartoon. Herbie Hancock was an early adopter. I can’t think of anyone from the jazz canon that was making music that sounded this much like Hip Hop. Like Hendrix playing the blues electric, Hancock played Jazz and Funk, Bop and Hip Hop and even Electronica in a way that challenged the status quo of everything.
14. “Breathe Something / Stellar Star” - Flying Lotus. KW: There have been long stretches of my life when I had an “Aphex Twin problem.” Then he quit, or got high and wandered off, or whatever it was that he did around the time that Drukqs came out. Anyway, you talk about mixing styles, that makes me think of Flying Lotus, the odd alchemist mixing Autechre and J Dilla and, I don’t know, Baden Powell or something. I listened to one of his concerts on the radio once and I was completely blown away. Not just by the freewheeling mixture of styles that confirms that there really is no line between styles anymore, but also because I was sure for the first (or maybe second) time that I was listening to whatever comes after the rock concert as a cultural phenomenon. Flying Lotus maintains an amazing dialogue with his audience, not just in his MCing and banter, but in the musical/compositional choices he makes when he produces or performs. (Note: the other time I felt this was when I watched a Common concert a few years back, where he liberally performed works from all over the hip hop canon). The time of the rock concert is probably way behind us now. We’ll never know what it was like to smoke grass on the floor of the Hollywood Bowl while Led Zeppelin rips through a three hour concert. Oh well, at least LCD Soundsystem is still performing. LCD Soundsystem broke up? When? I gotta get out more.
15. “Kill White T...” - Shabazz Palaces. JW: In the same vein, Shabazz Palaces is in the Vernon Reid skool of WTFology-out-there-shit. Remember what the dormouse said, “Feed Your HEEEEEEeeeeaaaaad!”
16. “Raspberry Beret” - Prince. KW: “Raspberry Beret” was a B-side? Really? Also, what fucking planet did Prince come from? Once, driving from Tennessee to New York, I composed a bunch of haiku in my head. I still remember this one:
Put on Prince records,
Then wonder about that guy.
That’s it, just wonder.
17. “Funkier Than A Mosquito’s Tweeter” - Nina Simone. JW: Purple Rain was the first erotica I remember seeing. The scene with the parked motorcycle near the pond ruined my morning carpool for weeks. Every Prince song makes me feel like there’s something about love-making that I don’t know about. And probably I’m glad. If Q Lazzarus sounds androgynous, and Prince sounds tri-sexual, Nina Simone sounds like two complete genders running shit full bore. Animus and anima wonder-twins-activating, clear and powerful and arousing. For those of you playing at home, you are so low down and filthy, you’re nastier than a mosquito’s prick. You think you’re slick, but you need more grease.
18. “How Many More Years” - Howlin’ Wolf. KW: This was the first Howlin’ Wolf I ever heard. I was in middle school, or maybe really early in high school. I was blown away, which is where I have remained ever since. If I were my sister I would probably have some great Nina Simone / Howlin’ Wolf comparison that I would say here, then everyone would laugh and think “that Karl sure knows his blues.” I don’t have an anecdote like that.
19. “99 Problems” - Jay-Z. JW: Sounds to me like Wolf’s got 99 problems, and a bitch is all of them.
20. “Die Like A Rockstar” - Danny Brown. KW: One of the things I liked about early hip hop was the use of rock drum and guitar samples. Then hip hop got past that, with an occasional diversion back into rock from time to time. I disliked many of those diversions, with the shining exception of the first Wu-Tang album where they put guitar stabs over the profanity. That shit was ill. “99 Problems” makes pretty good use of rock guitar samples in that old hip hop style. But Danny Brown takes it back to rock, just nasty, discordant, big drums, drugs and death.
21. “212” - Azealia Banks. JW: Oh, we’re talking about nasty, beats and freshmen? Let’s talk about Azealia Banks. Here’s your assignment: take an 808 and make tele-dildonics out of it. Somehow, the beats and her flow make the most commercial aspects of pop-Dance, pop-R&B and pop-Rap still a dope rap song. And it all happens so fast you can miss her radio-unfriendly lyrics. I think she got a Moon Man for “Best Use of the ‘C-word’” in 2012.
22. “Juicy Fruit” - Mtume. KW: 100% jamz. This track is out of control. The lyrics mix food and sex. How do our playlists keep coming back to food and sex? Pop, R&B, food--no, it all makes sense.
JW: You’re my chocolate star
23. “Guinesses feat. Angelika & 4ize” - MF DOOM. JW: I was going to go with Milky Cereal but dreaded the thought of being surprised by LL Cool J on shuffle. Karl knows all there is to say about DOOM. Ask him. KW: You managed to pick one of the few MF Doom tracks that I’m not super into. That’s not true, there are way too many MF Doom tracks to be into all of them. However, MM...FOOD has so many great tracks, this one is just not up there with tracks like “Kookies” or “One Beer.”
24. “Steak for Chicken” - The Moldy Peaches. KW: It’s Mardi Gras! Weird shit is going on! “How’m I gonna pay the rent, sitting on my ass / your face?”
25. “Salt Peanuts” - Dizzy Gillespie. JW: No one ever says, “Hey, I don’t remember eating steak!” KW: Why did I feel like listening to “Private Dancer” just now?
26. “Private Dancer” - Tina Turner. KW: I don’t even like this song. I think. Now I remember, this song was written by Mark Knopfler. See last month’s fixation with Mark Knopfler. Anyway, Tina Turner. She’s good right? People like her?
27. “Sunshine of Your Love” - Bobby McFerrin. JW: I’m calling spam on that last one. Non-sequitur rules point to B McFe. If you could erase D’yer Mak’er, Under the Bridge*, or Creep, what would you have? A lot of talent. So erase Don’t Worry, Be Happy and remember that he’s doing this whole song, by himself, on his body, with no instruments. *sort of ashamed to put RHCP in this company. KW: I replaced my original pick with the single edit of “Private Dancer.” So now you get 3 minutes less of Tina. I hope you’re happy. You paid for 7 minutes, you only want 4, it’s your call boss. JW: NOW who’s my private dancer? That’s right.
28. “Cult of Personality” - Living Colour. KW: Damn this was my jam when it came out. There was a time when this song was in heavy rotation on rock radio. That was a good time. When I lived in Park Slope, we used to see Vernon Reid on the street every once in a while. Also good times.
29. “Celebration” - Kanye West. JW: Now that Michael Jackson is dead, there is no one more fixated on their own cult of personality than Yeezy. I’m still waiting for the sex tape where Kim Kardashian has a 3-way with Kanye and a Kanye android. Ye-droid? Dreezy?
30. “Clean Up Woman” - Betty Wright. KW: File me under funky.
31. “Mathematics” - Mos Def. JW: Why did one straw break the camel's back? Here's the secret: the million other straws underneath it - it's all mathematics.