Tuesday, June 21, 2005

N/O

N.W.A.- Straight Outta Compton

Like I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this page, of COURSE all the punk kids got into hip-hop. The shit was raw and angry and dangerous- what’s more punk than pissing off Sam Walton? The same fundamentalists, I’m sure, that were down in the deep South picketing the Sex Pistols’ first/only real U.S. tour in 1978 were just terrified by hip-hop in general, N.W.A. in particular.

For the sake of the hip-hop/punk rock analogy, we’ll say that N.W.A. were/are the Sex Pistols to Public Enemy’s Clash. (I know, I know, Run-DMC, all the old shit, but how threatening are a bunch of guys wearing fedoras and oversized sneakers? When held up against the competition, downright cuddly.) N.W.A. came in, tore shit up, stirred up a lot of ruckus, blazed the way, then burnt right the hell out (if I knew more about Ice Cube, I’d try and make some analogy here regarding his solo stuff vis a vis John Lydon and PiL, but I don’t have enough information or one-liners to pull something like that off. The role of Sid Vicious being played by Eazy-E is a little bit easier to manage- the visible representations of emerging movements meeting early demises by trying to live up to glitzy allegations of genre.) Public Enemy was the more political of the two, largely more positive, managed not to fall victim to their own success. And, mercifully, they never put out a triple reggae album.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard- Return To The 36 Chambers

Oh my fucking god. Loose, scatalogical, and completely confident in its hilarious unpredictability. During the course of any given song, you might hear that Ol’ Dirty is on welfare or has AIDS or gonorrhea. Maybe he’ll break out into ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ or deadpan a show tune. Of course, the guys from the Wu Tang come in and add cameos every now and again (including a pre-‘How High’ Method Man, still at the height of his powers). There’s the songs that that contain actual rhymes, shout-alongs and everything, obviously pre-written, and others where Dirty just kinda rambles and the songs creak and threaten to collapse. They never do, though- he always manages to tie it all up (albeit not always neatly). I’m not sure whether this is a comedy record that contains some rap, or if it’s the other way around. Doesn’t matter, either way.

Ol’ Dirty Bastard- N**** Please

*I had already been busted once on the night that Ol’ Dirty Bastard died. See, I was working at this Jewish deli in Brookline, the restaurant I ran to after quitting my Newbury Street job. The manager’s office was downstairs, the same place where all of the booze was stored. I bummed the keys from one of the managers and told her I had to restock wine, let myself in and decided to check my email before I started hauling big bottles of pinot noir upstairs. Then said manager walked in and caught me on the computer. D’oh.

So later in the evening, right, towards the end of the shift, BQ called to tell me that Ol’ Dirty Bastard had died. I had a minor freakout, then decided to check the ‘net to make sure it was true (I can be a little gullible- fake Sox trades, in particular, go over hook, line and sinker with me). I told the manager that there was an emergency, bummed the keys again, ran downstairs. CNN had the obit up- it was official.

The same manager came into the office, saw me sitting there aghast.

“You said there was an emergency, and you’re down here on the computer!”

I pointed to the screen. “There IS an emergency! Ol’ Dirty Bastard is dead!”

She frowned. “That’s not an emergency!”

I should have given notice right there.

*Great Ol’ Dirty Bastard rumor: “N**** Please” was recorded in the space of four hours. RZA got Dirty totally fucked up, the story goes, and locked him in a room and told him to freestyle. He sang and rapped and rambled for hours, and his crazy rants were spliced into songs after-the-fact. If the rumor’s true, it makes this album even more incredible. To think that all of the shoutouts and demented rhymes and teetering-on-the-brink songs are completely improvised is amazing.

*Good-to-bad song ratio is like 1-1 on this record. Normally, releasing an album that’s half gold and half turd isn’t such an amazing accomplishment- downright average. The clunkers, though, fall by the wayside because the hits are so stellar. Take, for example, ‘Rollin’ Wit You,’ a song which consists moslt of Dirty talking about how the white man will never take over, that his shit ain’t corny. When he finally stops to take a breath, these tonedeaf women come in to solemnly repeat, over and again, “Jesus, I’m rollin’ wit you.” Such moments of stomach-clutching absurdity make it easier to pass off the duds.

*Absolutely my favorite Ol’ Dirty Bastard stuff, even though it’s one of those records that isn’t as good or solid as the rest of the catalogue. The sentimental favorite, I guess.

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