Monday, April 23, 2007

Rap Italiano

I got into 99 Posse when I was studying in Italy in 2000. I was trying to absorb the culture and language through music, and these guys were one of the few Italian bands who I could handle. Italians contribute many, many wonderful things to the world, but non-cheesy music is not a strength of theirs. I’m not saying it’s a weakness, just an area for improvement

99 Posse (the 99 is pronounced novanta nove, not “ninety-nine”, btw) started around 1991 a Centro Sociale in Napoli called Officina 99. As their website says, the group was born as a direct expression of the Centrol Sociale and of the new urban cultures that found in music a powerful vehicle”. A Centro Sociale, or Social Center, is sort of like a commie community center, I think.

So basically, from Day One the group was politically motivated, and this is one of the coolest things about the band. Like Manu Chao and most of the Italian left, they are anti-imperialism, pro-minority, pro-immigrant, and think communism is sweet. They are for marijuana and the working man, and against the government mob, and bosses.

Musically, the are essentially a less-irritating Black Eyed Peas, complete with sexy female singer and multi-kulti vibe. Rather than going for the cartoony pop overload of the peas, 99 Nove is more oriented in trip-hop and electronica, with some rock and funk thrown in. It wouldn’t be a revolutionary party band without the funky rock, after all.

I have two albums by them – 1999’s Corto Circuito (Short Circuit) and 2000 “La Vita Che Vendra” Corto Circuito is a little mellower, a little more rooted in trip hop, and not quite as pop and political as “La Vita”. By contrast, “la vita” is a Technicolor explosion, Che Gueverra and the Children of Seattle by way of Europop. The song starts out with the techno-infused call to arms “Comincia Addesso (“it begins now)

One of my favorite tracks is “L’anguilla”, a bouncy, surf-guitar infused track with the best diss line EVAH – “e va fà mmocc’a chi v’è mmuorto”, which is Napolitano for “go give head to your dead relatives.” Awesome.

I’m also a fan of the rockin’, bass-heavy “esplosione imminente” (Imminent explosione), which is about all the tensions in the world and how there is a whole breed of disaffected underclass ready to stand up against the system and fight the powers that be. “No School No Job No Indentita’”.

The most pop song on the disc is “Commutwist”, which laments how socialism has fallen out of favor in recent years, claiming that it is so out of mode to be communist that they dance the twist. For all it’s bouncy goofyness, it is rooted in solid convictions and lines like:

“E poi c’é la flessibilità
a nuova moda a tutti ormai nota
che ci divide tutti a metà
chi more ’e famme e chi va in Europa”
(and now there is the flexibility, a new way that has already been noted, that divides the entire world in half – those who die of hunger, and those who go to Europe.)

I don’t know if the song was a hit in Italy, but it certainly had the possibility to be one – it’s the kind of cheesy europop that gets overplayed in cafes and discos over there. I can imagine them doing a halftime show. It’s an ingenious way of spreading a serious message. Jay-Z may sport a Che shirt, but 99 live it, baby.

I think the band still exists in some form or other, although it seems like they’ve been in semi-permanent hiatus for the past six years. There stuff is also not easy to find in the us, although with the magic of the internet, I’m sure it’s findable. I’m not sure that someone without an appreciation for Italian and Italian music would necessarily get in to 99 Posse – it can’t begin to compare to PE or Rage Against the Machine or any other political American hip hop acts. However, if you want to explore the impact hip hop has had on the world, and want to see how other cultures have adapted the hip hop into their own, “La Vita Che Vendra” is a good place to start.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Funky Side of Life

Sound Directions
The Funky Side of Life
Stones Throw, 2005
Sound Directions is yet another fake band/quasi-solo project from Otis Jackson AKA Madlib, AKA Yesterday’s New Quintet AKA one of my favorite musicians ever. Like his Yesterday’s New Quintet stuff, this is basically a one-man Madlib jazz band, with some jazz musicians offering their horn skills to the mix. Unlike the Yesterday’s New Quintet stuff, Sound Directions is funkier and more upbeat (hence the title).

Funky it is. The Funky Side of Life is pure, funky, late sixties/early seventies jazz, Herbie Hancock meets Isaac Hayes meets the JBs. And it is frigging awesome. My favorite track is the upbeat “Horse”, with its lively horns and pounding rhythm, but really, all the songs on this disc are good. In a way, I couldn’t help seeing this as a hip-hop album: what madlib has basically reproduced here are the brilliant breaks and riddims that formed the backbone and blueprint of hip hop for most of its existence. That’s a testiment to how brilliant a musician Madlib is, and just what he brings to hip-hop. Madlib understands and appreciates the music behind the records and breaks, the decades of music that lead up to hip hop’s foundation.

I could tell that the album was pieced together from different performances by the same musician. There is a slight stiffness and lack of improvisation or riffing, and the songs end up slightly more subdued because of it. It’s not a big deal, but it’s noticeable, and I would love to hear Madlib form an actual band around this project. Even as it is, Sound Directions is a great disc, and yet further proof that Madlib is the man to watch.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Snoop responds to Imus

Radio DJ Don Imus was recently canned from a lucrative gig with CBS for referring to the Rutgers Women Basketball team, who are black, as “nappy-headed hoes”. This has started a lot of talk about using offensive language, and a lot of people have been pointing to hip-hop as a major contributor and culprit of the spread of racist and degrading language. After all, Ludicris had a top ten hit not too long ago with his jam about having “Hoes in different area codes”, and the majority of club anthems throw that word around.

In reaction to those accusations, Snoop Dog had this to say to MTV (lifted from
"[Rappers] are not talking about no collegiate basketball girls who have made it to the next level in education and sports. We're talking about hoes that's in the 'hood that ain't doing shit, that's trying to get a nigga for his money. These are two separate things. First of all, we ain't no old-ass white men that sit up on MSNBC going hard on black girls. We are rappers that have these songs coming from our minds and our souls that are relevant to what we feel. I will not let them muthafuckas say we in the same league as him."

So evidently it’s ok to refer to women in the hood as hoes, but not college athletes. Bullshit. And it’s ok for black guys to say it, but not white guys. Um, uh, no.

In 1988, when NWA and 2 Live Crew hit the scene, the fact that they used profanity and referred to women as bitches was truly shocking. It caused and uproar. Court cases even. Almost twenty years later, it’s become so commonplace to hear offensive and degrading language in pop culture that a track like David Banner’s “Play”, with its lyric of “C’mon girl, lemme getcha pussy wet” doesn’t even turn heads.

Maybe it’s time we all stop giving this shit a pass.. Maybe rappers should get a little more creative with their material and language, and stop resorting to f-bombs and misogyny. The chickens are coming home to roost. With hip-hop becoming the predominant pop culture, it’s language and values are starting to enter into the mainstream. An unfortunately, that doesn’t just mean phrases like “da bomb” or valuing multi-culturalism. It also means that words like nigga, bitch, and ho become part of the mainstream lexicon, and the bullshit values of materialism, romanticizing parasitical criminality (that means you, clips, rick ross, jay-z, t.i., and all you other drug dealer rappers) and basically being an asshole hood rat. And you can’t put all that bullshit out there without it coming back and hitting you in the ass. You can no longer control the conversation. You can’t say that only black people can use nigga or hoe, because if all white people hear is you saying nigga and hoe, why wouldn’t they assume it’s ok to say. Shit, they call themselves nigga all the time? Why can’t i? how you gonna tell me it’s offensive?

At the same time, the media and especially the shock jocks need to realize that we are not in a post-racist society, and you can’t pull shit like calling women “nappy-headed hoes”. It’s not ok, it’s not funny.

I hope this whole stupid incident will make people do a better job of addressing race issues, and maybe force rappers to get a little more creative in their rhymes and subject matter. Ten to one, though, mr imus is back in business within a year. Fucker earns way to much money to get shut down for long. And frankly, there is way more offensive shit on the airwaves than what he was doing.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Healing power of disco

LCD Soundsystem
Sound of Silver
Capitol, 2007

There was an argument during the rave heydays of the early 90s that somehow getting sorted for e’s and whiz and dancing like a git until 5am was a revolutionary act, that by partying and having a good time ravers could fight the system and promote world peace. I think that’s a questionable philosophy, but there is something to be said for the power of feeling good, and I can’t help but think that the world might be a better place if people would spend more time dancing their asses off and less time sitting in front of computers or doing any of the other mundane and unhealthy tasks our lives are consumed with.
Until we all came down and ended up depressed and cranky on Sunday morning, I guess.

Rave politics aside, LCD Soundsystems “Sound of Silver” is a vivid reminder of how refreshing and healing feeling good can be. As with the first disc, Sound of Silver sees maestro James Murphy mixing 70s dance punk, 80s new wave, and 90s house into a funky, slightly ironic, totally exhilarating concoction.

The disc starts off with “Get Innocuous!”, a cowbell, house infused number that is what we have come to expect from Mr. Murphy. There are a number of other dance punk songs on the disc, like “Us. V. Them” and “The sound of Silver”. It’s all fun without being stupid, head-bobbing without being inane, and for that, I am very grateful. Fuck morning coffee, just put this on. It’s like being alive.

Dancy tracks aside, my favorite tracks on this disc were the mellower, prettier ones. “Someone Great” pulses along like a Jan Hammer-IDM remake, with lyrics that fit the pretty, introspective mood of the music. On “All of My friends” he channels Brian Eno. The highlight for me was “New York I love You, but You’re Bringing Me Down”, which is not unlike Bowie’s “Rock n’ Roll Suicide, a piano ballad that leads to an epic climax. It’s both a love letter and breakup letter with NYC, laying out how much it has changed, and how disappointed mr. Murphy is:

New York, you're perfect
Don't please don't change a thing
Your mild billionaire mayor's
Now convinced he's a king
So the boring collect
I mean all disrespect
In the neighborhood bars
I'd once dreamt I would drink

At the end, he admits “you’re still the one pool where I’d happily drown”. As someone who has a conflicted romance with my own city of residence, i could totally relate.

I don’t know if listening to Sound of Silver will do anything to help stop the killings in Iraq, ease tensions with Iran, slow global warming, or help provide food, shelter, and healthcare to everyone. I do know that it will make you feel a hell of a lot better about being alive and human, and that’s a step, right? In short, this disc is totally fucking awesome and you should go buy it. Believe that.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Smash your head on the punk rock

The EPs of RP

I got this used at a heavy metal record store in Pavia, Italy. What I got is actually a burnt CD, with all the liner notes loving photocopied.

Rudimentary Peni were contemporaries of Crass and the Subhumans, and share the sound and aesthetic of those other early 80s anarcho punk bands.This ep is a reissue of their self titled and Farce eps, both from 1981.

The 12 songs from “Rudimentary Peni” are all rapid fire, with only one of them clocking in at over a minute. Most are thirty second blasts of goodness, and like the best short songs, they cram all the melody, rhythm, and angst into thirty seconds that most bands need three minutes to accomplish.

The songs reflect singer Nick Blinko’s psychiatric issues, and both vocally and lyrically he sounds on the edge. He wails out of tune about black presidents, seagulls, and wild dogs. As with his insane artwork, Blinko brings a lot more to punk than the standard “fuk the system” bluntnesst of contemporaries like Discharge.

He also has some lyric gems. My favorites are “A vicious circle of passive acceptance/passive acceptance of a vicious circle” and “we all play the same old chords/we all tread the same old boards.”

The songs from Farce are a little longer, more directly political, and toned down from the first ep. The songs are more issue-oriented, commenting on the so-called generation gap, the blble (criticizing it as a tool for slavery in one track, and comparing it to a ball of bile in another), etc.

The stand out tracks include the droning, flipper-esque “Rat Race” where blinko shouts “are you really justified in having nothing to say?are you not aware of a feeling of humiliation?” My personal favorite is bloody jellies, a frantic, hysterical rant on impending nuclear doom where there will be “angels with burnt wings” and “no coffins, just bloody jellies.” Few tracks encapsulate the 80s nuclear dread as well as that one.

RP are actually still around, and they have put out several classic albums since their first EPs, but for my money, the EPs of RP is not only their finest work, it is an essential punk album.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Don't Miss Rush

I bought tickets for the Arcade Fire a few weeks ago on Ticketmaster, and now I get spammed by them all the time. Today in my inbox was an email titled "Don't Miss Rush". If there is one thing I dislike more than spam, it's spam that is totally misdirected. I bought tickets to see the ARCADE FIRE. What the hell makes ticketmaster think that I'd be into Rush? Is the connection that they are both from Canada and both are amazing musicians? Does the drummer of the Arcade Fire have a degree in Musicology like Neal Pert?

One exciting thing is that they are playing Shoreline Ampitheater (rush, that is). That means that there are still a hell of a lot of Rush fans out there. Now, I don't actually like Rush, and I choose not to listen to their music, but I know that they make a lot of (geeky) people happy, so more power to them. They should totally coincide the concert with a D and D convention. That would rule.

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