Mellow Man Ace - “Rhyme Fighter” (Capitol, 1989)
“That was a style that Rammellzee had used first. [aka the ‘Gangsta Duck’ style] His style was more effect-driven, while I just held my nose and went “Yo MCs!” But I’d taken the idea of changing my voice from Rammellzee. He’s still underrated, he was the personal rapper for Rock Steady Crew back in the day. [rhymes “Beat Bop” pretty much in its entirety] But that’s where I derived that style that later Muggs had B-Real ask me if B could use, and that’s what turned into the style that B-Real made famous in Cypress Hill. We used to study Cold Crush Brothers, Sugarhill Gang, Funky Four Plus One, and they were structured. But Rammellzee, it was like one long rap! That’s where we got that womp-womp-womp for “River Cubano” and where Muggs got that “Cy-cypress hill…” from the record, it was all Rammellzee, that’s how much of an impact his work had on us.” - Mellow Man Ace
Important bit of hip hop history. Rammellzee was amazing and his influence far-reaching.
Kurt Cobain’s list of his Top 50 albums
I see you, MDC.
“Top 50 By Nirvana,” to be exact. Somebody should’ve made a People’s List with this.
So the two albums on this list by Black artists are Bad Brains’ “Rock the Light” and Public Enemy’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions…”
Considering the newest releases I can find on this list were made in 1989, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Kurt Cobain invented the rock music cliche: “I’m not racist, I
have black friends like Bad Brains and Public Enemy!”
I remember watching this on TV and I Laughed when I saw it because it’s Very Funny! Barney tries to be somebody else and tries to trick Fred and Fred always gets Barney back when Fred chases Barney. In this video Barney is Very Funny and he got caugt from Fred when Fred heard Barney say ” Trick Fred in the Rap music” so Fred chases Barney to get the cereal back! I’m gald that it’s on YT so that we can all enjoy this 24/7!!!
This is a track that I’m willing to bet (and Google is willing to corroborate) hasn’t gotten much love. It’s an odd duck: it’s sort of a remix of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Electric Relaxation”, with other elements from Midnight Marauders thrown in, including the robotic-sounding lady who Wikipedia tells me is actually Laura Dern. In addition to the Tribe samples, there’s a prominent piano loop cobbled together from a Chick Corea track, and some Stan Getz as well as Deee-Lite (!).
The track is called “Midnight” by Necros, AKA Andrew Sega, a legendary figure in the demoscene. According to the metadata in the file, it was “finished on august 12, 1994,” approximately 9 months after Midnight Marauders dropped. This song is not one of his better remembered tracks; I’m willing to guess it’s because he’s an electronic music guy and not a hip hop guy. His audience, if I remember the mid-90s correctly, consisted almost entirely of the whitest kids in the universe, an audience much more likely to dig his electronic music than any forays into hip hop. (Check out “Martian Lovesong”, an example of his better known work from that era.)
Because this is demoscene/tracker music, the song was originally distributed as a Scream Tracker module file (S3M). You can grab the original right here and it’ll play in VLC, though I recommend something like Schism Tracker if you want to see it in all its oldskool glory. A module file is not like an mp3; it’s more like a MIDI file: you load in samples and then instruct the computer to play them back in realtime at different pitches and in a particular sequence. What this means is that the module file contains both the song itself and every individual component of the song including its composition.
I loved this track more than anything else I’d ever heard Necros do, partly because I discovered it in 1998, right around the time I was starting to get into hip hop in a big way. I distinctly remember listening digging into the module file and looking at the individual samples, which he’d kindly labeled. And I found that core loop from “Electric Relaxation”, Q-Tip going, “relax yourself girl, please set-tle down.” I wanted to listen to it on loop all day. (I probably even did so at the time.) This led me to listen to my first A Tribe Called Quest tracks, beginning a love affair with their sound that continues to this day.
It was also a personal revelation to me: I’d been using Impulse Tracker to make music for about 6 months at that point, and I’d only ever seen people make house/acid/trance/etc music with it. The fact that this thing was capable of hip hop was incredible news, and I immediately set to making shitty hip hop for the next, oh, three years or so. Point being: I owe a lot of good times to this song.
Mikey D is a rapper that most people don’t remember, but I like his style a lot. If people do know him, it’s because he replaced Large Professor in Main Source around 1993 or 1994, so they remember him as mediocre compared to Large Pro.
One thing you’ll notice listening to Mikey D is that yes, he does sound like LL Cool J. He even has the same rap persona as LL, at least on tracks like “My Telephone” where he can’t remember how many girlfriends he has or whatever. However, I like him better than LL because… well, I’m not sure he’s a better rapper, but there’s something more pure about him, at least in his mid-80s tracks. By “pure” I guess I mean I like how old school the production is, and to me, Mikey D has a flow that is exactly of its time: not out of date, but not forward-looking either. Well, except for the last verse on this one. Which I’ll get to.
This cut, “Bust a Rhyme Mike” (1987), is thematically straightforward: he’s bragging about his rap prowess. He actually addresses the LL thing at 2:37: “I can live without a radio, Cool J take a hike / The only thing I can’t live without [pause] is my mic”.
One thing I love about this song is the production. It’s absolutely 1987 in sound, exactly one year before albums like Critical Beatdown really kicked off the golden age of sampling. I have a soft spot for ‘87-‘88 hip hop, as I was obsessed with hip hop radio at that time. I was five years old in 1988 (!!) and I would sneak a listen every night to some hip hop show on my little radio in bed when I was supposed to be asleep. So old school boom-bap with cheesy synthesizers and turntables is etched into the fabric of my very being.
Anyway, take a listen to a representative verse. Don’t pay attention to the rapping for now, just listen to the production. You’ve got the drum machine going in the background and basically nothing else. There’s a (synthesized?) orchestral hit on the 1’s every four lines, and a syncopated, stacatto “oh-ohhh” sample thrown in to mix things up, but that’s pretty much it. Now listen closer to the beat: it’s just a kick and a snare! No hats, no toms, no synth cowbells, no 808 claps, nothing. This is literal boom-bap we’ve got here. There’s also no bass. As much as I love a good bass line, I have a soft spot for hip hop that has the bravado to let the kick drum supply the entire low-end.
There’s also the breakdown at 2:12. First off, I love that the breakdown gets announced by Mikey D himself. Reminds me of The Wire snarling “chorus!” right before the first chorus in “Map Ref 41N 93W”. Or Q-Tip yelling “Bridge!” before the bridge in “Ham N’ Eggs”. That kind of stuff makes me smile. And the breakdown itself… the first half is a short drum machine solo, with lots of reverse snares. (Side note: I wish more rappers would rap over reverse beats, like the Beastie Boys in “Paul Revere” or The Pharcyde in “Drop”.) The second half does one of my favorite cheesy 80s hip hop things: instead of having an actual DJ do a scratch solo, they take a sample of a DJ doing a single baby scratch and then transpose the sample a bunch with a keyboard. It’s even cheesier than a synth horn solo. And I love it anyway.
The last thing I want to talk about in this song is the final verse, which is where Mikey D really shines on the mic. The whole song up to that point is standard flow, hitting his rhymes straight on the 4’s, with verbal emphasis on the most of the 2’s and all of the 4’s:
“Like using (1)gas to ex(2)TINguish a (3)raging (4)FIRE /
(1)started from the (2)spark of an e(3)lectrical (4)WIRE”
Only in the last verse does he change up his flow, and oh man does he change up his flow. (Listen to the last verse in its entirety before reading ahead.)
First of all, the verse starts unusually, referring to himself as “medium in size” — not something you hear a lot on a rap record, which destabilizes the listener a little bit.
“(1)MEDium in (2)size with (3)hazel (4)eyes / When I’m
(1)heard on the (2)mic rap(3)PERS I im(4)MOBilize”
He starts putting huge emphasis on the 1’s, and then not hitting the second half of the rhyme on the 4, but rather slightly after the 4. The production emphasizes this shift, with the final “MOB” having reverb on it — which I don’t think occurs at all anywhere earlier on the song.
I’ve annotated the next few lines here. Notice all the pauses, notice all the pauses right on the 1’s and 2’s (normally rappers pause between the counts), and notice how absolutely none of the rhymes occur on the 4’s. It’s almost entirely internal rhyme, in fact, sounding very modern in a lot of ways.
“(1)[pause] With a (2)deva-[pause]-(3)stating un(4)leash of
(1)skills [pause] that (2)won’t de(3)crease, but (4)INcrease /
(1) [pause] to the (2) highest height (3) of ele(4)vation /
(1)here’s a (2)demon(3)stration of (4)RAP /
(1)known as a (2)rhyme death (3)trap / [pause] (4)not e-
(1)QUIValent (2)[pause] to a (3)regular rhyme(4) /
be(1)cause this (2)style is mine (3) and you (4)will not find /
(1)[pause] another (2)rapper [pause] (3)who can (4)handle
(1)Mikey D’s (2)hip hop (3)mind” [etc, etc]
Look at that! You can barely follow the annotation since his flow’s all over the place, but it sounds great on record.
I also just love it when rappers change up their flow and rap about how they’re changing up their flow while they’re doing it (“a devastating unleash of skills … not equivalent to a regular rhyme”).
So yeah. Hopefully I made a good case for this track being a small gem.
Great essay about Lil B the BasedGod.
Thank u based god.
This is my text; I sent it to Jess Monday night. Now that its containing Tumblr post has blown up I’d like to expand a little on what I said.
I’m old for a Lil B fan. That sucks to write and it’s the first time I’ve had to about an artist, but I turn 30 this month and I saw full well how emptied-out the 21+ section at the show was; I’m under no misgivings about B’s demographic. The context this gives me, though, is seventeen full years of concerts and hundreds of artists who I’ve seen perform on stage for a willing crowd. I’m blessed enough to have started early by catching the first Foo Fighters tour and I’m proud of myself for forcing myself to catch B’s first-ever Boston show instead of succumbing to the comfort of my house, stove, XBox and cat. (If this sounds lame as fuck to you, you aren’t wrong, but you’ll sympathize with it much more the first time you work a 60-hour week or get a vacation request denied.)
As a result, I’ve seen plenty of shows where performers and I shared the same progressive beliefs. On top of having huge Ani DiFranco and Tori Amos phases in high school I also frequented an an all-ages non-profit venue almost too perfect to be real, so I was no stranger to stage-to-crowd (or crowd-to-stage) proselytizing about social justice, sexual equality, or grassroots activism. That all this could come to a kid who grew up in the middle of a pine forest in the middle of nowhere is something I am grateful for constantly. Constantly.
I’ve also loved rap music for nearly two-thirds of my life (thanks to Jam’n 94.5’s unimaginably powerful broadcast antenna), and a large part of that deep and true love has involved navigating the shoals of how I regard human beings versus how the narrators of some of those songs talk about regarding human beings. (I’m sure I don’t need to go into how my feelings about feminism differ from those of, say, the narrator in a Too $hort song.) Sometimes my interaction with rap needs involve the separation of the spirit of a song from its letter, or the willful separation of a text from its extratextual content, or what have you. It is certainly not the only genre with which I need do this, but I do it a lot.
I don’t think it’s an artist’s job to educate his or her audience, even if the art is problematic. The exegetic nature of lyrics are integral to the power of lyrical music, and the hermeneutics of determining authorial intent are made more thrilling by how intimate an art form music is. (Smog’s “I Break Horses” is a great example of both.) I wouldn’t trade that for anything, no matter how many OFWGKTAs and Varg Vikerneses this life grants me (and how many arguments I have about them). I love that “You Oughta Know” is about Dave Coulier, but I loved “You Oughta Know” itself more when it was about a someone. And since artists themselves are naturally recalcitrant to make bare what they’ve already put forward in a song, even (and perhaps especially) when that song isn’t about much in particular, I have been long since accustomed to the fact that when I am spoken to, rather than sung to, from a stage, it’ll be not to have something revealed, but to have something underlined.
Like most Lil B songs, “Violate that Bitch” gets more interesting the more you pay attention to it, but on the surface it’s a fun song with a cool beat and a hook about mouth-fucking someone else’s girlfriend. The consensuality of this act is not mentioned. He says a bunch of other shit in the song too — that his nuts look like raisins, that he looks like a lesbian, that (if you’re reading the same lyrics site I am) he’s going to give your girlfriend “an iPad dick” — but I think it’s fair to say that the force of a chorus will always overpower the nuance of a verse. So to see B stop rapping that song outright—not even picking it back up afterwards, which stunned me—in order to clarify what he’d only briefly and clumsily hinted at in its Youtube video’s description field; that it was a song about physical and ferocious but necessarily consensual intercourse; that, further, it dealt with a complicated and hard-to-elucidate facet of human sexuality, rather than promoted a brute-forcing through that complication; that we should put our drinks down and actually flip off sexual offenders, which really does sound silly on paper but, when taken in context as part of the mélange of performative acts asked of the audience at a good show, felt meaningful; I can’t tell you how it was to be there. No other performer has ever asked me to trust them like that, and I have seen no other performer assume that their audience would readily accept that challenge.
“Vans,” on the other hand, is a terrific song about sneakers.
Chemists get confused at my ill composition
I’ve decided to start a tumblr (a tumblelog? does anyone say that anymore?) about music. I’m doing this for three reasons:
- To learn what this Tumblr thing is that the kids are talking about.
- To provide an outlet for my writing about music (my blog is strictly about videogames and is not the place for this stuff).
- To rekindle my passion for music. Lately I’ve felt a lot like this guy.
With that, I’m reposting an essay I wrote in June of 2008 about the song “Clap Your Hands” by A Tribe Called Quest.
Okay, to start with, “Clap Your Hands” was never one of my canonical favorite songs by A Tribe Called Quest, but in the last year I’ve realized this has pretty much everything going for it that a hip hop song can have (and more specifically, speaks to Tribe’s strengths).
Consider the song’s opening. There was a book written back in the late ’90s that I can’t track down through Google at the moment, but basically it talked about how hip hop is about rhythm combined with rupture. That is, you’ve got the beat, but it isn’t hip hop until you flip people’s expectations. The opening of this song does just that. Give it a listen. You hear the beat repeated 4 times, with “clap your hands now” sampled over it 3 times. But the fourth time Ali Shaheed Muhammed, their DJ, adds in a slight hesitation and you get “clap your hands n- now” and it just kills me every time I hear it. Right there, that little “n- now,” that’s what hip hop is all about to me.
And then of course the opening verse has Phife Dawg rapping. He’s certainly the less popular of the group’s two rappers, with Q-Tip getting a lot more respect, but I like Phife. His lyrics rarely make any sense, but they’re always fun. In this verse we have the classic boast: “Cock is longer than a hat worn by Dr. Suess.” Okay, so Dr. Suess didn’t wear any crazy hats, but we all know what he’s talking about and we all have… um, an image left in our heads.
Then we have the chorus. If you listen you’ll hear a few elements. The driving beat that’s just kick, snare, hi-hat. The scratching of “clap your hands.” Then you’ve got what I’m pretty sure is a Fender Rhodes electric piano. And finally the horn playing counterpart to the rhythm. You know what isn’t there? Bass. And it’s okay. The bass drum is more than enough. But it’s that horn counterpart, it’s like it’s dancing with the damn beat, back and forth. It’s magical.
Finally we can listen to this clip which has my favorite bit of the song in it. First, the obvious: we have a prime example of Q-Tip’s rhyming. It starts out with him doing the typical rhyming on the twos and fours: “(1)Please don’t do the (2)mute when you (3)hear me on the (4)juke”. But then he masterfully switches it up next line: “(1)Brothas know my (2)angle, it’s the (3)Star-Spangled (4)[pause] Black (1)Banner.” And then for the next few lines he’s rhyming on just the ones! Not only does he move his rhymes out of phase from 2-4 to 1-3, but he draws out the verse to half the rhymes per line just as the background Rhodes piano cuts out and the vibes come in! The crazy part is that the switch happens just as he’s doing a cognitive switch: the Star Spangled… Black Banner. He’s swapping in black power references here. And the whole song (and thus frankly my entire goddamn world when I’m listening) pivots about this musical and lyrical switch.
And then we get a little subtle thing I love—the transition back into the regular 2’s and 4’s is done by both dropping the beat on “do it” and then the Rhodes piano coming back in right after just a bit overdriven, with a heavy attack, before being mellowed out again. It’s just perfect. Shaheed is a fucking genius. And of course we transition into another perfect rhyme: “You know I’m gonna do it / My shit is rock solid but it flows like fluid / Chemists get confused at my ill composition / This is the third of the new Tribe edition.” And of course since we’re still out of phase he provides the -ition rhyme five whole times to complete the transition and then we’re back in our comfort zone. Confused at his ill composition indeed.