Je T’Aime . . . Moi Non Plus

In an old Radio On fanzine my friend Scott Woods put this diptych in his Top 100 favorite songs of all time:

54. "I Love Rock 'N' Roll," Joan Jett & the Blackhearts (1982) Me too!

55. "I Don't Like Rock 'N' Roll," Schoolly D (1986) Me either!

Joan Jett said love is pain, but Hardknox disagree.
photo: Dean Belcher
Joan Jett said love is pain, but Hardknox disagree.

Scott recently elaborated:"The Schoolly song, by the way, is the one where he tells all the 'long-haired faggots' to 'kiss my ass,' but that comes right after he—the way I hear it anyway—says that 'microphone living is a thing of the past,' so who knows whohe's dissing—or, rather, who he's not dissing. MCs, glam rockers, they're all evil critters far as he's concerned, I suppose."

Two years after "I Don't Like Rock 'N' Roll," Schoolly recorded "No More Rock 'N' Roll," in case we didn't believe him the first time; and in fact I don't believe him, not just because he in all seriousness on the same LP rapped to Led Zep's "Kashmir" for about five minutes, but also because the attack of his voice seems so rock, and it's no coincidence that rock critics flocked to the guy. He isn't hip-hop's "original gangster," though, as the press release for the new Hardknox album claims; he just is (or was) one of the world's oldest permanent 12-year-olds.

Anyway, "Come in Hard (I Don't Like Rock & Roll)," my favorite track on the Hardknox LP (which I'll describe as "electronic dance" simply because I don't know what to call any of this British dance stuff), samples and reorders the vocals from the Schoolly D song, plays with the speed and pitch, and really rocks hard. I'll emphasize this again. It really really really rocks hard. One of the six or seven hardest rockers I've ever heard in my life.

Just as disco in the '70s took over some of the function of rock 'n' roll—to rock you and roll you, basically, and to be an all-inclusive everything-can-go-onto-this-beat genre—some "techno" has taken over the role of hard rock. Or, not exactly taken over, since there still is hard guitar rock out there on the hard-rock stations, not to mention hard industrial rock and hard techno rock and hard rap rock; but anyway, there's a neighborhood within techno where the music is expected to be hard both in sound and in difficulty and to be pushy and progressive.

But I do find this intriguing: Hardknox is an electronic dance band, in a genre ultimately derived from disco, that uses hip-hop to rock hard. The hip-hop vocals become hard-rock vocals; this is helped by the sound and texture of the sampled raps—another track samples AMG's "Bitch Betta Have My Money"—which were already hard in the delivery even before being put in a hard-rocking context.

Now, however irritating and misleading one finds genre labels—they scrunch together what shouldn't be scrunched, they separate what shouldn't be separated—they're not meaningless, at least not in this instance. British electronic dance differs from hip-hop—in rhythms, textures, cultural landscape, socio-emotional feeling. The two genres are from different lands, figuratively as well as literally. So in playing with Schoolly's vocals Hardknox also seems to filter them and make them almost indecipherable, thereby filtering out a lot of Schoolly's social specificity, his brand of sneakers and so forth. "Long-haired faggots" get deleted altogether. And the Hardknox track uses beats that are much straighter than Schoolly D's gay beats . . . I mean, than Schoolly D's funky beats. (Since Hardknox's beats go back to disco, maybe their straighter beats are the gayer beats.)

The musicological distinction I'm making here is that funk and hip-hop cluster their beats while disco tends to spread them more evenly; funk and hip-hop make all the musical elements—vocals, instruments, percussion—part of the basic rhythm, with musical lines countering each other rather than backing one another up and with less of a distinction between foreground and background; disco tends to build up from the bottom, with a vocal on top of a rhythm. Funk and hip-hop are a conversation between musical elements, disco is a construction of them.

Except, of course, what I've just written is way too crude, and not just for obvious reasons like hip-hop DJs sometimes using the percussion breaks from disco records, or disco's beat being funkier than its reputation (the one-two-three-four isn't the only beat going on in a disco song). More basically, my description of funk really only fits the music that James Brown invented in 1965; since then the ongoing formal problem in r&b and hip-hop is how to put things—melody, songs, raps—back on top of the music without compromising the funk. Whereas in disco and subsequent club musics the background is often pushing its way up to the top—via long percussion breaks and extended "background" atmospherics: strings, synth washes.

[Insert unwritten 25-page article about why techno and drum 'n' bass, the latter of which is highly influenced by the rhythms and textures of hip-hop and reggae, still seem to occupy different psychological spaces from those of hip-hop/r&b, and why club music and r&b seem more divergent now than ever. Talk to people who actually go out at night to see if this is true. Figure out what I mean by "psychological space." Claim that it doesn't really work to define genres musicologically. Hem and haw and write sentences like, "Of course, there are vast differences within hip-hop." Don't elaborate on them.]

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