Tigers in a Spotlight
Even when I was a child in short pants, Mumsie always impressed upon me the importance of practicing a cheerful and impersonal version of noblesse oblige whenever dealing with the common man. The workers who fixed our fences and who took care of our horses (my beloved Buttermilk among them), rough men all with large and sinewy hands, were touched by the mistress's offerings of fresh water or some extra ginger snaps from a batch that Cook had burnt earlier. It is her example that has stood me in such good stead to this very day. It is with her eye toward charity that I peruse Fantastic Damage, the latest offering from rapper/producer/Definitive Jux label-head and ex-Company Flow frontman El Producto.
Alas, even Mumsie's kind eye would have to admit the inevitable: El-P's rhymes are as wack as a lumberjack swinging an ax made of wax from the ears of Tears for Fears after they drank all the beers and found Britney Spears in arrears for illiciting too many middle-aged leers and hipster sneers. On the other hand, instrumentally, he's good. Toyota commercial good. He's devilishly adept at creating what my colleagues like to deathlessly call "soundscapes." All foreboding beats that clank like the chains from a run-down carnival fun house, or else emit all manner of buzzing noises as if his vision owed more to faulty wiring in his Crooklyn hideout than any sense that a dystopian view of a Blade Runner universe wouldn't be complete without rain invading Hades' own infernal boom-bap machine.
Nowadays, unfortunately, there is only one response to a one-man drizzle maker with RZA-sharp claws and muddy floors: Big deal. Anyone can do that. Even me. Give me a Sony Professional, an old ceiling fan, a tin can, and a recording of James Joyce reading Finnegans Wake, and I'll make ya quake. Scare ya so bad your ass will be Farrah and your drawers will be Cheryl Ladd. If I threw a rock, a clock, an A.I. Reebok, or a polyurethane cock out my door I'd be sure to hit four avant-rap beat scientist bores or maybe more. And there's another thing: I take my rap uncut and unpunctuated by the punk-ass sci-fi prognostications and illuminations heightened by El-P's brain salad surgeryhis trepanning for old-school glory holes like a mole or a vole and dissing my Rolls cuz it's got fly rims, de-luxe trim, and a glove box filled with the British country-house novels of Barbara Pym. On top of that, I can't find one reference to cognac, brandy, or fine French bubbly anywhere on his new album. Does he even make rap records? It's more like rap-rock for rappers who don't like to rock. The whole mess stuttering and jitteryrefusing to swing. Like Skinny Puppy made a record and let their plumber sing.
The Future Is Now
There are no doubt mass quantities of Finlandian djorks who will tell you quite politely that Company Flow, El Producto, and half the Def Jux roster mean more to them than their 200-dollar vintage Puma Clydes and autographed David Axelrod sides. So why would I rather listen to The Future Is Now by the nonsensical fictional gangstas Non-Phixion, who light up their neck of Brooklyn like Pee Wee Reese kicking some Yankee keister, meester? Theyand their little brudda, the horror/sex/drug rap artiste Necro, whose "I Need Drugs" was the fookin' funniest shit you never heardare about as popular as a duck selling farts at a pie-eating contest, but they deserve more attention cuz they've got MF Doom and Beatnuts backing them up and the clarinet sample on "Black Helicopters" is divine and "The C.I.A. Is Trying to Kill Me" rocks bells (and it's true, cuz the C.I.A.'s trying to kill you too!), and their beats are legion and steep and the record oughta come with a Jeep. (It's deep. Like an X-rated schizophrenic reading of the Pentagon papers mixed with Katzenjammer capers.) El-P's sound tries to come across like some William Burroughs cutup of the B-boy's Bhagavad Gita but turns out more like Nabokov's Lolita holding down a slab of Velveeta so it can get fucked by Chester Cheetah. Non-Phixion, on the other hand, flunked lyrical science and just wanna get high in the bathroom.
Yo, kid, what about El's label Definitive Jux and his roster of all-stars like Y@k Ballz and Aesop Rock? Lemmetellya, the latest label comp DJXP2 has one good DJ Shadow Jr. instro onit (RJD2's "I Really Like Your Def Jux Baby Tee"), plus the best album track from Fantastic Damage, "Stepfather Factory" (the one and only song that sounds like it started with an idea instead of a sample and the prerequisite vomitory voluminousness). You see, what the pencil-necked geeks who run the pages and zines, and who found nirvana when Company Flow released Funcrusher (a more appropriate title you'll never find), won't tell you about all their fave back to basics heavenly break dancing cyborg dome-expanding experimental indie non-mersh hip-hop is this: The shit's boring! A real yawner. Burn or steal the new Soundbombing III comp from Rawkus and see how fast your third eye falls asleep. And that goes for The Roots, Common, and Mos Def too. Talib Kweli will make you snooze like you're drowning in booze wearing concrete shoes. On the Rawkus comp, during their guest spots, Missy Elliot and Zap Mama sound like they're waiting to get off the phone and go catch a movie or something. Let me say this once: Anybody who can make Missy Elliot and Zap Mama sound like a waste of time oughta be thinking of a future with the United States Postal Service.
I call it grad-school rap, cuz you need a Ph.D in bullshitology to grasp the phrenological implications and orgone accumulating dissertations. (There are exceptions. The new Blackalicious album, Blazing Arrow, is not only good for you but good to go. I hate most "positive" rap cuz I'm a rotter and a realist. Plus, I don't like having to eat my Black Eyed Peas before I get dessert. I always thought that Arrested Development were feds with dreads sent to destroy hip-hop from within. If the gov't could make rap boring enough it would set the stage for safe, bland crap that wouldn't make people think too hard. Maybe even a swing revival! The left coasters have better pot though, so their indie approach not only rocks harder but is shot through with hippy psych elements that make their sounds truer to the astral-punk-power-to-the-people-fuck-you! lifestyle I've been living ever since I started doing Vicodin pills with Beverly Sills. From Dre to the Piklz to Styles of Beyond to Divine Styler to Blackalicious, Cali makes mucho grande head music that'll stomp yur buzz with bront-y-saur beats. Listen to the beat on "Passion" from Blazing Arrow and tell me it needs to be dunked in scuzz and covered in fuzz. That shit's as tight as Betty White getting a love bite on the tit from Katarina Witt. That beat just is! Naked and unashamed. Plus, how many people can get me to buy an album that actually sez, "Featuring Ben Harper," on the back? And not only buy it, but like the song with Ben Harper on it!)
All El-P et al. offer are dirty bombs, and I wanna go nuclear. If I'm riding around town, I don't want people scratching their heads and running home for their thesaurus. I want them to think I'm cooler than Mort Sahl and Thor Heyerdahl hanging out in Nepal with The Fall and Lucille Ball in the midst of a summer squall. Fuck the hardcore bookworms. They got mad syllables, and in El-P's case, some righteous sound-lab expertiseCompany Flow's all instrumental. Little Jimmy From the Hospitul is probably the greatest slab he's released. All Shadow-esque fantasy film-score freakouts with chill and cool to burn. But if you're like me, you want a beat that'll move feet like an exhibition of Napoleon's pecker on the isle of Crete.
Blackalicious play S.O.B.'s July 10.
Scott Seward can be berated at Skotrok@earthlink.net.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.