It was Prince Paul’s party at Tramps last Tuesday, though you might not have guessed. Aside from a brief, winningly loopy speech before he snuck behind the decks for the 10-year reunion of his group Stetsasonic and a little freestyle party curtailed by a 2 a.m. curfew, hip-hop’s weirdest great producer evaded the spotlight. Instead, his bill evoked the era that his dizzying rap opera A Prince Among Thieves recalls: a time at the turn of the decade when everyone was working out just how far they could push the music’s form and content. There were interminable waits between three-song sets and some not-quite-there newcomers (personal to Non Phixion: rhyming “Reagan,” “Menachem Begin” and “Carl Sagan” is a hoot once, not 15 times), and though the announcement that Paul’s old associates De La Soul were in the house raised a roar, they never made it to the stage. Still, the show got over on a what-we-gonna-do-right-here-is-go-back vibe that felt less like nostalgia than a mighty sense of history— Special Ed was clearly jazzed that the crowd remembered all 17 words he rhymed with the title of “I Got It Made” 10 years ago.
In fact, they acted like it was a Big Daddy Kane gig. The Kane dutifully recited his track from A Prince, and brought Kool Herc up on stage to— well, to stand there and be Kool Herc, basically. But everyone went batshit for the old shit— “Set It Off”! “Raw”! Even Stetsa, with the advantage of a live rhythm section and miles of goodwill, couldn’t match Kane’s charisma, and rapidly succumbed to the “everybody say ho-o” disease. Paul’s wickedly sharp on the cut, but these days he’s less about moving the crowd than creeping around in individual listeners’ minds. Today’s classic is yesterday’s experiment, and he’s best when he’s getting ahead of himself. — Douglas Wolk
For every old-skool/new-skool dialectic made material in the Prince Paul/Stetsasonic face-off at Tramps last Tuesday, Andrea Parker’s concurrent DJ set at S.O.B.’s offered a designer simulacrum. Parker, who spun on a stage surrounded by video projections and giant posters of herself (don’t blame the DJ; hang the bloody promoter), is the Nico of turntablism: a pale ice blonde who stands stock still, dreamily cueing in backward spirals, with no expressiveness of face or flamboyance of technique breaking the trance. Other DJs may deliver no-sweat segues while holding a burning cigarette and a tonearm in the same two fingers, but few look so detached, and so damned cool (in both senses of the word), while doing it.
But Parker’s frosty demeanor is deceiving. Her recording projects hip-wade into warm, liquid techno-jouissance (seek out her latest Kiss My Arp, whenever Mo’ Wax records are once again available outside Japan), and her DJ sessions often overflow with as much hot, sweaty hip-hop and electro as a Greek-week kegger. Tuesday’s set warmed up with familiar joints from Public Enemy, NWA, and fellow Mo’ Waxer Dr. Octagon. (Who says a tekhead can’t play rap? And why reinvent the wheel of steel when you can roll with the momentum of twentysomething years of 12-inch history?) By the time Parker slipped in the first deep-breathing dubplate, the crowd was well pleased. For the rest of the night, genteel Mo’ Wax atmospherics got bumrushed by crash courses in Early Roland, 101 to 909. C.O.D.’s “In the Bottle,” a slab of finely aged electrocheese that Parker also selected for her DJ Kicks outing, landed in the mix, as did at least two versions of “Planet Rock” (already shaping up as an early favorite to supplant “1999” as the world’s chosen Y2K countdown jam, and yes, “Trans Europe Express” now counts as a version of “Planet Rock”).
Asking what percentage of the sounds bore Parker’s physical fingerprints is as irrelevant as asking whether she’s a real blonde— with the trend toward infinite-regress remixes and DJ-boutique label recrafts, selection trumps skillz. Sure, Parker’s version of Liquid Liquid’s “Cavern” came out of the sleeve fully loaded with “whop”s lifted from Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals,” but who says a DJ can’t play records? — Sally Jacob
“No way in hell” is the response you’re likely to get if you ask a musician about the chances of unionizing bands. Yet that was the topic at last Saturday’s panel sponsored by the Brecht Forum and the Noise Action Coalition (NAC), a loose organization founded four years ago by guitarist Marc Ribot and percussionist Jim Pugliese to protest the eroding pay and working conditions at area clubs and festivals.
One year ago, armed with a petition signed by the likes of Ribot, John Zorn, and Vernon Reid, NAC negotiated a contract with the Knitting Factory/Texaco (now Bell Atlantic) New York Jazz Festival that doubled the minimum pay for musicians in ensembles of six or less to $100 per person. Pursuant to further negotiations this year, that minimum is likely to double. NAC has also been involved in actions against the CMJ Music Festival and Arlene Grocery, venues that refuse to pay performers at all, claiming possible exposure to record-label scouts is remuneration enough.
Panelist Stanley Aronowitz of City College put the crappy deal musicians face in the context of a globalized economy and the shift from major label to indie music production, while Ribot noted the precipitous decline of gigs paying union scale over the last 15 years. The Voice‘s Greg Tate pointed to the Black Rock Coalition of the early ’80s as a model for political activism, while musicians Lianne Smith and Jane Scarpantoni outlined the loss of self-esteem musicians feel at the hands of club owners. David Sheldon of Local 202, American Federation of Musicians, admitted that the traditional union model had little relevance to the Downtown scene, exhorting participants to develop their own strategies. Comments by audience members ranged from the crackpot— lower the drinking age to 15— to a debate-ending observation by NAC supporter Neill Furio: “Without a musician’s bill of rights, we’re all slaves.” You can contact NAC at 212-592-3677. — Robert Sietsema