Billboard trumpets MP3 and streaming audio feeds, but I’m high on DAT. Specifically, “Who Dat” by JT Money and “I’ll Bee Dat!” by Redman. Perfecting the DAT technology pioneered by proto-rap superheroes the Pipkins in their 1970 smash “Gimme Dat Ding” (they were a mysterious bunch: What if they never got dat ding? And what would they do with dat ding once they got it?), JT Money (no relation to Eddie), who by his own admission is the pimpingest pimp who ever pimped, takes a cue from his predecessors in rhyme, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, by incorporating ancient traditions with the new to create a poetic voice for the future. “Who Dat”‘s hypnotic use of tribal call-and-response is as old as Africa itself, and the “who dat” mantra has already been embraced by the fine dancehalls of Kingston. Even lyrically the song reinforces the idea of tribe, as JT tries to keep his crew free of triflers and knuckleheads. Rap has to be the only art form today that can call on voices so ancient and distant, yet remain the most modern sound on earth.
Redman’s “I’ll Bee Dat!” single, my second fave of the year after JT’s, has the same undercurrent of dread as “Who Dat”…not to mention an undercurrent of dreads, thanks to a Beenie Man sample. (FYI to all you soccer moms: Beenie Man sells limited edition Beenie Man Beenie Babies at all his shows!) As with a lot of rappers, Redman’s genius is his confusion—that classic identity crisis (who is he? Redman, Doc, Reggie, the fool, the player?) best illustrated in Invisible Man by rockin’ Ralph Ellison (whose story “Cadillac Flambe” serves as the spiritual and psychic template for all hip-hop). Redman’s all dat, he ain’t shit, he’s a cartoon, he’s a man. In his own way, he asks the two questions that black people and artists in America have always asked themselves: “Who am I?” and “Where do I stand?”