Of Thangs Past

"My beef is, okay, you got De La Soul, Jungle Broth­ers, A Tribe Called Quest, and that whole new Afrocentric, boho hiphop posse and they're progres­sive, but the muhfuhkuhs put on the weakest shows in God's creation."


The Coolidge High Five (class of ’75) — Bayray, Romeo, Kidd Funkadelic, Tetragrammaton, and Homeboy — were cozied up around the back table at their fav­orite Japanese deli, winnowing down vessels of sake and brews­kis, and winding down the debate of the day. They’d spent this re­union haggling over future rela­tions with the hiphop nation. For these aging voyeurs of the move­ment their connection had been thrown into crisis by a recent and desultory gig at the Ritz featuring 3rd Bass, Jungle Brothers, and A Tribe Called Quest.

All the fellas had agreed on one point from the jump. Hadn’t no­body been looking for a second childhood, but when hiphop came along they had no choice but to get down with the program, same as their contemporaries, those equally long-in-the-tooth and ata­vistic elocutionists from the Pub­lic Enemy posse.

“Yeah I regressed,” confessed Bayray. “Regressed like a muh­fuhkuh who had neither a law de­gree nor proper home training. And was ready to fight anybody tried to tell me grow up, stop grabbing my dick in public and yelling ‘Yo, yo, yo, wotup Bee?’ All the hos in the house say, ‘La­dies.’ Excuse me, I mean all the ladies in the house say, ‘Ho.’ ”

Kidd Funkadelic went for his. “It was like this for me, man: when the US Funk Mob folded, shut down, went bankrupt, got lawsuited tighter than an outta­-mating-season mandrill’s ass, what choice did funkateers like us have but to hip, to hop, to up and jump on the boogie of the bang­bang boogie to be? If it wasn’t for hiphop, all the brothers that didn’t sound like Michael now would be sounding like Lionel Ri­chie. Or worse.”

Romeo took his cue. “Freddie Jackson. Fat Luther.”

“Yo man, why you got to dog Fat Luther out? If Fat Luther ain’t dope then the Mona Lisa was a man. You know he got soul.”

“Right. Courtesy of Kenneth Cole. But what does the big boy know about gittin’ busy?”

“Word, brother,” came the af­firmation from the Darth Vader-­pitched pipes of Tetragrammaton. “Yet do I detect a certain disen­chantment with hiphop as heir ap­parent to the funk?”

“From my perspective,” ranted Kidd Funkadelic, “I’m seeing Black rock on the comeback trail, and you know that’s more me than hiphop. So I’m kinda like, ‘Fuck hiphop.’ It served its pur­pose in my life and I’m outta here.”

This last statement struck Homeboy like a paper cut on the chin. “Damn if you ain’t about a mercenary muhfuhkuh. I mean hiphop is Black rock too. I still hear more freedom and rebellion, not to mention raw funk, coming straight outta Compton and Long Island than outta Living Colour. Even if Living Colour is more threatening to white boy hegemony by virtue of (a) de-ghettoizing the whole concept of black music, and (b) housin’ that travesty, the Elvis Awards! My beef is, okay, you got De La Soul, Jungle Broth­ers, A Tribe Called Quest, and that whole new Afrocentric, boho hiphop posse and they’re progres­sive, but the muhfuhkuhs put on the weakest shows in God’s creation.”

“Yeeeah,” slid in Romeo, “like that wack overpacked-ass show at the Ritz last month where you had some main ingredients like the JBs, the Tribe-sters, and 3rd Bass. Every one of them said, Throw your hands in the air and wave ’em like you just don’t care.’ That line is older than they are. The new school needs some new lines. And some lessons in show­manship. They got to understand when they step out on that stage they ain’t stepping into the spot­light, they’re stepping into that long shadow cast by the likes of Bessie Smith and James Brown. Because right now it’s all the pimp mentality muhfuhkuhs who put on the most slammacious shows in hiphop, like Big Daddy Kane. If Monie Love hadn’t housed the gig sitting in with the Jungle Brothers, I would have left mad instead of just depressed. Monie Love is gonna be a cold craaazy star! She’s my hero, my idol, nu­mero uno. She’s not a Puerto Ri­can, but for free I’d chauffeur her limo.”

“I hear these wild-assed West Coast boys Digital Underground throw down live,” offered Kidd Funkadelic. “Their videos are wicked. That album on Tommy Boy, Sex Packets, is a motor-boo­ty affair and a half. It’s like a hiphop follow-up to Parliament’s Trombipulation, right down to that elephantine nose Shock G be wearing. The ‘Humpty Dance?’ That mug drops bass on me like I thought only Bernie Worrell could. And yo, check ‘The Way We Swing,’ how they not only sample Jimi’s riff from ‘Who Knows’ offa Band of Gypsies, but they scratch it up. So bold I for­give the blasphemy.”

Homeboy kicked it. “Yeah, them Digital boys are total fools. Remind me of my glory days as a fiendish Q-Dog frat brother. But now that I’m older, wiser, and damn near senile, I don’t know if I can be down. All they be rapping about is rapping, partying, and fiending for that fantasy drug they’re hyping, Sex Packets. I can relate to them trying to sell people on the pleasure principle over crack — very Clintonesque, right? And OK, they’re knee-deep into funk. I mean ‘The Humpty Dance’ does get your ass wriggling like the Blob was busting down a slob on you in the backseat of a bubble-tire jeep. But I want to know their position on class-as opposed to ass-struggle. They’re not N.W.A., ‘life ain’t nothing but bitches and money,’ but life ain’t nothing but a bowl of orgies nei­ther. Great food jokes, however. ‘I’m spunky, I like my oatmeal lumpy … I get ridiculous. I’ll eat up all your crackers and your lico­rice. Yo Jal girl, come here. Are you ticklish? … I’m a freak. I like the girls with lhe boom. I once g01 busy in a Burger King bathroom.’

“Well, yo, even though I didn’t care for A Tribe Called Quest live, their Jive/RCA album People’s ln­stinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm is upliftingly dope. It’s so sweet and lyrical, so user-friendly. You could play it in the back­ground when you’re reading Proust. Their sound is so mind­-caressingly mellow, like old Jazz Crusaders with those motivatingly melodic bass lines and chestnut-­roasting Fender Rhodes chords. And they rhyme on some truly sui generis themes, like veganism and treating your woman right. Like their song ‘Description of a Fool’ basically busts this muhfuhkuh out for beating on his squeeze. Who ever did that on a hiphop record before? And this other jammie, ‘Luck of Lucien’ is a tes­tament to friendship, especially as far as its being a means for mugs to keep each other on the straight and narrow. It’s about how the Tribe adopted this sorta ignorant lumpen proletariat immigrant muhfuhkuh over from France to keep his ass from falling in with the wrong crowd. ‘Ham ‘N’ Eggs’ is the one about being vegetarians and shit. ‘A tisket a tasket, what’s in mommy’s basket.’ Some veggie links and some fish that stinks.’

“How you feel about ‘I Left My Wallet in El Segundo?'” chimed Kidd Funkadelic. “It reminds me of some classic Frank Zappa, like moving to Montana soon, gonna be a mental toss fly-coon. What I can’t figure out, though, is why my man Q-Tip, ostensible leader of the Tribe, left his wallet behind in the first place. Now that was some nonsense. Like Dr. Seuss.”

“So what’s the consensus y’all? Are these new-blacks the answer? Is hiphop as we knew it on the way out, or what?”

Before anybody could answer. Tetragrammaton went for his, quoting very, very loosely from his latest reading, Egyptian Mys­teries, New Light on Ancient Knowledge, by Lucie Lamy (Thames & Hudson, 1981).

“Brothers listen: there is no doubt that we are dealing here with the incarnation — the becom­ing flesh — of the divine principle of light. This principle travels in a skiff in which rides Khephri, the scarab beetle, the future rising sun, framed by two Osirises sym­bolizing cyclic rebirths. The scar­ab Khephri is the preeminent symbol of the Dwat, the world of metamorphoses. He is found again where the divine entities must make darkness descend — as conducive to the germination of grains as it is to the development of the scarab’s egg enveloped in its dungball.

“In this time we must remem­ber that there can be no metamor­phoses without the destruction of the old form. The male with the voice of thunder reminds us that on one level the theme of the Egyptian Mysteries is the regener­ation of the sun. This is also the time in which we are told to ex­pect the annunciations of Tait, an Egyptian divinity of weaving. He will declare that the moment for the making of the cocoon, or the mummy’s wrap, is drawing near. Yes, the mummy’s wrap, itself a larval symbol of the transubstantiation of the flesh.”

Surprisingly, it was Bayray who immediately grasped the esoteric significance of TTGT’s ramblings and deciphered for the rest of the posse.

“Yeah, yeah I dig what you’re saying TTGT. That like with the emergence of hiphop bands like De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, 3rd Bass, who are on that positive path to enlighten­ment, that hiphop has finally tasted the maggots in the minds of its less-evolved members so it’s gonna rise above it all or drown in its own shit. But even though they’re moving to a higher level of consciousness they’re all still in that dungball larva stage.”

“Brother Black that is precisely what I am divining.” ❖

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 18, 2020