Wednesday, August 27, 2008

old rap unwrapped

A decade or two ago, back before hip hop was the lingua franca of popular culture, it was rap, and in the circles I ran, it was most often taken with a high degree of contextualization. Consider the multi-cultural pileup that was Bill Laswell's Material, pitting Rammellzee and Flavor Flav (sounding lean and dangerous - who knew that a much larger clock than the one around your neck was ticking for thee, Flav) against a quivvering jello salad of dub, downtown NYC and blissed crypto-electrinica. Unlike nearly all trip-hop that followed it, Material holds up. Same for Mos Def and Talib Kweli's Black Star - funny how dangerous it is to not be slick and seamless. While Material took the idea of DJ to the purpose of synergistic collectivism, Mos def and Talib Kweli focused on the street poet side of rap, eschewing the made-it-ness of 90's and beyond hip-hop to illuminate the struggle. One of the best rap albums ever.

DJ Shadow's Entroducing put the DJ up front, and while certainly not the first to do so, sought connections to high art, staging events in galleries, getting written up in Artforum, imbuing the noble savage art of the dj with the institutionally sanctioned moniker of turntablism. Massive Attack did much the same thing, except opting for the bedroom instead of the gallery wall. I always thought they laid the shmooveness on a little too thick, but this collaboration with the insane Jamaican reductivist Mad Professor is spot on perfect - the beat in the Mad Professor's hand becomes a ripple, so much so that this surprisingly tepid adult-contemporary outing by DJ Krush hardly registered. Something about it made me really, really want to hear The Geto Boys for some reason, but Rhapsody petered out on me, so I dialed up the DubTerrain station which has strangely been an excellently innocuous amalgam of all the previous amalgams.

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