Monday, April 12, 2010
The Great Albums 002: De La Soul Is Dead
Maybe it's this blog's new look (it's straight-up fillet, ain't it?) that's invigorated me. Maybe it's just a temporary effect from all these mothballs I ate. But I'm feeling like getting the keyboard out of storage and pounding on it for a while after many months of dormancy. What better way than to continue a series that I started . . .
Wait. That couldn't have been 18 months ago, could it? I've always maintained that you throw a few moments into the corner and pretty soon you have a mean pile of months. So it is, and here we go again. The Zappa CD from that post (We're Only In It For The Money) is still on my desk, in the exact spot I left it after popping it out of the drive back in November 2008. Zappa's silkscreened onto the label, and he's peeking out at me. I think it's trying to speak to me in Sanskrit and tell me the secrets of LOST. That could just be the mothballs talking. Avoid recreational use of clothing-protective chemicals, kids.
Anyway, I named the series "PhishUncle Essentials", and I'm changing it two posts in. The original idea was to take a look at important artists that have had a clear influence upon our favorite Vermont jam band, the inspiration for, and frequent subject of, this blog. But either that was too reductive, or too specific, or I just didn't have enough to say about music in that specific vein. In any event, Phish has returned with The Power since I wrote entry one, and they just don't seem like enough of a museum relic enough anymore to make definitive statements about their influences. I don't think I'm the only one that hopes that they keep picking up new ones and pushing this whole thing further. Anyway, at some point this year I read a review that stated that what Phish did was play music. All of it.
I like that. I think it's accurate. So I think the best way to honor that way of appreciating Phish, and a better way of developing this blog as a resource that is about Music, is to make this series more general.
Hence, The Great Albums.
I'm hoping to crank out one of these every month. Maybe more often. Hopefully, more often than every 18 months, anyway. Also, I don't want to keep this to myself. Let's make this an open thread. Got a great album you'd like to write about? Just add it to the series.
Enough intro. I've got the biddox, let's do this like Brutus.
If You Will Suck My Soul, I Will Lick Your Funky Illusions
This is the seminal hip-hop act De La Soul.
That would be Mase (the DJ), and rappers Trugoy (that would be the word "yogurt", backward), and Postdonus.
And this is their first album, which arguably invented about 40% of all modern rap and hip-hop.
It's called 3 Feet High . . . And Rising, and you've probably heard of it, even if you didn't wear out the tape back in the early nineties. If you haven't listened to it, you really need to. Every act that takes a garage-sale approach to musicianship, spinning old beats and hooks into new gold, owes a debt to this Rosetta stone of music bouillabaisse. So, basically any rap that uses samples? Well, yes, but specifically music acts that combine disparate elements to create surprising new musical ideas. The De Las may not have rapped over Parliament hooks like Dr. Dre, but they were closer to Parliament's dippy-trippy everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soul. Think about post-License To Ill Beasties, or Outkast, or Tribe Called Quest, Beck, or DJ Spooky, Kid Koala, Kool Keith . . . you get the idea. De La got there first. It's pretty much a big deal. Public Enemy was working this turf around the same time, though clearly their ideas were more overtly political. De La Soul was the non-polemic flip side, the bright side of the moon. They were just as likely to use a Steely Dan tune to talk about lawn divots or talk about flower power (dubbed Daisy Age), as they were to jam about a block party. Self aggrandizement and aggression were replaced by a mock gameshow ("I know it's gonna be swell and I'm gonna win all tha money, all the money . ..") and a call for their producer to get a haircut to take care of his "big fat dandruff." They played with the language in ways that still seem unique today, creating their own insular slang, in which Jennies and Derwin and potholes and Plugs One Two and Three, and daisies all take on their own semi-ambiguous meanings. Listening to it now is like being invited into an in-joke, with dancing. Oh, and it has Q-Tip's first ever cut on it.
Though it is indisputably a great album, this article is not about 3 Feet High -- or at least, it isn't totally about 3 Feet High, because the De Las only waited two years before dropping the follow up on a now totally-suspecting world. Here is De La Soul Is Dead.
What Do You Know About Music, Hamster Penis?
Unfortunately DLS's early albums are MIA on almost all music-embed sites, probably thanks to their extensive use of samples without clearing rights. Aaah, the 80s. Anyway, go pick it up somewhere, I'll try to do it justice.
If I'm following the loose mythology properly (and I'm probably not), the De Las have killed off the peace loving rap hippies of Daisy Age and . . . opened up a doughnut shop, which is either their parody of selling out to the gangsta trend (which they clearly aren't doing), or just an indication of their amusement at the thought of opening a donut shop. We begin with an extended skit, a "turn the page when you hear the tone" children's book, in which a group of bullies (Hemorrhoid, the leader, along with henchmen Dick Snot and Butt Crust) steal a cassette of the album De La Soul Is Dead and listen to it. So we are listening to a group of cartoonishly gangsta hoods listening to the album that we are listening to them listen to, which is a send-up of the gangsta life music that the three listeners represent.
I need to go stretch my brain.
We go right from this into the uber-groovy "Oodles of O's" (which is probably a reference to all the doughnuts that they are selling, to say nothing of the ounces that they are moving), the ballad "Hey Love", and the "hippies can fight, too" manifesto "Pease Porridge", which appropriates a nursery rhyme to advertise their doughnuts and recount a nightclub fight.
From there, we are back to our thugs, who offer their critique of the album so far. Hemorrhoid and Dick Snot can't stand it, or even understand it ("what are they saying?" is their mantra, but Butt Crust kind of likes it, and is beaten for Hemorrhoid for his honesty. And that's the structure, through highlights like the pastiche on the JB's 70s hit "Pass The Plugs [Peas]," the epic anti incest message-song "Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa," (still my favorite song about Santa Clause getting murdered by his daugher, even 18 years later) and especially the blistering gangsta parody "Afro Connections at a Hi 5", featuring hard core lyrics that can't help but dip deep into the absurd.
Let's not forget to give some love to the house music parody "Kicked Out Tha House," which also doubles as a pretty damn good house song, and "Bitties In The BK Lounge", which is my favorite song about rude women in Burger King, and is memorialized in Xtranormal style here:
At the end of the album, Hemorrhoid smacks Butt Crust one last time and then throws De La Soul Is Dead into the garbage. Go fish it out; it's a gold nugget on the midden heap.