I went to a Halloween-themed salsa party last weekend, dressed as a Rescued Chile Miner. No one got the joke. It didn’t help that both my borrowed safety vest and helmet were brand new, shiny and reflected the shit off every flash picture taken. I had nary a smudge mark on my face, nor did I think of wearing a pair of sunglasses to mimic just having gotten out of a mine. I ended up as Foreign Labour Road Worker instead.
Anyway, enough about me and my fail. Here’re three songs that hopefully will creep the hell out of you.
The Soul Searchers – Ashley’s Roachclip (1974)
Alright, here’s some Hip-Hop 101 for all of
you y’all. I suppose most of you are comfortable with terms like sampling? Drum break? Yes? Okay. Now check out the clip of ‘Ashley’s Roachclip’ by The Soul Searchers at the bottom, and pay particular attention between minutes 3:30 to 3:50. Sounds familiar? It’s alright if you had a bit of an, “Oh sheeiitt!” moment. After all it’s been plundered by everyone from hip-hop heavyweights like Eric B. & Rakim and Ice Cube to extinct pop acts like Milli Vanilli and Color Me Badd.
Funk music has churned out thousands of drum breaks and samples over the years but most remain within the exclusive domain of hip-hop. ‘Ashley’s Roachclip’ though is one of the few breaks, if not the only one, to transcend its usage in predominantly black urban music and helped define an entire decade of dance pop hits. It helps that it was a thoroughly clean break (i.e. just pure drums). But more than that, the kick, the snare, the tempo, everything was so precise and accurate that it’s almost impossible to imagine a live drummer behind the kit. It’s practically inhuman.
Unfortunately for me Rakim’s ‘Paid In Full’ was way before my time so I will always associate the beat with Milli Vanilli. Either that, or ‘Unbelievable’ (Vision Street Wear muthafuckas!!). I’m not afraid to admit I used to lip sync to Color Me Badd though.
Medicine – Time Baby III (1994)
Being 15 and listening to the soundtrack to The Crow on cassette for the first time can only result in one of two outcomes – either you think it’s too depressing and simply not up your alley, preferring to return to the safe pop confines of Sheryl Crow (‘All I Wanna Do’ was all the rage in ’94), or you get thrown down a deep, dark well of inexplicable teen angst and decide it’s simply safer to stay at the bottom than to face everyone else on the surface. Needless to say, I chose the latter.
There are plenty of choice cuts from the album that I could highlight here. The Cure’s ‘Burn’ serves its purpose by being a great lead track. Nine Inch Nails’ cover of ‘Dead Souls’ by Joy Division is pretty good too, if a little bit uninventive (the only thing Trent Reznor adds is performing it LOUD). But the one that stands out for me is ‘Time Baby III’. I remember the friend who lent the tape to me going on about how the Pantera and Helmet tracks were fucking awesome and made him want to throw his desk out the classroom window. I on the other hand have always been quietly fascinated with Medicine’s distinctive guitar tone and hallucinogenic flanging. And I’m a sucker for breathy female vocals. This was shoegaze years before I even knew about shoegaze.
I still have very little knowledge about Medicine beyond what I’ve Googled in recent years. They were on Creation Records with My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus and Mary Chain. They have a couple of albums to their name and had their most recent one released on Wall Of Sound Records in 2003. But somehow I never had the inclination to seek out more from them. Kind of like I didn’t want to ruin my memory of the band by hearing a song from them I didn’t like.
Every once in a while it’s still nice to just shut off and sit at the bottom of the well. ‘Time Baby III’ fits that purpose just right.
RZA feat. Method Man & Cappadonna – Wu-Wear: The Garment Renaissance (1996)
‘Wu-Wear: The Garment Renaissance’ is possibly the best Wu-Tang Clan joint you’ve never heard. Released as a single from the High School High soundtrack, the track is literally an audio billboard for the group’s then newly-launched streetwear line, created to capitalize on their underground spillover success. It charted relatively well too but was quickly overshadowed by Ghostface Killah’s Ironman which was released right about the same time.
The three Clan MC’s spend close to four minutes proselytizing the superiority of Wu-Wear over every other urban brand out there. RZA’s verse has him relating a story about a man going through, well, a garment renaissance and deciding to ditch every high-street label that comes to mind (‘Stopped wearing Benetton / Tommy Hill, Perry Ellis, Nautica, or Liz Claiborne / Ocean Pacific, Fila, Bill Blass and leave fitted / Quit the Armani sweaters with the Gucci wool knitted’) and replacing his entire wardrobe with ‘strictly Wu-Wear’.
In between verses by RZA and Cappadonna you have Method Man serenading the label’s quality statement to you (‘Ain’t what you want baby / It’s what you need baby / Just come see me / Satisfaction guaranteed baby’). And beneath all the marketing talk you have RZA’s hard-hitting and uncompromising beat, as are most of his other productions from that period of time, with the odd doorbell sample surfacing every once in a while.
Wu-Wear laid the groundwork and preceded every other rap-mogul-owned clothing line – Sean John, Rocawear, you name it – and subsequently made owning a fashion label a requirement for every fledgling hip-hop career. If only every one of those labels had a banging commercial like this.
Tricky – Makes Me Wanna Die (1996)
‘Makes Me Wanna Die’ is easily the standout track from Pre-Millennium Tension, perhaps the most accessible too. That’s saying a lot coming from Tricky who was, at his 90’s peak, frequently attributed as a sort of trip-hop prince of darkness. Taking the drum break from The Headhunters’ ‘God Made Me Funky’ and slowing it down to a languid 82 bpm, the only other things punctuating the sparse track are a plaintive funk guitar, Martina Topley-Bird’s meandering vocals and Tricky’s occasional whispers.
Like all well-written songs, the subject matter is intentionally left open to interpretation. In all likeliness it’s about weed more than anything else. Tricky makes allusions to ‘Mary’ (you know, short for marijuana), isms (Rasta slang for, again, marijuana) and most overtly to ‘smoking hydroponic’.
For my intent and purposes I like to think of the song as an anti-paean for a guy who’s hopelessly drawn to an unattainable target. He’s clearly infatuated with her (‘Cherish the things she knows / Says if I change my stride / Then I’ll fly’) and has his mind stupefied by her mere presence (‘Look to the sun / See me in psychic pollution / Walking on the moon’).
Unfortunately he can’t shake off his lingering sense of self-deprecation and feeling of not being good enough (‘Who do you think you are? / You’re insignificant / A small piece, an ism / No more no less’). His solution? To make excuses for himself and escape from reality (‘You know it’s ironic / Smoking hydroponic’).
She really makes him wanna die.