“Cuz I’m the Klaus Dinger that’s built to last / if you fuck with me, I’ll put my foot in your ass.”
This T-shirt was on an audience member at last week’s Faust show at Union. Sitting at the bar, I stared at it longer than I meant to; it seemed to hold a secret about my hometown, Los Angeles. Did this apparition signify that someone in Berlin, say at an X show, had on a Guru Guru shirt emblazoned with a blue circle and the face of Darby Crash? Was some Rastaman, clad in a Burning Spear tee decorated with green, gold and red Black Flag bars, watching Fear play in Kingston? Or had my gaze penetrated the veil of space-time itself, uncovering the very matrix of the hybrid musical forms LA has played Luther Burbank or Dr. Moreau to since the days of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction and Beck, whose Mr. Potato Head permutations of genre traits heralded the inevitable, depressing combination of everything with everything else? Had I, in short, trespassed into forbidden realms of knowledge? Was one man’s motorik indeed another man’s Poison? Was I really paying eight dollars per beer?
By the next morning, these questions had lost their urgency, if not their poignancy. But my matchless Google-fu led me to the creator of this thing straightaway: an LA-based retailer called Skim Milk. They also sell a T-shirt with a picture of Roky Erickson and G.G. Allin busting a hang, a detourned DEVO tee that spells “DEBT,” and a sweatshirt depicting a hit of blotter acid that looks like the American flag—unless it’s really a tiny American flag that looks like a hit of blotter acid—at rest in a young woman’s mouth.
Personally, I wouldn’t go back to Coachella for 100 million dollars, but if this N.W.A. reunion comes off, people are going to lose their shit when Hologram Eazy E-Musik comes onstage to sing “Neuschnee On Ya Chin.”
An amusing side effect of rapid technological change is nostalgia for dying and dead formats. It’s not a universal phenomenon—nobody’s misting up over DAT tapes—but it’s certainly prevalent. For my part, I abidingly LOVE vinyl records. But it ain’t 1997 anymore, and lossless digital boasts a demonstrably better frequency range and less harmonic distortion than vinyl, period—that those distortions may sound pleasing doesn’t make them not distortions. For every delusional LP junkie who holds vinyl to be a superior sound reproduction format, there’s also an even MORE delusional record-head who insists that the scratches, pops, and hiss of a beat-ass record actually sound good. That’s freakin’ NUTS—that’s just a consequence of the media’s physicality, if musicians wanted hiss and pops they’d have recorded them and baked them into the mix, and that to me is the end of the discussion unless you want to bring up Christian Marclay. But those flaws that obscure the message the medium is intended to deliver are exactly the things we seem to miss when progress obsoletes a familiar media format.
VHS tape is an apt case in point. For folks like me who are of let’s just say “a certain age,” nth-generation VHS dubs were the lingua franca of video sharing. The distortions that came with multiply dubbing that format were amazing. Colors would sometimes fade, sometimes drastically oversaturate, sound would unpredictably wobble and drop, the tape itself could stretch in spots causing playback to weirdly slow down for just a second, pausing for a long time could cause the play heads in the tape decks to rub the magnetic oxides off the mylar tape… It was kind of a shit medium, optical video media was MILES better and high def digital better still, but since those distinctive distortions were the haze through which I first saw weirdo touchstones like mondo documentaries and the oeuvre of John Waters, I kind of love them. I don’t love them to the point where a transparently exploitative contrivance like “Videotape Store Day” could ever make off with an assload of my money for movies I’ve already seen, but still, I love them.
A recent example of VHS love gone wonderfully right is videographer Zev Deans’ new ‘80s inspired infomercial for hip hop/electro pioneer The Egyptian Lover, who’s releasing a box set with the self-explanatory title 1983-1988 next month on Stone’s Throw. The video is a dead-on accurate throwback/homage to the era when ads for albums ran on TV with tremendous frequency. Typically these would be thrown-together compilations of whatever could be licensed—classics of the form include “Hey Love” and “Freedom Rock,” or best-ofs for fading fogey country singers like Boxcar Willie and Slim Whitman. The Egyptian Lover video nods to all the foregoing with lashings of degraded VHS distortion, and to boot it throws in a period-appropriate satire of psychic hotlines that features L.A. synth musician/spectacle purveyor Geneva Jacuzzi, herself no stranger to throwback video. There are other bonuses for trainspotters as well, and videographer Deans offered this:
Egyptian Lover is a legend, and for this project, I wanted it to feel like we were digging up a relic from Los Angeles in 1984. Most of this was shot in the back of Good Fred’s LaRutan Barber Shop, and legend has it that Jheri Curl was first bottled and sold at this location. Back in the day, Egyptian Lover’s Egyptian Empire Records office was on the second floor, with the entire 1st floor warehouse used as a dance floor for parties and record storage. You can still see the Giant mural of Egyptian Lover from the street on W54th street!
Before the release of Ice Cube’s Death Certificate, renowned black radical Angela Y. Davis interviewed him for Transition Magazine. It’s probably the first and last time a magazine has used a Gramsci quotation to introduce its readers to Ice Cube.
Davis, a former student of Herbert Marcuse, had been targeted by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1969 and 1970, when she was an assistant professor in UCLA’s Philosophy Department. At the governor’s urging, she was fired (twice), and Reagan vowed that she would never teach at the University of California again. Because who was better qualified to evaluate the work of philosophy professors than like Ronald Reagan? (Today, Davis is Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at UC Santa Cruz, and “Reagan” is a pair of syllables that stands for mental decay.) In ‘80, a decade after she was arrested because of her association with the Soledad Brothers, and again in ‘84, she was the vice-presidential candidate on the Communist Party USA ticket.
Ice Cube was coming from a different place. You couldn’t call his analysis Marxist, and “feminist” would have been a real stretch: he was reading The Final Call, not People’s World. This was during the period of Cube’s loudest advocacy for the Nation of Islam—before Friday, long before Are We There Yet?—when he was advocating black self-reliance (“We’ve got to start policing and patrolling our own neighborhoods,” he told Davis), endorsing an anti semitic NOI book called The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, and arguing that the Hon. Elijah Muhammad was more important than Malcolm X. He and Davis had plenty to talk about.
Angela Davis and Ice Cube in Transition #58
Hip-hop historian Jeff Chang, who thinks this meeting likely took place in July of ‘91, writes in Can’t Stop Won’t Stop that publicist Leyla Turkkan set up the interview, hoping it would position Ice Cube as “an inheritor of the Black radical tradition.” Chang continues:
The interview was a provocative idea—one that both Davis and Cube welcomed. But none of them had any idea how the conversation would turn when they got together in Cube’s Street Knowledge business offices.
To begin with, Davis only heard a few tracks from the still unfinished album [Death Certificate], including “My Summer Vacation,” “Us” and a track called “Lord Have Mercy,” which never made it to the album. She did not hear the song that would become most controversial—a rap entitled “Black Korea.” In another way, she was at a more fundamental disadvantage in the conversation.
Like Davis, Cube’s mother had grown up in the South. After moving to Watts, she had come of age as a participant in the 1965 riots. While Cube and his mother were close, they often argued about politics and his lyrics. Now it was like Cube was sitting down to talk with his mother. Davis was at a loss the way any parent is with her child at the moment he’s in the fullest agitation of his becoming.
Cube sat back behind his glass desk in a black leather chair, the walls covered with framed gold records and posters for Boyz N The Hood and his albums. Copies of URB, The Source and The Final Call were laid out in front of him. Davis asked Cube how he felt about the older generation.
“When I look at older people, I don’t think they feel that they can learn from the younger generation. I try and tell my mother things that she just doesn’t want to hear sometimes,” he answered.
Public Enemy - Chuck D, DJ Terminator X and Flavor Flav
1988 was a huge year for Public Enemy. That year they released their second record, one of the most important records in history (hip-hop or not), It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back and toured all around the world in support of the album, to insanely enthusiastic, packed house crowds.
I saw PE on that tour, and it was like nothing else that I’d ever seen before. Everything about that show was in fact, harder than the hardcore. Love them or hate them, everybody knew who Public Enemy was in 1988. Even in the Netherlands.
During the tour, PE found themselves in Holland and made an appearance on a Dutch music television show called Fa. Onrust. During the show, Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, and DJ Terminator X rip through “Night of the Living Baseheads,” “Rebel Without a Pause,” “Bring the Noise,” and “Don’t Believe the Hype.” If that’s not enough for you, Run DMC just happened to be in Holland themselves at exactly the same time, and Joseph Simmons/DJ Run and Darryl “D.M.C.” Matthews joined PE on stage to kick out their 1988 track, “How’d Ya Do It Dee?” from Tougher Than Leather. Damn.
Public Enemy and Run DMC on Dutch television, 1988. Chuck is asking the audience to throw up the “peace sign”
Despite all the good times that you will see in the video below, there is a slightly uncomfortable interview segment with the two (rather clueless) female hosts of the show. The interview was already going off the rails—thanks to the always brutally honest Professor Griff)—but then the always eloquent Chuck D. decides to give a pop quiz his hosts about the Netherlands’ political system, which they obviously don’t know a lot about…
Some quick ‘n’ dirty animation, a few cleverly pinched audio clips from Rushmore and Coffee and Cigarettes and you’ve got a full-blown operation, to perpetrate a heist on the one motherfucker in the world who needs to get boosted.
You know exactly the motherfucker I mean.
This immensely satisfying animated video comes from ProbCause TV.
Let the record show that a few of us, who do not like to wallow in the emotional mud pits of space opera, nostalgia for lost childhood, or Marin County spirituality, are immune to Star Wars fever. For me, the aging brand mainly calls two things to mind: the Reagan administration’s impracticable scheme to zap nukes out of the sky with space lasers, and director George Lucas’ decision to sue the embattled hip-hop outfit 2 Live Crew for trademark infringement just because their leader dared to call himself Luke Skyywalker.
If you picture a canine lawyer for Lucasfilm barking into a 1990 car phone, “I’ll sue your ass for 100 million dollars,” you’re on the right track. In fact, the company sought $300 million in damages from the authors of “Me So Horny.” As Luther Campbell (the former Luke Skyywalker) complained to SPIN that year:
This multi-millionaire motherfucker George Lucas wants to put me out of business. He wants to destroy a small black business. Get this monkey off my back. [...] When you go into a record store and look at a 2 Live Crew album cover you see tits and ass and a bunch of black people. Who’s gonna confuse that with a Star Wars soundtrack?
Luke Records—formerly Luke Skyywalker Records, before Lucasfilm sued their ass for $300 million—celebrated Christmas 1993 with two compilations of holiday music, one for the hearth and one for the homies. See if you can guess which is which. On Christmas at Luke’s House, H-Town, U-Mynd, and Elder Chris Brinson and the Gospel Music Ministry Choir gather around the tree to sing the pious “We Bring You Joy.” For Christmas at Luke’s Sex Shop, 2 Live Crew, Poison Clan, and Jiggy G join together around the stripper pole to wrap a “Christmas Spliff” for the “Ho, Hoe, Hoes.” Yes, the sex rhymes are pretty tame 22 years on; yes, “stockings” get “stuffed”; yes, “Jesus Is Black,” and so is Luke Skyywalker. And if the superannuated heroes of a certain busted-ass science fiction franchise that died with a wet fart during Reagan’s first term represent the forces of good, I’ll be spending my Christmas on “the dark side,” thank you very much.
After the jump, get festive with Luke and 2 Live Crew’s X-rated Christmas carols…
Already famous in hip-hop circles as the DJ in Stetsasonic, Prince Paul was much in demand as a producer after he worked on De La Soul’s momentous debut 3 Feet High and Rising. In addition to De La’s second and third albums, he produced Boogie Down Productions, Slick Rick, Queen Latifah, 3rd Bass and Big Daddy Kane; as “the Undertaker,” Prince Paul formed the pioneering “horrorcore” group Gravediggaz with RZA, Frukwan of Stetsasonic, and the late emcee Poetic.
So hot a property was Prince Paul that Russell Simmons gave him his own label, which Paul named Dew Doo Man (sometimes stylized Dewdooman) Records. The debut of a trio called Resident Alien, It Takes A Nation Of Suckers To Let Us In, was to have been the first album on Dew Doo Man—the November 1991 issue of SPIN even included it alongside Nirvana’s Nevermind in the list of staff favorites—but Rush giveth, and Rush taketh away: the label was scuppered and Nation Of Suckers was never released. Alex Ogg’s The Men Behind Def Jam quotes Paul on Dew Doo Man’s sad story:
[Prince Paul had] been approached by [Lyor] Cohen and [Russell] Simmons after De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising made him one of the hottest producers in rap. “I was like, quote, this up-and-coming producer that crossed a lot of quirky rap over to pop audiences,” Prince Paul recounts of their overtures, “[and they were] pricing dollar signs, ching ching… ‘Paul, do this label. We have RAL [Rush Associated Labels], whatever you want to call it.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do it.’ I just want to produce records. I’m just so happy, I was like a really naive kid, I want to produce records, don’t want to do nothing else. Then I was getting calls at the house: ‘Paul, why don’t you think about doing the label?’ ‘No, I don’t want to do the label.’ At the time I had Russell managing me, and then my lawyer starts calling me: ‘Russell’s calling me up and wants to know if you want to do the label.’ So I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll do the label, fine.’”
So he dutifully set about rounding up some neighbourhood friends, including Resident Alien and Mic Tee Lux, before producing a series of demos. According to Prince Paul, Simmons thought they were “dope” and green-lighted the project. But when it came to releasing the records he demurred, which hit Paul straight in the pocket because he’d financed most of the recording costs and had been turning down other production work in the meantime. “I just lost a whole lot of time and when everything was said and done, it was like, I got jerked. You know what I’m saying, it wasn’t Russell’s fault. I mean I could get mad at him all day, but I was just dumb and young and I just went, crawled [out] under the pressure.”
Prince Paul’s mid-90s business card
Of the Resident Alien album’s 20 tracks, only the single “Mr. Boops” and the twelve-inch promo “Ooh The Dew Doo Man” entered circulation before Simmons pulled the plug on Prince Paul’s label. During the recent period of internet-enforced glasnost, videos for both songs (embedded below) have surfaced, as have sound files of every song on It Takes A Nation Of Suckers To Let Us In. This YouTube playlist is missing a few tracks from side two, so if you want to hear the full album, you’ll have to go to the blogs. Assuming Double Brain, Dragon and Mr. Bug still have their green cards, would a reunion be too much to hope for?
“Shadrach,” from the Beastie Boys’ psychedelic collage masterpiece Paul’s Boutique, should have been a hit. The band made a gorgeous rotoscope video for the song and featured the tune prominently on the EP An Exciting Evening at Home with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, but “Shadrach,” with its sample from Sly and the Family Stone’s “Loose Booty,” its mystical wisdom, and its defiant tone, proved just too stupid fresh for the suits at Capitol to get behind.
When the Beasties paid their second and last visit to Soul Train (see their first appearance here), they wanted to perform “Shadrach” live, but host Don Cornelius said no. From Dan LeRoy’s book on Paul’s Boutique (my favorite number in the 33 1/3 series, which last year spawned a sequel co-authored by the excellent Peter Relic):
The Beasties got revenge, says [their friend] Max Perlich, by preparing a special version of “Shadrach,” which included the soundbite, “Do the Don Cornelius.” “He freaked on the spot, because he thought it was live,” remembers Perlich. “And he stopped the taping. But they said, ‘No, this is on the record.’ So they got away with it.”
In other words, forced to mime their mighty jam on TV, these world-class practical jokers modified “Shadrach” (doesn’t it almost rhyme with “Ad-Rock”?) to at once sound live and to poke fun at Cornelius, who was left believing that the Beastie Boys’ latest single paid him tribute. At least, I think he was; he seems a little confused during the interview that follows the song, which departs a little more from the recorded version than LeRoy suggests. You’ll see. It’s nuts.
Incidentally, if you’re wondering why the Beasties are rapping about three characters from the Book of Daniel, LeRoy says that their split with Def Jam is not so neatly identifiable with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s righteous refusal to bow down before the image of Nebuchadnezzar as you, or they, might be tempted to think; he also reports that Adam Yauch “was then spending lots of time ‘taking acid and reading the Bible,’ according to his girlfriend, Lisa Ann Cabasa.” I wish he was still around.
When Danger Mouse released The Grey Album, his notorious—and quite illegal—mashup of Beatles tunes and Jay-Z’s a cappella wordplay in 2004, EMI Records immediately issued a cease and desist order. The album became a bit of a cause célèbre, with the “information wants to be free” types providing download links and seeding torrent files all over the Internet. Take that, evil EMI!
Cut to today and the mashups genre has a pretty well-established presence on the Web and, well… yawn. Who cares, right? Most mashups are clunky ear-bleeders, better read about than actually listened to, the main joke being, “Hey, I remixed Patsy Cline with Black Sabbath” or “Hey I mixed Glen Campbell with Sunn O)))!” or whatever zany thing those crazy kids on the Internet will think of next. Amusing? Kinda of, in a very last decade sort of way, but do you actually want to listen to it?
But sometimes—not often—something wonderful happens when two great tastes that shouldn’t necessarily taste great together get mashed up anyway. In 2010, an Englishman named Tom Caruana decided to take some Wu-Tang raps and painstakingly construct a new song using Beatles samples on his Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers project. And what’s even more surprising than his flagrant flaunting of EMI’s copyrights is that the resultant mashups are really good! If Wu-Tang’s resident geniuses ever decided to delve deep into the Beatles catalog instead of soul obscurities for inspiration, this is the album they might have come up with. While most mashups sound like horrible musical Frankenstein monsters created in Pro Tools, this one sounds less like a mashup and more like an actual Wu-Tang record that uses Beatles samples. You can hear the Beatles, clearly, in the mixes (as well as Beatles songs covered by orchestras and “easy listening” combos) but it’s more covert than overt in this case.
KEXP steps inside Paul’s Boutique, June 24th, 2015
Independent Seattle radio station, KEXP will be digging deep into the Beastie Boys celebrated 1989 record, Paul’s Boutique during a marathon twelve-hour broadcast on Friday, July 24th.
The broadcast starts bright and early at 6:00 AM PST with the much loved KEXP morning DJ, John Richards who will start the Beastie Ball rolling with the first few tracks from Paul’s Boutique, as well as some of the 100+ songs that were sampled on the record. The meticulously curated broadcast will continue until 6:00 PM, running through both KEXP’s Mid-Day and Afternoon shows.
During the course of the broadcast KEXP will air brand new interviews with the co-producers of Paul’s Boutique, The Dust Brothers (John King and Mike Simpson), as well as exclusive archival chat with the Beastie Boys. KEXP has really been hyping this broadcast, and it’s not hard to understand why. I spoke to John Richards via email and asked him some questions about the Beasties, and the experience of pulling the twelve-hour marathon together.
John Richards - Morning Show Host & Associate Program Director of KEXP
Dangerous Minds: KEXP is known for its massive music library and I know that DJ’s routinely bring their own records in to play on their shows. Given the depth of musical knowledge that KEXP collectively possesses, how difficult was it to track down all the music that was sampled in Paul’s Boutique for the show?
John Richards: There are some specific songs that have been a challenge for sure but I’d say between KEXP’s amazing library and DJ’s libraries that 90% of it was found in the early planning of the show. After that we were able to get the other 10% within a few days. Our goal was to play as much in its original form as well so for sure you’ll be hearing the snap crackle and pop of vinyl on Friday. KEXP on a daily basis will play vinyl, CDs, streams, wave files, mp3s in any given show. I’ve had to mix a YouTube stream with a record into a mp3. I’m surprised we don’t mix reel to reel and cassettes while we’re at it.
What were your first impressions of Paul’s Boutique back in 1989?
John Richards: Like a lot of people they discovered the Beastie Boys first when “Fight For Your Right…” came out. I remember getting the tape at a very young age based on that song and it putting in the rest of the songs on there blew my mind. It was nothing like that novelty song and really was a gateway to me for them, for sampling, even hip hop. So when I got Paul’s Boutique it made sense to me listening to the other songs from the debut that this was the next step for them. I didn’t know sampling like this was new as it was just new to me at the time. It was radically different then anything I had heard and really those first two albums were “where were you when you first heard them” releases. In both cases I was walking through the soccer field next to my house studying the liner notes, art work and song titles and thinking I was the only person on earth listening to this right now. It was one of those rare moments when a release changes your entire thinking about music and how its made.
While you were culling artifacts for this incredible undertaking (such as interviews, sound-clips, etc), did you discover anything about the record that as a fan, was new to you?
John Richards: I learned a lot talking to The Dust Brothers about the record. One thing was that they were really trying to make a hit with the Beastie Boys (and said they easily could have) but that the Beasties were against it, they wanted a cool record that people would discover years from when it was made. Turns out, that’s exactly what happened and continues to happen. Maybe not in crates but for sure on stations like KEXP.
Paul’s Boutique mural at the corner of Rivington and Ludlow on the Lower East Side of Manhattan by Danielle Mastrion
There are not many artists who inspire the nearly universal reverence and adoration from music fans that the Beastie Boys do. Headbangers, alt-rock kids, electronica geeks, classic rock relics; you name the genre of choice, and I guarantee that the vast majority of the people who cling to them will also be fans of the Beasties. Perhaps nothing speaks better to this point than the huge assortment of diverse samples the Beastie Boys used in the recording process for Paul’s Boutique.
From the score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, to music from the 1974 film Deliverance (not to mention the dozens of pop-culture references mentioned throughout the record including a hilarious and timely swipe at Donald Trump on the track “Johnny Ryall”), if it appears on Paul’s Boutique , you will hear it during KEXP’s broadcast.
If you’re not in Seattle, don’t worry. You can stream the broadcast live via your mobile device or computer. KEXP also archives its wide variety of content, so if you miss any part of the broadcast on Friday, you can come back and stream it whenever you want. And I for one can’t think of a better way to spend a few (or twelve) hours than listening to a magical record that almost killed the Beastie Boys’ career back in 1989.
It’s going to be tastier than a “5-Piece Chicken Dinner.”
“Ain’t it Funky” James Brown (from Ain’t it Funky, 1970). One of the 100+ samples on Paul’s Boutique