Poor Dee Dee. He went through so much in his life! An erratic childhood with an alcoholic father, heroin addiction, working with Johnny Ramone—the list goes on! But nothing, and I mean nothing excuses his foray into rapping. Below is his single, “Funky Man,” recorded in 1987 as “Dee Dee King.” Listen, if you dare.
One thing in his favor, Dee Dee was a legitimate hip-hop fan, and he was really dedicated to trying to contribute something new and meaningful to the genre. Unfortunately, this also meant that he started to wear track suits and gold chains. According to legend, Johnny Ramone refused to board a plane with him until he changed back into his Ramones “uniform.” He even quit The Ramones in 1989, citing a focus on his rap career as the impetus for the decision.
Dee Dee later expressed regret at his rap venture, acknowledging the project was a bust.
I have no idea what this song is all about, but I really like it. I like that it’s hilarious, which it is. I like the stoopid nerdy self-confidence. I like the nifty appropriation of Prancercise lady Joanna Rohrback. I even approve of the triumphant use of Comic Sans. No one can touch Jerry’s “Tampa realness.”
I don’t know diddly squat about “alternative hip-hop” but to me it sounds a little like Das Racist, and that’s got to be a good thing.
Champagne Jerry did the lyrics, Ad-Rock did the music, so technically you might say it’s a Beastie Boys side project. Sell your friends on it that way, I don’t care. I just want to listen to it again:
National Day in Singapore takes place every August. Last year the mint-candy company Mentos released a catchy rap video promoting “National Night,” as in “As a Singaporean citizen you’ll be doing your civic duty if you forget about the condoms after the fireworks and the parades are all overwith. So let’s get fucking, shall we?”
Daniel Lametti of Slate explains the magnitude of the problems Singapore is facing:
Singapore’s birth rate is at a record low. Female citizens of the country now give birth to about one child in their lifetime, a number that used to be much higher. (American women, by comparison, have about 2 children.) According to a video released by Singapore’s government, the city-state needs to produce about 50,000 children per year to maintain its population and avoid the economic calamity associated with an aging citizenry. But the current birth rate is less than 30,000 children per year. To combat the problem, last month the government sought ideas from the public; that’s when The Freshmaker popped in.
To my untrained ear, the song is mimicking the structure of Alicia Keys and Jay-Z’s massive hit “Empire State of Mind,” and the video is clearly a cheeky copy of Cee-Lo’s massive hit “Fuck You.” Hey, why not stick with the best, right?
The thing is, though, this song is actually pretty good. It’s jam-packed with clever and salacious wordplay—“Let’s not watch fireworks, let’s make ‘em instead” or “Singapore’s population, it needs some increasin’ / So forget wavin’ flags, on August 9th we be freaking,” and so forth.
We’ll leave the last word to Lametti. After explaining that baby booms can’t be manufactured by PR appeals, he writes,
Given that the Mentos ad was not commissioned by the government ... it seems likely that the campaign is simply trying to capitalize on a national crisis rather than actually bolster baby-making. Even so, Singapore’s government doesn’t seem to mind; they’ve let the advertisement run uncensored in a country that once banned a Janet Jackson album for “sexually explicit” lyrics.
Well, I’ll be. Check out the video—it’s a lot of fun:
Snoop Dogg and his legal representative, Orthodox Jew Donald Etra in 2007
From Abel Meeropol to Leiber and Stoller to Carole King to The Beastie Boys, there’s always been a Jewish presence among Afrocentric art forms. Perhaps it’s a shared sense of marginality, perhaps it’s the ethnogeography of urban life, but any monograph on jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, or hip-hop worth its (kosher) salt is going to mention a lot of Jewish names.
But what of the lesser-heralded administrative roles in the music industry? Should you be inclined to prattle off tired old lawyer jokes, let us remember that black artists have a long history of being swindled by record companies and railroaded in court. Yes, the ladies and gentlemen of the tribe have been at many a rapper’s side when the times got tough, so much so that it’s a “thing.”
And now we have a formal commemoration of this very special relationship, in a super cut of shout-outs!
Afrika Bambaataa‘s record collection, in storage until recently, is being cataloged by two dedicated employees and the odd volunteer at a gallery in Manhattan. But until this vast amount of vinyl goodness gets shipped off to the Cornell University archives, the public is invited to actually come to the gallery and put their grubby little fingers on actual pieces of hip-hip history. The collection is some 40,000 strong, and ranges from The Jackson 5 to Pink Floyd to Queen to (of course) Kraftwerk. The best part? As per tradition/etiquette, Bambaataa signed every single one of his records—a necessity when the physical music was both rare and easy to snatch.
If you can’t make it out to gallery Gavin Brown’s Enterprise before the 9th (when it will be relegated to academics in cow-town New York—Bambaataa’s been given a three-year appointment as a visiting scholar at Cornell), check out some some of his collection below. It’s an amazing contrast to the puritanical vinyl collectors, lovingly slipping their pristine records in sleeves. Bambaataa’s collection was the very vehicle he used to create music, and the worn (sometimes tattered) condition of some of his records belie their historical significance.
Part of hip-hop’s allure is its expression of extremes of human emotions, balls out, with no thought of consequences or social appropriateness. Its stereotypical expression is self-aggrandizing swagger, cheerful jubilation, or menacing, threatening anger, but rap has always expressed sadness too. Sad songs are in every rapper’s repertoire, however tough his persona. Eminem, Tupac, Nelly, and Jay-Z have lyrics that can make even the hard-hearted cry.
But this year there is a new manifestation of rap, embracing the vulnerable, lonely, despondent, sad side of the psyche. There are precursors to this style—Kid Cudi, Joe Budden, MC Homeless, Lil B, and Riff Raff—but a couple of hip-hop artists are basing their entire image and songs around sadness. And proud of it. They are not only expressing a desolate emotional worldview, they are boasting about being the saddest thug of all. In time-honored bombastic rap tradition they are trying to one-up each other as the master of melancholy.
Vice is largely responsible for introducing a huge chunk of the world to these perpetrators of emo rap: Little Pain (a.k.a. Sobbin Williams) and Yung Lean.
Little Pain is a 21-year-old rapper from Brooklyn, who has only been rapping for about five months but already has a tattoo on his left cheek of streaked tears. He told Pigeons and Planes:
I cry everyday at least once a day, sometimes more. Sometimes I shed a couple tears and sometimes I full out start bawling. It just depends on the situation. I’m not worried about people taking me as a joke at all because at the end of the day the music is as real as it gets. Some may laugh and shrug it off and some may relate and love it.
Little Pain’s debut mixtape is called When Thugz Cry but he is not yet signed to a label.
Yung Lean (formerly “Yung Lean Doer,” because of his fondness for lean) is a 16-year-old white Swede of Stockholm’s Sad Boys crew. Little Pain admits that Yung Lean gives off a “sad vibe” but isn’t what he considers truly sad.
Yung Lean is signed to a label called Teaholics, which is fitting, because his crew was formerly called the Arizoned Iced Out Boys, and he brandishes jugs of Arizona Iced Tea in his videos. His mixtape, Unknown Death 2000, containing collaborations with Suicideyear, was released earlier this month. I wonder if the moms at the local playground are going to switch to Kombucha now to avoid the thug-life implications of Arizona Tea.
His sleepy-eyed gun and money talk is reframed not just by his whiteness, but by his whole depressed pose—his group is called Sad Boys—and general internetty teen-ness, working N64 controllers and Mewtwo Pokemon cards into music videos. Crying appropriation is a logical first reaction, but I think Yung Lean’s music is more nuanced. Whether you buy it as a real trait of his or as simply an aesthetic choice—potentially a whole other debate—his depression and atonal delivery puts a spin on violence and excess that is at once self-aware (money can also make you unhappy, a common rap theme), and the opposite of self-aware (Yung Lean himself has presumably never been in a position to judge that firsthand).
Yung Lean’s song “Oreomilkshake” references glory holes, various drugs, Arizona Tea and milkshakes, all of which he seems to like, but the sad Swede still sounds bummed. Aside from seasonal affective disorder in the winter, it must be difficult to come up with things to be sad about in a country with cradle-to-grave social benefits, not least of them single-payer universal healthcare.
Hip-hop expert Ray the Destroyer put sad rap in perspective on Vice:
Drake was the first dude to center his whole persona around ennui as the French would say, or “having feminine ways” as dudes at my barbershop on 125th would call it. The thing that’s interesting about the Sad Rap wave is cats are using sadness as an aesthetic. Little Pain is out here flossin’ sadness like money, and tonally Yung Lean raps like someone who’s immune to the mood elevating effects of antidepressants, blowjobs, puppies, and ice cream.
Texan gangsta rapper Big Lurch’s story was tabloid gold in 2002: a gory, PCP-fueled murder of his young female roommate—with the unexpected twist of cannibalism.
He was found standing in the middle of a Los Angeles street, naked and disoriented, wacked out on angel-dust, covered in (her) blood with human flesh found in his stomach that obviously wasn’t his. Big Lurch’s 21-year-old roommate Tynisha Ysais was found murdered and butchered in their shared apartment, with tooth marks on her face and organs, particularly her partially consumed lungs.
Big Lurch pled not guilty by reason of insanity, but following a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation he was declared to be of sound mind despite his PCP use. He was found guilty in 2003 and is currently serving a life sentence. Prior to the murder he was a member of Cosmic Slop Shop and also worked with Mystikal, C-Bo, RBL Posse, Mac Dre, Too Short and Lil’ Keke, among others. His only solo album, It’s All Bad, was released in 2004 on Black Market Records after his conviction.
Tynisha Ysais’ mother sued Black Market Records and Big Lurch for wrongful death, claiming that the record company deliberately gave him drugs in order to encourage the kind of violent criminal behavior that would enhance his rep as a gangsta rapper. This would in turn improve his career and sales. The lawsuit accused Black Market of providing drugs “to encourage [him] to act out in an extreme violent manner so as to make him more marketable as a ‘gangsta rap’ artist.”
If that were indeed part of a grand plan to make his image thuggier, things clearly went awry quickly. Dabbling in cannibalism is (usually, not always) never considered a good career move.
There is a campaign to free him, and believe it or not, it’s not even a 4Chan troll. It is an actual campaign. You can donate to the cause via PayPal, buy “Free Big Lurch” T-shirts, or send Big Lurch (real name Antron Singleton) some mail and gifts in prison.
You see, there was evidence of other DNA at the crime scene that didn’t belong to Big Lurch or Ysais. Okay, yeah, he ate parts of her, but his supporters claim that someone else murdered her and he should be freed. You know, because “Hip-hop ain’t dead…he’s in prison.” The “circumstantial evidence” is discussed in the 2011 documentary Rhyme and Punishment, which is devoted entirely to rappers who have been addicted to PCP and incarcerated.
Weird that the only person I personally knew who smoked angel dust did things under the influence like write about beauty products, how to achieve the perfect “smoky eye,” and what makeup to use in order to look fabulous after staying up partying for two nights straight.
Been completely gorging myself on vintage Rakim this week. All that charisma! All that talent! It shouldn’t be allowed.
Even the older videos are all utterly hypnotic, utterly awesome. Highlight of the lot, though, has to be the video for “I Ain’t No Joke,” where no less of a scene-stealer than Flavor Flav himself pops up, moonlighting on a still young Public Enemy (cheating on Chuck D, if you ask me) and pulling some terrific twitching, twisting, not-quite-the-full-ticket dance moves to Eric B’s lead-heavy scratching.
Directed by Vivien Goldman. You can read about behind the scenes making of the video here.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s contributions to the world solidify his reputation as one of the great artistic polymaths of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. As his visual art moved from graffiti to painting, he became known for telling beautiful, hard-edged truths, especially regarding class and race politics. In many ways, his paintings overshadow his other artistic endeavors, particularly his immersion in the early years of hip-hop.
Below you can see New York hip-hop institution and artist, Rammellzee (or RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ if you please) performing a song they collaborated on. Ramellzee, who died in 2010, was an amazing artist/rapper/intellectual in his own right, and was frequently suspicious of his friend’s acceptance by the art world’s elite. From a 1999 interview:
Jean-Michel wanted to do a rap song because rap was coming into power at the time and that was one of the things besides writing on the trains that he didn’t know how to do. He didn’t know how to do wild style or a true burner like some of these things in here [points around room]. And I was brung into the city by Fab 5 Freddy to interrogate this guy.
What he knew about art. Why was he in the power play position? And to tell him: you need to leave this shit alone and let the real troopers who did do something on the trains get past you and Keith Haring and let these fools know there’s an ikonoklastic war about to happen…
During the process of interrogation I had made a bet with him: I can do what you can do, you can’t do what I can do. He had brought three canvases, set ’em up and got me the paint in the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery, which was his first gallery [exhibition in] like 1982. And in the basement he decided to let me paint these canvases, and Annina Nosei sold all three at his price. My prices where nowhere near his because he was going off and selling well.
She came into the gallery and she told him, “I sold three of your best artworks.” I said, “Give me my money!” [laughs] “Now you gotta do what I do!” He never did what I could do.
Refusing to be intimidated, Rammellzee was quick to shoot down lyrical suggestions he felt unworthy of his flow, saying, “[Basquiat] had a whole pamphlet of this stuff written about girls. And I said, “I’m not rhyming to this!” I put it down. He picked it up and gave it to me, so I crushed it and put it down!”
This 1983 video shot in Los Angeles isn’t the greatest quality, but it is what it is at this point: “history,” so enjoy it that way. Brief splices of Basquiat’s electronic graphics show his thumbprint, and whatever lyrics he may have contributed sound perfectly natural coming from Rammellzee.
How old school is this 1985 LL Cool J performance? Well, aside from the fact that this was shot a good five months before his debut album Radio came out, he felt the need to explain to his young audience what they were about to witness:
“What you’re about to see right now is called rapping and scratching. How many of you saw this before?”
Shot on June 21, 1985 at the Wadsworth Gymnasium at Colby College in Maine. There’s an interesting context: this was part of an event to cheer kids up after several recent student suicides in the area and LL Cool J was thought to be a positive role model.