Music for universal pleasure
Rap music equals materialism and misogyny? Nah. Dig deeper and it has something for everyone.
This weekend I ran two workshops in how to freestyle, as part of the Maydays’ improv residential at Osho Leela. I was as skeptical as anyone about whether this sort of thing can be taught, but having devised and run a couple of sessions and clocked the feedback it’s clear people do get a lot out of doing something they thought they’d never do, while opening up their brains to the practice of rhythm, stream of consciousness and trusting the process. It’s also pretty funny to hear what comes out of people’s faces.
Afterwards people who really didn’t listen to much rap music at all were keen to know more. Some said their biggest problem was that they didn’t look or feel the part. I totally get that, as a hip-hop fan from Cornwall, but a little digging shows hip-hop these days to be a multifaceted beast that goes beyond the narrow stereotypes that tend to be presented when rap hits the mainstream. I decided to pluck some tracks from the vaults to show a few different sides of what rap music can be. Not in the least bit definitive, but hopefully serious heads will like it too.
1. DJ Format ft. Abdominal & D-sisive: 3 Feet Deep
Format is from Brighton, and he’s joined by Abdominal and D-sisive, a ‘two-man borderline albino crew for your musical needs’ from Canada. D-sisive looks like your mate’s little brother coming round to swap stickers. Still, this track is straight up braggadocio battle rhymes: ‘Leaving you three feet deep like a dead midget, floating in the water like a widget in a Guinness…’
2. Dr Syntax: Subcultures
Another Brightonian, Syntax takes the crown as the bloke on the list who looks most like me, i.e. ginger-ish and nothing like a rapper. From goths to garage ravers, Syntax runs down the dangers of being defined by your interests. ‘Where’s all the normal people gone, man?’ Dunno.
3. Mystro: Around My Way
Mystro’s a Londoner who uses this track to detail the every day things going on in his neighbourhood, going out into the street to give people ‘free hip-hop’. It’s also a swift study in what happens when you try to high-five a businessman on the Tube.
4. El-P: Stepfather Factory
New York’s El-P doesn’t hold back: this track manages to be simultaneously industrial and emotional, a dystopian picture of domestic abuse and faceless consumer culture. It describes a world in which stepfathers are manufactured, mass-marketed and rolled out to homes by money-hungry corporations. Raw and vulnerable, and a perfect example of the power of rap lyrics to plant images and make a point.
Lyrics here, worth following along.
5. Mr Jason: Mr Jason Has A Posse
How to play games in rap songs: get 26 mates whose names begin with consecutive letters of the alphabet, and get them to spit a verse each in which pretty much every word starts with their letter. From A to Z with a lot of nonsense, crunchy drums, and an ace video rental library-style clip.
6. Mr Muthafuckin’ eXquire: Huzzah (remix)
Another posse cut, this one manages to gather the weirdest rag-tag collection of great MCs on one track: it kicks off with Despot, a tiny ginger bloke; he’s followed by Kool AD of Das Racist, who looks like someone’s hairy dad in a vest; then his partner Heems inverts the traditional rap brag by calling himself the ‘worst rapper on the track, third coolest’. Then we have Danny Brown, a long-haired black guy who sounds like Chris Rabbit from Henry’s Cat; then another ginger, El-P sporting a dodgy moustache; and finally the brilliantly named Mr Muthafuckin’ eXquire rapping with his head next to a girl’s bare arse. No idea what’s going on, but they’re not fucking around, and I keep hitting repeat.
7. Aesop Rock: No Regrets
A song with this chorus: ‘I never had a dream in my life, because a dream is what you want to do but still haven’t pursued. I knew what I wanted, and did it till it was done, so I’ve been the dream that I wanted to be since day one.’
8. Maxwell Golden: Countryboy’s Struggle
What’s hip-hop about in 2012? Dunno. Here we have a Cornish bloke doing a hip-hop theatre/comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe, about a Cornish MC who goes to London to try to get into the scene, and has what could now be deemed a DrSyntaxian experience of subcultures. I like this video because it shows you can do whatever you want with this.
9. Ghostface Killah: Underwater
10. Edan: Promised Land
Speaking of which, here are two great flights of fancy. The first: one of the roughest members of the Wu Tang Clan, one of the world’s roughest rap groups, rapping about going underwater and swimming with mermaids, and discovering an underwater Islamic temple, having encountered Spongebob Squarepants driving a Bentley and listening to the Isley Brothers along the way. ‘I opened the door… No, I knocked first,’ may be the first time I’ve ever heard a rapper correct themselves in a lyric.
Edan is a white man with massive hair, who gives the ultimate in rap braggadocio. Why stop at defeating other rappers? His powers ‘settle the clash between races, and put good people on the magazine faces…’