Hip-hop's supervillains and British Invasion
| Clockwise from top left: MF Doom, Immortal Technique, Goldie Lookin' Chain, and Run the Road compilation.
Ads are finally hitting theaters for the new Fantastic Four flick, and it's looking pretty silly. Bad for superhero fans, but good for a certain weirdo rapper: MF Doom, the MC with a tendency to sprinkle samples from old FF cartoons among his beats and a fetish for dressing up like their nemesis Dr. Doom. The recent MM..Food (Rhymesayers) may not be quite as cohesive as Madvillainy, his 2004 team-up with Madlib, but it's still a blast. When he's not alluding to universe-domination plans, Doom stocks surprises like "Hoe Cakes," a minimalist little number made of nothing but a spittle-spewing beatbox, a Spandau Ballet-ish sample, an effortless set of rhymes, and a much-repeated snippet of a couple of girls saying "super!"
If somehow this musical villainy isn't goofy enough for you, check out Goldie Lookin' Chain, a gang of white-boy Brits who have released enough homemade
CD-R albums at home to issue a Greatest Hits. Stateside, the Hits compilation is called Straight Outta Newport (Record Collection), and it's full of catchy novelty-rap tunes like "Guns Don't Kill People, Rappers Do," "Half Man, Half Machine" (which MC Doom might enjoy, and for which Kool Keith should get royalties), and a little insult ditty that accuses a bloke of having a she-male for a mum. Approach with caution and big doses of your favorite intoxicant.
How many comic-book/sci-fi-obsessed rappers are there these days? Just over the transom is a single produced by "DJ Green Lantern" for the artist Immortal Technique. Six mixes of a song from his upcoming Middle Passage, the single pulls guest spots from Chuck D, KRS-1, and Mos Def for a tight little dose of conspiracy theory called "Bin Laden." Sample lyric: "Bin Laden didn't blow up the projects." True enough. Next sample: "Bush knocked down the towers." Ummmm...
Enough of this penny-ante stuff. (No offense to the aforementioned artists.) The real rap record of the moment is a compilation from England called Run the Road (Vice). This column has rhapsodized before about UK hip-hoppers The Streets and Audio Bullys, but here is glimpse of a scene that spreads beyond those artists and is not yet widely known here.
The genre is "Grime," and if you've heard the word it was probably in reference to Dizzee Rascal, who has had some exposure in the States. Rascal is on Run the Road, ditto for The Streets, but they're the only familiar names in a roster of around two dozen. (Many of the cuts feature multiple guest appearances.)
All of the numbers sound good side-by-side - bolstering the assertion that this is a full-fledged movement, not just a batch of new faces - despite the fact that most of them (and the vocalists on them) have distinctive personalities:
The super aggro "Cock Back" contains the gun/macho allusions of its title and explosive sound effects behind its lyrics; the female counterpart is "Unorthodox Daughter," where an artist named No Lay gets good and riled up: "yo Soundboy - I could have your guts for garters / turn this place into a lyrical slaughter."
But while there's a lot of fear and boasting here, a number of the artists show chinks in their armor, little glimpses of a likeable vulnerability. On "P's and Q's," (evidently one of the disc's most successful singles) Kano assures trouble-minded listeners that he's on top of his game; still, his voice quavers slightly when he defensively says, "girls like me but I ain't a sweet boy."
Ears, on the other hand, is definitely a sweet boy (unless that's Brit-slang for something other than gentleness). His "Happy Dayz" is one of the album's oddest entries, a nostalgic recollection of carefree youth. That vibe pops up now and then but too infrequently in adulthood, as Ears notes in a run-on characteristic of his nimble cram-it-all-in style: "Happy Dayz - they don't come much but when they come they come and as quick as they come they go." If I'm not mistaken, he's also sampling OMD, an unmacho band even judged against the lowered testo-standards of the '80s synthpop scene. Speaking of New Wave, there's a tiny bit of Siouxsie Sioux in the "oo-woo" emitted on "Cha Ching," the track by Lady Sovereign, one of the disc's most charismatic performers. ("Cheeky," she calls herself.)
Reportedly, Grime isn't exactly a household word even in its homeland. Like the hip-hop mix-tape scene here, it's not too accessible to casual fans. That could change with Run the Road, a nicely assembled package that makes the genre seem like the most vital thing going in the music world today. •
By John DeFore