I’m pretty much done with trying to explain why I think that hip-hop is the most satisfying and genuinely forward-looking musical genre to my mostly white, indie-guitar-loving pals. There’s a resistance from them, and others like them, towards rap, that, it seems, it is impossible to challenge. This resistance, as far as I can gather, is based on the assumption that hip-hop is made by, and mostly enjoyed by, brainless, violent, narcissistic, drug-addled misogynists. Snoop’s Ain’t No Fun is the kind of thing they have in mind, I’d imagine. Now, I like some of that stuff; it’s dumb and fun in the same way that, say, Surfin’ USA is, but clearly it isn’t the case that all rappers/producers are like that/make that kind of music. Besides, misogyny isn’t solely a hip-hop issue; anyone who likes The Rolling Stones [Under My Thumb!!], amongst others, can’t really complain about the moral qualities of something like Get Low, without being guilty of grand hypocrisy. If I was being honest, and slightly controversial, I’d say that there is a reason, a racially-motivated, perhaps sub-conscious, reason why The Stones are given a free-pass and Lil’ Jon isn’t. But I’m not going to get into that.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone
After you who’s last, it’s Doom, he’s the worst known
The aversion to bad language and violence in hip-hop is also slightly perplexing when you consider that violent/foul-mouthed films, like Pulp Fiction for example, don’t seem to offend with the same frequency or intensity [as long as you discount the people, of course, who are simply offended by everything]. I’ve had the discussion many times, and the popular response is that movies are clearly fiction, and therefore we are able to approach them with detachment purely as entertainment, which says a lot about our expectations/demands vis-à-vis music, i.e. that people want and expect music to be authentic, to be a genuine expression of what resides within the performer’s soul, rather than a genuinely free and creative art form. I’ve never been too bothered about authenticity, preferring something visionary and adventurous, but, still, it’s hard to justify the idea that hip-hop trades solely in thug-life realism, and documentary-like recounting of unlawful acts, when nearly all rappers work under a fanciful stage name, and many adopt complex alter-egos. Madvillain’s MF [Metal Face] Doom, for example, is clearly a ‘character,’ an invention [I would argue Eminem, Raekwon, and many others, are too]; he’s a metal mask wearing comic-book inspired super villain, for christ’s sake. You’re not meant to always take this stuff seriously, yo.
So, anyway, if I had to choose one record, one set of songs, to back up my argument, to try and impress upon my friends, and their ilk, that hip-hop is not always what they think it is, it would be Madvillainy by Madvillain. It’s an album that features a DJ and an MC, but that’s almost as much as it has in common with the popular perception of contemporary rap. What it does contain, however, is everything I love about the genre. It’s a funny, freewheeling, experimental hodge-podge of sounds and samples and bizarre turns-of-phrase.
Rapper MF Doom’s delivery throughout the album is a kind of lethargic, enigmatic, one-note mumble, a little like Michael Stipe’s early R.E.M. vocals if someone had slowed them down or spiked Mike’s tea with mega-potent sleeping pills before he’d entered the booth. Yet Doom’s tranq’d delivery could become tedious if it wasn’t for Madlib’s production, which creates a mischievous, playful, even eerie, atmosphere, with strange, unexpected, sounds/instruments popping up everywhere. At times it sounds like Doom has wandered onto the set of a David Lynch movie and started spilling rhymes, like drunk people spill their drinks.
Mmm, How DOOM hold heat and preach non-violence?
Shh! He about to start a speech, c’mon, silence!
On one scary night I saw the light
Heard a voice that sounded like Barry White
Said, “Sure you’re right”
The second song on the album, Accordion, perhaps best highlights the individual talents of the two members of the group. Its track is built around a rolling accordion riff [is riff the correct term? Probably not], with Doom mysteriously rapping over it about your first and last step to playin’ yourself like accordion. I remember when I first heard the song, and how startlingly low-key, minimal and somehow melancholy it sounded, how gratifying it was to come across a producer who was prepared to veer away from the usual soul/blues/funk samples, and how odd Doom’s rhymes and flow were.
Another favourite of mine is Fancy Clown, which features Doom adopting another persona and kind of dissing his ex-girlfriend for ditching him and running off with, er, himself, i.e. Metal Face, while pianos and what sounds like a southern-accented woman speaking over a CB radio crash and crackle in the background. It would be easy, in fact, to write about each track and to praise and assess them individually but that would potentially compromise the joy, for you, of discovering them for yourself if you haven’t heard them yet, or, if you have, tell you what you already know. However, it is worth noting that with Madvillainy there are few or no hooks/choruses, guest raps, and r’n’b dolly-birds. There’s also probably nothing here you’d call sing-a-long potential hits. Accordion, Fancy Clown, and All Caps [check out those titles!] are probably the most chart-friendly songs on the record, if you want that sort of thing, but you’re unlikely to find yourself humming them while at work or on the toilet. What you do get are 22 short [most of the songs are around 2 minutes long], demanding, but most of all entertaining tracks that repay close attention and multiple listens.