… I miss it. Recently I broke out my House of Pain* albums, all two of them, and took a trip back to when hip hop was cool.
I was really into Ice-T when I was in Jr. High. This was of course partially because I was a chode, as most guys are at 14, and the language and often graphic sexuality entertained the hell out of me (anyone remember such classic Ice T tracks as ‘Let’s get butt naked and fuck’?). And yet it wasn’t all about cheap rebellious antics. Afrika Islam and Evil E made some killer tracks for Ice in their day, culminating with Midnight, a masterful slammer on the O.G. album that put the classic guitar riff from Black Sabbath’s Black Sabbath over Jon Bonham’s massive beat from Zep classic When the Levee Breaks. This was some hard-hitting shit and it introduced me to the idea of a song being heavy without having to be War Ensemble by Slayer (not that there’s anything wrong with Slayer).
Next was Public Enemy. I don’t even know where to begin with that one. Maybe I should start with the fact that they were so awesome that they sampled and rapped over Slayer? Or that my good friend Sonny once told me about an interview he’d seen with the group’s DJ Terminator X where the man answered every question with a record scratch? Chuck D has one of the most attention grabbing, hard-as-nails, cool-as-fuck voices to ever lay down a rhyme and, yes ladies and gentlemen, they were a positive force in the music industry, despite what Tipper Gore and the pmrc** had to say about them.
Fast forward to the mid-nineties and all of a sudden something wonderful happened. I don’t know if it was the evolution of rock’s influence on rap or the other way around but the Soul Assassins crew appeared on the scene and rap as we knew it changed. Enter the big, bass-guitar heavy style and influence of DJ Muggs. It seems to me this one man grabbed the wheel and steered the course of what became Universally known as hip hop for a brief couple of years, influencing everyone and everything around him with his mixes that while maybe not the most studio-sheen of all time seemed to trap the clouds of pot smoke that no doubt hung over his sessions in the very music itself. If you know anything about recording you know Reverb is an effect that is often artificially added later, whether by digital or real, ‘acoustic’ means. With Cypress Hill, Funkdoobie and H.O.P. it seemed there was a dope plate somewhere on Muggs’ patchbay, so that he could jack his mixes into the exhalations of those recording and fuzz out the atmosphere of the albums. No where was this more evident than on the masterpiece Temples of Boom that the Hill released in 1995***.
But I digress. What the hell ever happened to Hip Hop? Everybody got to be bling bandits. One of the thing that made rap great at the onset was that whether they were talking about ‘getting theirs’ & ‘high rollin” or not the MC’s never came off as rock stars. Now they think they’re all rock gods. And the music? I loved so much the bass heavy, and when I say that in reference to Muggs and crew it wasn’t bass as in jeep bass bounding out at all angles, it was bass, like bass guitar. The 90’s saw a lot of upright bass especially played and sampled, often complimented nicely by sinister organ sounds (even on Doggiestyle for god’s sake). It was lush and foreboding. Most everything now sounds sharp and shrill; jagged and unpleasant.
A good friend once said to me upon his first listen of Cypress Hill ‘you know Baker, this sounds like music I’d like to listen to while I’m high’. I concur. This new shit****? It’s for the glossy magazines.
* This was of course pre-heart attack Everlast. That Eat at Whitey’s shit can sit on the shelf at the Disc Replay right next to that Flag Pole Sitta band and all of the limp bisquick albums people quietly traded in as soon as the clock struck 2001 and Radiohead magically raised 75% of the modern rock crowd’s tastes. Yeah, I have my CD skeletons too. Shit, I was so fucked up while back in Chicago I listened to the first Skid Row album (a dubbed cassette copy on one of those ugly ass yellow Memorex tapes) – but that ain’t half as bad as anything that tried to blend rap and rock with such frat house intentions. Everlast’s ‘solo’ stuff wasn’t that bad, but it was bad.
** Remember when they were an issue?
*** Perhaps not true – Muggs released DUST, a solo, rock album in 2003 and it is probably the perfect distillation of everything he stood for, without the by-then irrelevant rhymes of his usual collaborators. Check it out, it’s like Cypress Hill meets Pink Floyd with a little bit o’ Afghan Whigs.
**** I shouldn’t make a sweeping generalization I guess. Dalek and some of the stuff Mos Def is doing is pretty damn cool. And someone just told me Guru is still doing Jazzmatazz, so that’s worth following up on.