Tuesday, February 18, 2014

10 Best Devo Songs in Honor of Bob Casale

Founding Devo member Bob Casale passed away yesterday. The band is criminally under-rated, with most people thinking of them as a one-hit (or few-hit) wonder. That's just ridiculous and a great reason why judging a band based on their "hits" is nonsense. Here are my 10 favorite songs by the band, noticeably leaving out hits "Whip It" and "Girl U Want."

10. Please Baby Please: They were still making good music in recent years

9. Head Like A Hole: They had a lot of good covers, but none better than this one

8. Peek-A-Boo: A perfect example of the band's instrumental and vocal experimentation

7. Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA: A perfect example of the band's lyrical experimentalism

6. Beautiful World: The band were also masters of irony, particularly on this song and video, which could also be taken straightforward if you weren't paying attention

5. The Day My Baby Gave Me A Surprise: Even when a song of theirs hints at something darker, like this one, it can still be a beautiful song

4. Come Back Jonee: Devo's version of a "death rock" song from the 50s/60s is brilliant music on multiple levels

3. Jocko Homo: One of Devo's most quotable songs is also one of its harshest criticisms of the failures of people and society

The acoustic live version is surprisingly soulful

2. Freedom of Choice: Is a powerful political song, with it's closing switch of "freedom from choice is what you want." I saw the band mention this live that even this many years later, people still misunderstand this song and don't catch the irony

1. Gates of Steel: Is a bit surreal, but is one of my all-time favorite songs by any artist. It's even better live than on record

Bonus: I just learned that "Turnaround," which I knew from Nirvana's "Incesticide" was actually a Devo B-side. Wow.

Double Bonus: Dr. Detroit wasn't a great movie, but the directly-connected theme song by Devo was. I have very fond memories of both the movie and the song as key parts of my youth

Friday, February 14, 2014

"3 Feet High and Rising" by De La Soul (HHES Review)

Here's my review of "3 Feet High and Rising" by De La Soul using the Hip Hop Evaluation System (HHES).

The album that is credited with inventing the hip hop skit is also one of the best ever. Starting with the "Intro" and it's absurdist game show set-up, the skits all fit and work together in a humorous and entertaining way.

"The Magic Number" is one of my all time favorite songs, with it's mash-up of Johnny Cash, Schoolhouse Rock, and alternative rap. The song just totally encapsulates my state of mind in a way that few other songs ever do.

"Change in Speak" has one of the better beats on an album filled with perfect beats. You HAVE to dance when this comes on.

"Cool Breeze on the Rocks" is one of the more mainstream sonic experiments on the album, with its throwback to Grandmaster Flash "Wheels of Steel"-type of construction.

"Can U Keep a Secret" is maybe the funniest dis track ever, with its whispered vocals, its inside jokes that make outsiders laugh, and its creative use of words like "scrub" that me and my friends used to no end when we had this album on in constant rotation in 89-90.

"Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)" has the most compulsively danceable beat on the album, thrown in with adolescent sexual exploration, chopsticks and more of the amazing humor and eclecticism that dominates this album.

"Ghetto Thang" shows that De La can be serious, too, and take a look at social ills in a way that still makes you bob your head.

"Transmitting Live from Mars" was a revelation for me. The idea that you could take the Turtles and an old French instructional album and mash them together on a hip hop album changed the way I looked at the world.

"Eye Know" is one of the most danceable and original love songs ever. It's also one of the few times I haven't hated anything that had a Steely Dan connection.

"Take It Off" is another one of my all-time dis tracks, listing a series of cultural don'ts in a humorous and poetic structure that still makes me laugh 25 years later.

"A Little Bit of Soap" was another revelatory track for me. The basic topic was little more than a continuation of the previous track, criticizing people for less than perfect hygeine, but they did it to a Jarmels track that was always one of my favorite oldies and in a way that made me laugh endlessly.

"Tread Water" and "Potholes in My Lawn" are two companion songs, it seems, that really give you a look into the radically different way that De La looks at the world. Talking animals, "problems" that most people don't think about, and words that nobody else had used in that way at the time make these two unique pop culture elements, with one of them even being an MTV hit.

"Say No Go" shows that you can take something really out of what you would consider the norm for hip hop, a Hall & Oates sample, and make a amazingly compelling and entertaining song.

"Do as De La Does" is another interesting interlude, recreating the feel of a live De La soul with it's oddball call-and-response and the hilarious end rant by Popmaster Hight.

Even now, I'm not totally sure what "Plug Tunin' (Last Chance to Comprehend)" is talking about, but I know that the song still grabs at my heartstrings in a way I can't explain. It has a bluesy feel that you can't deny. The alternatve version that ends the album is one of the rare times that a different mix works well on an album and not as a bonus track, as it seems to close out the album on a note of completion and not just fading out.

"De La Orgee" is silly but once again is a track that you wouldn't expect on any album, much less this one, which keeps the surprisingness of the album going.

"Buddy" is an interesting enough take on De La's mythology, as it comes to women, but most importantly it has one of the few songs with outside vocalists on it, which works out great, since it's the Jungle Brothers and Q-Tip, who make just about any song better.

"Description" takes one of the common ideas in hip hop, the posse intro track, and does it with a style that fits this album, but probably doesn't fit anywhere else.

"Me Myself and I" has some of the best scratching and use of the backing track on any hip hop song ever and is a perfect introduction to the band (it was on the radio quite a bit).

"This Is a Recording 4 Living in a Fulltime Era (L.I.F.E.)" and "I Can Do Anything (Delacratic)" are a pretty good summary of the De La outlook on life. And they explain it in a unique way that still makes you want to dance.

"D.A.I.S.Y. Age" seems to continue the big description of the De La outlook on the world in the previous songs, although, it's hard to tell, since the lyrics are a little dense. Even Rap Genius doesn't have much to say about what the Plugs are talking about here. Either way, it sounds great.

Overall Analysis

Flow: 10. De La Soul's members have some of the most original and creative flows ever, and this is the album where they used them their best. They got enough negative feedback from some in the hip hop community that they changed things on later albums.

Lyrics: 10. While some of these lyrics are difficult to comprehend, they are totally unique, even amongst De La albums. There just aren't other lyrics like this anywhere, in any form of music or literature.

Message: 10. There are few more coherent messages in any form of music, much less hip hop. De La Soul presents their view of the world in such an entertaining and eclectic way they had no choice but to go in a different direction on their next album.

Technical: 10. I defy you to try to even understand most of the lyrics on this album, much less try to perform them aloud. Difficult stuff abounds.

Production: 10. Few albums have ever been more adventurous or original than this one, and the production, which always makes you want to dance, is a big part of that.

Versatility: 8. I could see how people who don't love this sound could find it a little repetitive, but even they would have a hard time denying the greatness within.

Collaborators: 10. Q-Tip. Prince Paul. The Jungle Brothers. That's all you need for a great album. And there's more.

History: 10. De La Soul knows more about music history than you do.

References: 10. De La Soul knows more about pop culture than you do.

Originality: 10. I'd be hard pressed to say that this album didn't invent originality.

Total Score: 98. This is, hands down, my all-time favorite hip hop album and maybe my favorite album ever. It changed the way I look at music, art, and the world. And I'm better off for it.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

So I Think I Invented A New Kind of Music

So, I think I invented a new kind of music. It's called lyrical collage. First a bit on how I came up with it, then a description, then the first two songs that I've created in the genre.

My favorite form of visual art is collage. My apartment is a collage. I've done a ton of collage work in an old, repurposed atlas I have.

When I was working on songs for my second mixtape, I had an idea to do a song that would pay tribute to my 40 favorite hip hop artists, by taking a couplet from each one of them and mash them up into a new song, that would be a coherent whole and would not at all sound like the originals (although it would be true to their spirit), but would instead be in my style. The song was called "Top 40," and it really worked out well. I liked it a lot and I got good feedback on it.

A while later, I had the idea to do an entire mixtape of those type songs, each one based on a different genre of music. I started working on some of those songs and the first one I completed was called "Oi" and was based on punk rock. It turned out way better than I thought and, again, got good feedback. The song was coherent and had a great sound that I didn't even expect when I put the lyrics together. It made me love the style and committed me to doing more of the same. I'll still do original songs, but I'll continue doing these lyrical collages as tributes to the original artists/songs and as an example of the mash-up, remix culture that so dominates the Internet age.

Here are the two songs. (Follow the link to see the list of bands that make up each song).

"Oi," which is based on punk songs and has a political theme.

"Top 40," which is based on hip hop songs.

I have tons of other ideas related to this concept and while they aren't easy, they take significant research and rehearsal in order to get the sound right, they match up well with my skill set, so be on the lookout for a lot more. And, they also gave me ideas for my first two music videos, which will be based on these two songs.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Oi" (With Footnotes)

Here is the first in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my forthcoming mixtape, "Lyrical Collage!"

As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the song "Oi." This song is the second of my tracks that fits the concept of "lyrical collage" and the first recording for the mixtape of that same name. The idea behind a lyrical collage is to take the original lyrics of a variety of different songs and fit them into a coherent rap song with a new sound and feel. In this case, the theme is double, all the songs are punk or ska songs and the lyrics are political/social commentary. There isn't much more to add, other than to give you the citations for each of the lyrics...

I know I'm artificial, But don't put the blame on me
I was reared with appliances, In a consumer society

X-Ray Spex, "Art-I-Ficial"

Go to work, it's such a drag
Face the boss, he's such a nag

The Ramones, "The Job That Ate My Brain"

All my life has been the same
I've learned to live by hate and pain

The Jam, "The Modern World"

I need sex, I need love, I need drink
I need drugs, I need food, I need cash
I need you to love me back

Buzzcocks, "I Need"

Now pass the blame and don't blame me
Just close your eyes and count to three

Madness, "Shut Up"

I see my place in american waste
Faced with choices I can't take

Black Flag, "American Waste"

Some people are bad and they don't give a damn
what they do or who they hurt
They go through their lives and don't apologize
for the shit that they've disturbed

The Vandals, "People That Are Going to Hell"

I got something to say and I’ll say it again
I got something to sing and I’ll sing it again
I got something to scream and I’ll scream it again

Anti-Flag, "Resist"

Screechin' useless martyrs hangin naked upon the cross
They would have you believe the lie they shriek that all is lost

MC5, "Future Now"

Can it be true? They got nothing else to say
Do you think? They want it that way

Johnny Thunders, "Short Lives"

the benevolent and wise are being thwarted, ostracized, what a bummer
the world keeps getting dumber

NOFX, "Idiots Are Taking Over"

I can still see people dying, now who takes the blame?
the numbers are different, the crime is still the same

The Specials, "War Crimes"

And they're planning while I sleep
And even as we speak To strike when I am weak

Reel Big Fish, "Everyone Else Is An Asshole"

All the power's in the hands
Of people rich enough to buy it
While we walk the street
Too chicken to even try it

The Clash, "White Riot"

Illegal to dance forbidden to cry
You do what you're told and never ask why

The Damned, "I Just Can't Be Happy Today"

I got something to say and I’ll say it again
I got something to sing and I’ll sing it again
I got something to scream and I’ll scream it again

The chorus again.

These are all reasons why I'll be exploding tonight
and why this chip on my shoulder feels like a mile wide

Less Than Jake, "Short Fuse Burning"

It's time to taste what you most fear
Right Guard will not help you here

Dead Kennedys, "Holiday in Cambodia"

When you think the night has seen your mind
That inside you're twisted and unkind
Let me stand to show that you are blind

Velvet Underground, "I'll Be Your Mirror"

Rebels with a cause came out of the sun
And spoke the only language they'd been given

Generation X, "Running With the Boss Sound"

And the people have the power, To redeem the work of fools
From the meek the graces shower, It's decreed the people rule

Patti Smith, "People Have the Power"

still you defend the system that perpetuates your hate
your institutions are corrupt, your way of thinking sucks, we've had enough

Against All Authority, "Louder Than Words"

Why can't I ask any questions of what you say is true
Am I supposed to believe anything or just everything said by you?

Suicidal Tendencies, "Pledge Your Allegiance"

I ain't equipment, I ain't automatic
You won't find me just staying static

Sex Pistols, "Problems"

I got something to say and I’ll say it again
I got something to sing and I’ll sing it again
I got something to scream and I’ll scream it again

The chorus again

Not as much but with such intensity
I'd like to be what they would not want me to be

Bad Brains, "I"

To the tension of a world on the wane
I shuffle around on wooden boards Now no longer afraid

Gang of Four, "I Will Be A Good Boy"

and i will not sit on broken glass,
not for you or anyone i will not cut my ass

The Misfits, "Spinal Remains"

I'll be a pharaoh soon, Rule from some golden tomb
Things will be different then, The sun will rise from here
Then I'll be ten feet tall, And you'll be nothing at all

Dead Boys, "Sonic Reducer"

I'm a lexicon devil with a battered brain
And I'm searchin' for a future-the world's my aim

The Germs, "Lexicon Devil"

I'm stubborn as a mule
And nobody breaks my rules

Iggy Pop, "New Values"

And if I'm acting like a king
Well, that's cause I'm a human being

New York Dolls, "Human Being"

I got something to say and I’ll say it again
I got something to sing and I’ll sing it again
I got something to scream and I’ll scream it again

The chorus again.

H-Y-P I'm hypnotised
H-Y-P I'm hypnotised

The Undertones, "Hypnotised"

For you there's just no hope
Get a rope, get a rope

Cock Sparrer, "Get A Rope"

Bikini girls with machine guns
Bikini girls with machine guns

The Cramps, "Bikini Girls With Machine Guns"

Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane,
Don't know when I'll be back again

Since Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, who I love, don't do any original songs, I had to include a cover for them and it was "Leaving On A Jet Plane."

"Top 40" (With Footnotes)

Here is the first in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my second mixtape, "Core Nerd II!"

As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the song "Top 40." This song is the first of my tracks that fits the concept of "lyrical collage." The idea behind a lyrical collage is to take the original lyrics of a variety of different songs and fit them into a coherent rap song with a new sound and feel. In this case, the theme is my favorite 40 hip hop artists. At least that was the original concept. I realized afterwards that my actual #1 favorite artist, Public Enemy, didn't make it into this track. That was an accident. There isn't much more to add, other than to give you the citations for each of the lyrics...

What's the matter with your life
Why you gotta mess with mine

Salt-N-Pepa, "None of Your Business"

Now I rock a house party at the drop of a hat
I'll beat a biter down with an aluminum bat

Beastie Boys, "Shake Your Rump"

There's no one syllable or phrase
That can adequately describe this new craze

DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, "As We Go"

Get me on the court and I'm trouble
Last week fucked around and got a triple double

Ice Cube, "It Was A Good Day"

Not from the old school or the new
Applaud the boom, do what you want to

Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock, "Joy and Pain"

I get money, money I got
Stunts call me honey if they feel real hot

Audio Two, "Top Billin'"

Peace to this one and that one and them
That's the way I shout and I didn't miss one friend

Naughty By Nature, "Hip Hop Hooray"

I'm like the second plane that made the towers face off
That shit that let you know its really not a game dog

Mos Def, "Close Edge"

I am a nightmare walking, psychopath talking
King of my jungle, just a gangster stalking

Ice-T, "Colors"

Have you ever seen a show with fellas on the mic
With one minute rhymes that don't come out right

Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick, "The Show"

For any MC in any 52 states
I get psycho killer Norman Bates

Ol' Dirty Bastard, "Shimmy Shimmy Ya"

Do dat do dat do do dat dat dat
Do dat do dat do do dat dat dat

A Tribe Called Quest, "Award Tour"

Your real name is probably Bradworth or Bennett
Your verbal baggage ain't got nothing in it

Digital Underground, "The Way We Swing"

Now Kurtis Blow, Run DMC
You haven't heard a rap till you heard it from me
I'm the baddest rapper in history
And there will be no more after me

Shawn Brown, "Rappin' Duke"

We have no time for suckers
Who bite with their lowers and their uppers
You think that you're rockin, but you're not hip hoppin
So you best stop jockin at the masters

Digital Underground, "The Way We Swing"

Watch out for the medallion, my diamonds are reckless
Feels like a midget is hanging from my necklace

Ludacris, "Stand Up"

Allah o akbar and throw em some hot cars
Things we see on the screen are not ours

Kanye West, "Heard 'Em Say"

How many people die over these dead green guys
Ignorance and greed take their ass by surprise

Dr. Dre, "Been There, Done That"

I'm tired of backstabbing ass snakes with friendly grins
I'm tired of committing so many sins

Eminem, "If I Had"

The fence is too high to jump in jail
Too low to dig I might just touch hell hot

Outkast, "B.O.B."

A firing squad sensed the danger
When they're stung by the rapping ranger

Sugar Hill Gang, "Apache"

Mine eyes have seen the glory
Of the underground category

Afroman, "The American Dream"

Can you feel it, nothin can save you
For this is the season of catching the vapors

Biz Markie, "The Vapors"

I'm here to laugh, love, fuck and drink liquor
And help the damn revolution come quicker

The Coup, "Laugh, Love, Fuck"

I'm like fuck critics, you can kiss my whole asshole
If you don't like my lyrics, you can press fast forward

Jay-Z, "99 Problems"

Criminal minded, you've been blinded
Looking for a style like mine, you can't find it

Boogie Down Productions, "Criminal Minded"

This the kinda beat that go ra-ta-ta-ta
Ra-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta

Missy Elliott, "Work it"

Take the evil out the people, they'll be acting right
Cause both black and white are smokin crack tonight

2Pac, "Changes"

Now Kurtis Blow, Run DMC
You haven't heard a rap till you heard it from me
I'm the baddest rapper in history
And there will be no more after me
We have no time for suckers
Who bite with their lowers and their uppers
You think that you're rockin, but you're not hip hoppin
So you best stop jockin at the masters

The chorus again.

Here's a murder rap to keep you dancin
With a crime record like Charles Manson

NWA, "Straight Outta Compton"

Nobody's shootin, my body's made of hand grenade
Girl bled to death while she was tongue-kissin a razor blade

Fugees, "Fu-Gee-La"

E F F E C T
A smooth operator operating correctly

Eric B & Rakim, "Microphone Fiend"

How dare you ever try to step on my Suede shoes
Top Gun shut down your firm like Tom Cruise

Busta Rhymes, "Woo-Hah! Got You All In Check"

E F F E C T
A smooth operator operating correctly

Eric B & Rakim, "Microphone Fiend"

Neon king kong standin on my back
Can't stop to turn around broke my sacrophiliac

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The Message"

My oven is on high when I roast the quail
Tell Bill Clinton to go and inhale

Cypress Hill, "I Wanna Get High"

Sour baby ballin like a fetus
Sock on my cock like I'm Anthony Kiedis

Rhymefest, "Jackin' (It Got Ugly)"

The Lord raised Michaelangelo from the dead
So he can make a fresh painting of my head

LL Cool J, "My Rhyme Ain't Done"

Breaks to win and breaks to lose
But these here breaks will rock your shoes

Kurtis Blow, "The Breaks"

It's Christmas time in Hollis, Queens
Mom's cooking chicken and collard greens

Run DMC, "Christmas in Hollis"

Three 14 inch rims is running on the side
They riding on the side
Yeah, they running on the side
Three 14 inch rims is running on the side
They riding on the side
Yeah, they running on the side

Snoop Dogg, "From Tha Chuuuch to Da Palace"

Poppin', sockin', rockin' with a side of hip-hop
Because where we're goin' there ain't no stoppin'

Afrika Bambaataa, "Renegades of Funk" (In the style of Rage Against the Machine)

Dance to this fix and flex every muscle
Space can be filled if you rise like my lumber
Advance to the tune but don't do the hustle
shake, rattle, roll to my magic number

De La Soul, "Magic Number"

Now Kurtis Blow, Run DMC
You haven't heard a rap till you heard it from me
I'm the baddest rapper in history
And there will be no more after me
We have no time for suckers
Who bite with their lowers and their uppers
You think that you're rockin, but you're not hip hoppin
So you best stop jockin at the masters

The chorus again.

MCs, you like the way we swing?

Digital Underground, "The Way We Swing"

1, 2, 3, and to the 4

Dr. Dre & Snoop Doggy Dogg, "Nuthin' But A G Thang"

Slide, slide, but that's the past, I got something brand new for that ass

Coolio, "1, 2, 3, 4 (Sumpin' New)"

Six minutes, six minutes, six minutes, Doug E. Fresh, you're on, o-o-on

Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick, "The Show"