it's bigger than whitey on the moon
inspired by an article, or two, at freezerbox about the oil industry's growing interest in the space program, as well as by dead prez's militancy and irresistable low-end and gil scott-heron's wit and enduring relevance, i put together a mash-up that i'm calling it's bigger than whitey on the moon. (<--click here to listen.)
my mix takes scott-heron's whitey on the moon, a bongo-supported tirade against the space program and the government's misplaced priorities and racist policies, and places it over the beat to dead prez's (it's bigger than) hip-hop, a bass-driven tirade against hip-hop's late-90s, solipsistic blind-spot with regards to political oppression. (i've linked to samples from amazon to facilitate comparison and encourage appreciation of the originals. do yourself a favor if you haven't already and pick up a CD or two of gil scott-heron's and dead prez's music.)
these songs diverge by 30 beats-per-minute in their original versions, so i slowed-down the gil scott piece by 20 bpm and sped-up the dead prez beat by 10 bpm, finding a happy medium at the trot of 86 bpm. because the gil scott piece follows a real-time pulse that ebbs and flows with his poem, i "warped" it in such a way as to create a "steadier" pulse, essentially keeping gil in step with dead prez's unwavering, miami-infused brooklyn crunk. (the simultaneous flexibility and immobility of the dead prez groove serves to evoke their militant and pragmatic stance over and above--or perhaps better, below--the content and form of the vocals, where southern swagger swings against northern urbanity.)
similar to the way alan ginsburg's america--written in 1956--retains an eerie applicability to the america of today (which made it fun, and easy, to translate), gil scott-heron's critique remains trenchant. as the government continues to divert resources to ill-conceived (and horribly executed) military actions and corporation-driven occupations, america's homeland is not only less safe than ever, it remains a mess, full of social problems that the masses' taxes could begin to remedy if leveraged in a more constructive manner. start from yard, as they say in jamaica. alexander zatichik's revelation of the oil lobby's support for a mars mission that would open up the red planet for fossil-fuel extraction sheds frightening light on bush's recent call for an invigorated space program. the specter of halliburton and company again looms over a multi-billion dollar, government-funded (which is to say, taxpayer funded) venture. as long as a majority of americans (at least as decided by the increasingly out-of-step electoral college) endorse the increasingly entrenched plutocracy that the US government has become, a growing number of people will have to live in abject poverty, in fear of attack, and without healthcare. of course, this is nothing new to certain groups in this country--blacks, for instance. the continued, and perhaps increasing, resonance of gil scott-heron's poem calls for our attention. dead prez's beat, one hopes, helps to grab it.
i like the way a mash-up can, by simple (and sometimes not so simple) juxtaposition, breathe new life into well-worn sounds and suggest some rather interesting arguments. one of the first mash-ups to really drive this point home for me was oops! slim shady did it again. by layering the eminem acapella over the britney instrumental the (anonymous?) mash-up artist highlights the degree to which eminem's song is a highly-crafted pop song, which sort of deflates his edgy b-boy stance (not that he's not willing to do so himself, as evidenced by the hilarious coda of my band, among other moments). still, this mash-up uses simple, stark irony to subvert eminem's critique of teenybop by showing how easily his performance fits against britney's swedish beatmaster's schlock. similarly, i love the way that this mash-up signifies on 50's club anthem, suggesting that there's little difference, say, between the sentiments of "i'm into having sex / i ain't into making love" and "i want to fuck you like an animal." ya mon. pump up har pum-pum. just don't hope for a second date.
at any rate, other examples abound. i think that most of these tracks, including it's bigger than whitey on the moon, argue persuasively for their right to exist. copyright law as currently applied is strictly against such "unlicensed" creations, but the world is a richer place for them. some mash-ups are obvious parodies, and thus should be covered under "fair use"; others make compelling statements that signify or build on their source materials in a novel manner. at bottom, they are fun, and people will continue to make them, if only for their own amusement--and that of their friends. between digital and vinyl culture, the cat's out of the bag as far as copyright and music are concerned. as music-making software continues to proliferate, turntables continue to outsell guitars, and the garage-band generation comes of age, i expect that the mash-up--among other sample-based creations--will emerge as a popular form of democratized art and personalized consumption. we just need more judges raised on hip-hop and reggae. soon come, though.
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(what's bigger than whitey on the moon? the moon, for one.)