rakim gold me
just finished reading brian coleman's rakim told me, and it's a pot of gold for us hip-hop scholars (check joe twist and lynne d. johnson for elaboration on a contentious term). coleman's book sets out to answer the question, "why the hell didn't hip-hop albums ever have liner notes?!!??"--and it answers many more before it's done.
although coleman does a fantastic job selecting the albums to represent--a veritable canon of "golden age" classics--and assembling what amounts to "notes" for each of them (including background on the artists, the recording sessions, and their contemporary milieu), the book's most valuable feature is the voluminous commentary direct from the artists themselves. coleman stays out of the way, asking the right questions and letting the artists do the talking. and they bless the book with a treasure trove of details.
conducting interviews with MCs, DJs, and producers while writing his "classic material" column for XXL over the last decade, coleman has assembled a "golden age" oral history of sorts, and the artists' testimony--especially the track-by-track commentary that most of them provide--sheds nuff new light on old sounds. this is a book for heads, for sure, but i think it will appeal to, and inform, a wider hip-hop audience if its gets proper distro. (props to brian for self-publishing. support an independent!)
the documentation about production choices, especially concerning sample-based pioneers marley marl and ced gee, illustrates some of the amazing serendipity and innovation that went into so many of hip-hop's classics. and the acknowledgment of the role of the engineer in these sessions--often a white dude with little knowledge of hip-hop aesthetics, leading to some rather interesting collaborative results, from the wide reverb on schooly d's "PSK" to the tape-spliced samples on EPMD's early work--furthers our understanding of the way that hip-hop music-making has increasingly blurred the lines between engineers, producers, and creators and reveals a great deal about the social contexts, the institutions (from labels to studios), and the strange studio-fellows so integral in the production of this classic material. in some cases, such as the chapter on criminal minded, the reader is treated to pages upon pages of personal recollection by the artist in question, and the revelations abound. certain assertions--for instance, that parrish produced most of EPMD's early stuff and rakim produced most of his and eric b's tracks--will no doubt fuel the fire of debate, and perhaps revise certain longstanding assumptions, for some time to come. (watch out okayplayer boards!)
i've dog-eared my copy to death, and i'm sure many of the details will work their way into the dissertation. (thanks for producing some great research, brian.) here are a few of my favorite, reggae-related gems:
* 2 Live Crew's DJ Mr.Mixx on "Reggae Joint" (from Nasty As They Wanna Be ): "Reggae was just big in Miami, and all those songs we sampled on there were big hits in the reggae scene there. Luke used to play a lot of reggae stuff at his jams, with Ghetto Style DJs" (p.49).
* Producer Hitman Howie T on meeting Special Ed: "I knew Ed since he was probably about 10, because [his cousin] Jennifer lived on my block. One day she came to my house and said, 'My cousin Eddie wants to rap for you.' And because he's Jamaican, I thought he'd do some chanting/DJ type of stuff. Ed surprised me by asking me to put 'Impeach the President' on, and that's where it started" (p.101).
* KRS on "The Bridge is Over" (from Criminal Minded ): "At that time there was a record by Super Cat called 'Boops' and it had the bassline I wanted, so I had the piano that was free in the studio. It was a real piano, and I played it live, one take, for the whole song. If you listen to the original there's so many mistakes, like at the beginning. That's just me tuning up, trying to get my timing together" (p.231).
* and my all-time favorite, solving once-and-for-all the mystery of what-the-hell-is-dude-saying-and-why-does-it-sound-quasi-jamaican when the D.O.C. says something like "rastafarian-sonuvagun-BLAH!" in the intro to "It's Funky Enough" (from No One Can Do It Better ): "Sometimes I had a Jamaican flow on there because I had been drinking that day and when I heard the track in the booth it sounded kind of Jamaican to me. I didn't write the rap like that, it just came out like that" (p.185).
yeah, i'm going to be puzzling over that last one for a minute. but it beats being more-or-less completely in the dark as to why some cat from texas would get all bum-stiggidy-bum-stiggidy-bum-hun on the track all of a sudden: he was drunk!
but enough unauthorized samples from me, go cop a copy for yourself. you'll be glad you did.