The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Monday, October 07, 2002

Just what do you do about the fact that you enjoy listening to dynamic, propulsive music which lyrically is right-wing beyond Celine, beyond Rand, beyond any form of redemption? There are a number of approaches. One is to view it dispassionately as the end result of a free-market society, of what unrestrained capitalism does to a society and an individual. This is the stance which I chose to take on the first, eponymously-titled mini-album by Schoolly-D back in 1986. Unlike any other rap of the time, and unlike most rap subsequently (at least until the onset of Def Jux), this music defied you to dance to it. Beats were mixed back amidst swathes of dub echo, and the vocals weren't particularly upfront either; everything was heard from a distance, or from the bottom of a deep, radiation-filled crater. Amongst other things, Schoolly-D comments on this record on how funny it is watching someone you've just shot squirming in their dying throes. Women are unequivocally "bitches." And yet musically it was phenomenal and innovative - the flipside to Michael Gira's founded paranoia; a dilemma never to be encountered with the likes of Skrewdriver.

In recent times, innovation in mainstream rap has continued with a proportional increase in dumb attitudes. Sitting - or even dancing - through the collective smirks of Ludacris, Ja Rule, Mystikal and others on the Westwood Presents Vol 3 album is, ultimately, a guilty pleasure. You recognise the dumbness of the thoughts expressed but don't let that overpower the astonishing escalations of the music.

Two more cases now come to mind. The first is 2 Stepz Ahead, the second album from So Solid satellites Oxide and Neutrino. The ethical dilemma involved in enjoying this record has already been articulated - albeit, typically, not very well - by Alexis Petridis in the Guardian. Why, Petridis asks, should Neutrino's lousy, sexist doggerel fuck up the genuinely innovative sonic landscape which Oxide has produced? The problem with this argument is that, having listened to the album, I'm not convinced that Oxide's approach, though highly enjoyable, is in any way innovative - his approach would appear to be a marriage of the synth brutality of recent electroclash with a slightly more refined rhythmical variation on the 2-step template. It reminds me of a somewhat beefed-up version of the harder-edged d&b of the mid-'90s - Skykicker, Dirtdevils, the No U Turn crew - which is no bad thing.

Secondly, is there by any stretch of the imagination any reason why we should take Neutrino's words seriously? As a general point, I think albums need to get rid of "intros" - after all, you don't get Brian Wilson coming on at the beginning of Pet Sounds to explain to us several dozen times over what an innovative album this is. We'll be the judges of that. Nonetheless, Neutrino's approach is such that you can only really laugh at it - he's actually rather funny. This is perhaps most apparent on the first of the album's two takes on "Rap Dis" where he has a jibe at S Club 7, does a schoolboy chant of "Don't Stop Movin'," and goes on to diss "lame MCs" who "sound like Mr Blobby." Now, Petridis would have us regard that as a mark of the immaturity which lets the album down, but in actual fact I rather enjoy someone jeering about Mr Blobby over adventurous music; it's the childishness which would kill pop music if it ever let go of it (compare to the abundantly worthy, can't argue with a syllable of what he's saying, how many times have you played it in the last ten years BE HONEST, Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury). The rest of the album continues in a similar vein, and on "Rap Dis 2" and "Hard 2 Get," Kaish and The Twins respectively undermine Neutrino's dumb-assed come-ons. The really bizarre track here is "Amsterdam," an Irvine Welsh-style recollection of a drug-induced one-man crimewave ("I pushed a policeman in the water to see if pigs float") which ends with him trying to hijack a tram, having all his limbs broken, and finally (somehow) jumping to his death, set against a bizarre martial background. Helpfully, my copy came with a bonus instrumental CD, so Oxide himself probably realised how Neutrino's mouthwash wouldn't necessarily wash down, and the instrumental adventures can be enjoyed on their own (though for me the vocals are a necessary juncture to it).

More serious problems present themselves with My Crew, My Dawgs, the debut album by the dancehall vocal quartet TOK. This is an instantly aggressive record, but musically it is mostly compelling; the Four Tops relocated in a shanty town. "Man Ah Bad Man" with Bounty Killer rocks, "Gimmi Da Muzik" manages to make even Shabba Ranks sonically useful, "Eagles Cry" approaches Prince's "When Doves Cry" from, it's safe to say, the opposite angle to Patti Smith's recent reading. "Money 2 Burn" uses the same backing track as Beenie Man's "Miss L.A.P." to nearly as good, if less epic, effect, while astonishingly, on "On The Radio" we hear the exact same refrain ("TOK is on the radio...mashing up your stereo" etc.) which subsequently materialised on Ms Dynamite's "Dynami-tee." An instance of the reformer borrowing from the reactionaries?

But where TOK and I part company is on the track "Chi Chi Man." Yes it's another "Boom Bye Bye," more pseudo-Biblical homophobia - to the tune of a naggingly familiar Christmas carol (the "do you see what I see?" one - answers by email please) the four lads joyously chant "Make me a fire for to burn them!" over and over. OK, so we can't turn our heads and pretend that these viewpoints don't exist or should not necessarily be heard...and while this is already one step too far, they go another fatal step further in the "interlude" "Ghetto Youths Anthem" wherein we hear a bunch of young children chanting the same chorus. So it is obviously central to their philosophy. Why would they go back to it? Why would they make such an issue out of it? And it needless to say fucks up and negates everything else they might have to say. Even Skrewdriver were never reduced to having a gang of kids on their albums chanting "Burn the Jews," but TOK are. And you can argue all you like about it, but this is the reverse of Neutrino's ultimately harmless "childishness"; it is evil indocrination, it is anti-human, and I say to hell with it. And then I go and play the album again. Go figure.

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