"Sundance" - an essay on Jeanne Lee

We’re talking about our work at a roof-top bar in the 11th arrondissement where you can see Sacré-Coeur in the distance. The woman teases me with light humour and kindness about the emphasis of my writing; she says that she plans on returning to Senegal, the country where her father was born to find work in an organisation that makes connections between Dakar and Paris. Recently she says she attended a conference about “women in jazz.” No, no, she says laughing in response to the expression on my face, it was interesting, really. 

"Jazz is a music that combines so many opposites ... You have to find that balance, then you have a guideline between freedom and discipline, between rhythm and melody, between body and spirit, between mind and instinct."

"I feel the music like a dance, I think it's an important part of the music, it has to be felt like a dance."

Jeanne Lee  


Few jazz singers, or singers of any genre, could capture the same emotional depth with such ease, as self-described "a jazz singer, poet/lyricist, composer/improvisor” Jeanne Lee who died aged 61 in Mexico, 2000. Compassion, tenderness, levity and freedom can be heard in her voice. More than anything else, even from her earliest recordings and performances with Ran Blake in the 1960s, Jeanne Lee sounds at peace with herself.

Recently I’ve been ruminating about how our sense of our own identities as women, even as the years pass, is shaped by how we see ourselves in relation to others, how we think about ourselves in terms of how others see us (self as performance, performance as self). I am grateful to Jeanne Lee for the way she seems to have found a way through all this, as an artist she sounds free.

None of this was by chance. Lee’s artistry emanated from her conscious exploration of the limits and potential of performance and improvisation, to give voice to her musical gift and experience as an artist and as a Black woman in the United States (and Europe). Yet in the later years of her life, Lee expressed frustration that she didn’t have so many recordings to her name (a consequence of raising children, she said) and that the multi-faceted nature of her achievement had not been recognised.


Ibrahim Maalouf (“Beirut,” Kalthoum, Diasporas and more)

I consider my mother language, my musical mother language to be Arabic music. I was born into this culture. The music I know the most is Arabic music.”

Ibrahim Maalouf

Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1980 trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf grew up in the suburbs around Paris. Both of his parents are professional musicians: his mother is the pianist, Nadia Maalouf and his father, Nassim Maalouf is the noted trumpeter and inventor of the micro-tonal trumpet that allows musicians to play the sounds specific to Arabic music called the maqams.

Here's a video where Nassim Maalouf speaks about the instrument and another where Ibrahim Maalouf speaks about the micro-tonal trumpet and plays it with a small band. Both interviews are in French. 

“I was seven years old and I used to hear my father practising the trumpet and playing, he was playing in the living-room and my room was right on top of it, so I used to hear this very soft sound. One day I said I would like to play with you, probably to spend time with him. (...) The moments I loved was when we were playing concerts, playing baroque and Arabic music, this is how I started playing the trumpet.”

Interview with Swedish student media (2014) 

Kalthoum (Mister Ibe, 2015)

Kalthoum is a celebration of women who overturned the course of history, women whose artistic influence has had an impact reaching all the way down to our lives today. So I chose an emblematic figure, a genuine monument in the history of Arab people, and incidentally someone whose voice is the one I’ve listened to the most, ever since I was a child: Oum Kalthoum.

Pianist Frank Woeste and I took one of this Egyptian diva’s greatest songs, and we “translated” it into jazz that’s rather conventional, but hopefully it innovates in the way it mixes cultures: the song is “Alf Leila Wa Leila” (“The Thousand and One Nights”). The song was composed in 1969 by Baligh Hamidi, taking the form of a suite lasting around an hour (as often in those days), with a three-minute chorus and verses of between five and twenty-five minutes. A large part of the piece is reserved for improvisation, both in the original version and in this one, but this suite is above all a series of tableaux, and the way it’s set up was very exciting to re-transcribe.

We recorded and mixed it in New York with the same crew as for the album “Wind” in 2011, which was also a homage (to Miles Davis), so I naturally thought of “Kalthoum” as continuing that fine adventure on record, with Larry Grenadier (double bass), Clarence Penn (drums), Mark Turner (saxophone) and Frank Woeste on piano.

In the interview below for the Philharmonie de Paris Ibrahim Maalouf speaks about how Kalthoum's music united the various Arabic language communities (Muslim, Christian, Jewish and atheist); they all adored her work. He adds this work pays his respects to women in his family, and that he achieved this through the use of complex rhythms, piano and drums.    


Maalouf is a major musical star in France and internationally. His website, for example, notes how he is the first jazz musician to have filled France’s largest concert stadium, Paris-Bercy. Mainstream pop/rock is central to his music; he says that Michael Jackson was of equal importance for his development as a child learning to play the trumpet as the Middle Eastern music he would listen to every night before going to sleep.

Some of the climactic rock elements in his work don’t appeal to me much, triggering (bad) memories of 70s arena-rock, Led Zeppelin and the like, but there is something profoundly affecting about much of his music. See his most famous piece ‘Beirut’- this is a particularly touching live recording - released on his 2011 album Diagnostic. The way the music falls and builds inspires optimism and hope, encouraging us to continue whatever we might face.

Much the same could be said for this piece "True Sorry" from his Illusions album released five years ago.

According to Wikipedia, at his concerts Maalouf plays music in a way that will inspire his audience to dance, but also includes meditative moments that he calls instances of "collective/ universal prayer."

Diasporas (Mister Ibe, 2007)

Maalouf's album Diasporas is a wonderful work the way it combines recordings of people speaking in public alongside the music. He started work on the album when he was quite young, aged 22 or 23 and was questioning a lot. "I was recording everything happening in my life," he says."I wanted answers, I was recording the album and working on it. I was listening to the album but felt that something was missing." What was missing were these random conversations with strangers. The track above, "Hashish" includes a recording of talk in a taxi, very deep in the background so that is almost impossible to hear. 

The 2015 Red & Black Light album included a cover of Beyonce's "Run The World (Girls)" with a political video accompanying it. The opening scene, dated 2027, includes a news announcement about how the curfew that affects foreigners is being undermined by groups of women who are encouraging French-born people to mix with those of immigrant origins. The walls of the meeting-place are plastered with posters from France's far-right party, the National Front, saying "France for the French" and "No to massive (unchecked) immigration."

Reminicent Suite, Mal Waldron/Terumasa Hino (Victor, 1973)

Personnel: Bass – Isao Suzuki Drums – Motohiko Hino Percussion – Uzi Imamura Piano–Mal Waldron Tenor Saxophone – Takao Uematsu Trumpet – Terumasa Hino

    'It's part of my personality to be very economical with what I have and to use it in all variations before I move to the next set of notes.'

    Pareles, Jon (September 10, 1982) "Pop/Jazz: Mal Waldron, Expatriate, Brings Quintet to Town" The New York Times

    Mal Waldron who first gained fame for his role as in house pianist/composer at Prestige Records and as Billie Holiday’s accompanist (from 1957 until her death in 1959) had a parallel career of great success in Europe as well as a close personal/professional connection with Japan.

    Much attention has been given to the Paris connection for Black American jazz musicians, but less to their links to other European centres; Waldron moved to Munich in 1967 (where he helped launch the ECM label and appeared on its first release) before moving to Brussels in the 90s. Wiks describes Waldron’s technique that developed during his European residence:

    'From the time he moved to Europe, Waldron played mostly in a free style, while being able to play in a more traditional style when the audience or situation required it. He used thick chords in the lower bass register; his emphasis on weight, texture and frequent repetition of a single and simple motif as opposed to linear and melodic improvisation gave a heavy and dark color to his sound. One facet of his playing was, according to The Penguin Guide to Jazz, 'likened to American minimalism: a slow accretion of almost subliminal harmonic and rhythmic shifts steadily pile up until the music seems ready to overbalance.'

    While the story of the Japanese embrace, reinvention and love for jazz  that manifests not only via collaborations such as this, but also the way Japanese labels so often put out the less-known jazz releases throughout the 70s and beyond is also under-celebrated, it seems to me.

    Waldron recorded this album with a group of acclaimed Japanese musicians (bassist Isao Suzuki, for example, is known in Japan as the “Jazz Godfather” and when living in New York, 1969-1971 recorded with Ron Carter, Paul Desmond, Charles Kelly and Thelonious  Monk and was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers), sitting in for their usual pianist.

    As this anonymous review from Jazz Music Archives notes, what shines through in the recording, is the ease with which Waldron melds with the group, perhaps reflecting his long training as a support person to other artists. (Some claim that he is the greatest jazz piano accompanist). Asked what makes an ideal bassist/drummer in a 2001 Ted Panken interview Waldron replied: 'They listen and they try to adapt to what you’re doing.  That’s all you need, is somebody to listen and to adapt to what you’re doing.  Be like shadows.'

    Here’s the entire Jazz Music Archives review, which is very good so I’ll reproduce it in full here:

    American pianist Mal Waldron’s music is often associated with solo piano albums or acoustic trios, but it’s less known that his music was of a different nature during the early 70s. After his relocation to Europe in 1965, he regularly recorded on local labels (most significant - for German Enja and several albums for ECM), but later, during the early 70s, he became an almost cult like figure on the Japanese jazz scene as well. Many of his best albums were recorded in Japan, or are collaborations with leading Japanese musicians.

    The obscure “Reminicent Suite” is a great example. This two-piece album was recorded in Japan during Mal’s regular Japanese tour, and finds him working with the leading Japanese trumpeter and his group, the Terumasa Hino Quintet, with Mal Waldron taking the piano chair of their regular pianist Mikio Masuda. Terumasa’s Quintet was one of the leading Japanese advanced post-bop collectives of that time, including such sound members as bass legend Isao Suzuki and drummer Motohiko Hino. Improved with Mal’s piano (during early 70s he played much freer than he did in later decades, being a regular co-leader on Steve Lacy albums among others) perfectly communicating the band’s sound as a small orchestra. “Reminicent Suite” is a Waldron composition with strong tunes, well organized and it recalls Mingus’ best works. Terumasa’s trumpet is fast, strong and almost steals the show, but Mal’s piano fits perfectly here, it sounds like he was a Quintet member for months or years. Each musician has enough space for improvisation, a great example of really collective work.

    Side B’s “Black Forest” is a shorter and more percussive composition with stronger Japanese music influence. Repetitive rhythmic structure is used as a basic line for soloists changing each other. Less orchestrated, but melodic, and of the same high intensity level, it perfectly completes side A’s “Suite..”. 

    Never released outside of Japan, this album is too obscure to be better known and more popular. It’s a real pity - this work is a true Mal Waldron and Japanese jazz masterpiece.

    Whether the first piece written by Waldron, ‘Reminicent Suite: Dig it Deep Down, Baby/ Echoes/Once More With Feeling’ or the second ‘Black Forest’ (by Terumasa Hino) appeal more to you depends on how your jazz preferences are set; I love both. The suite follows a traditional set-up of each musician having a solo, but its genius lies in the way the ‘supporting’ musicians create the environment for them to do so, most notably Waldron himself. His performance is marked by wonderful modesty and understatement (at one point he disappears entirely). His solo appears to be so simple, at one point made up of the repetition of single notes.

    Waldron suffered a severe breakdown in 1963, when he lost the capacity to play the piano. Before his breakdown, Waldron played in a lyrical way, but after it, he said that 'I couldn't find that lyricism inside myself any more, so I became a very angular player' (in a way, it is said, that resembled Thelonious Monk's performance style and composition). 

    This ‘angular’ style can be felt in this work, yet it’s not cold and unfeeling. The combination of the abstract and the emotional in Waldron’s playing might be his lasting achievement. The following analysis comes from Adam Shatz’s excellent essay ‘Free At Last: Mal Waldron’s Ecstatic Minimalism’ published in The Nation last year:  

    'Waldron’s style is invariably described as “brooding”—almost all of his pieces are in a minor key—but it could also be described as analytical. Most jazz pianists work to create an effect of outward motion when they improvise. Swing, after all, is a musical analogue of dance, and its aim is to make the body more expansive and supple. Waldron’s music appears to work in nearly the opposite direction, burrowing ever more deeply into its materials: He seems to be on an inward journey. In “The Blues Suite,” for example, the slow, winding song that takes up more than a third of Meditations, there’s an extraordinary moment where Waldron plays a descending figure in the lower registers of the piano; as it recedes, a sample from the Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water” rises in its wake, suggesting a shadowy recollection, or the previously erased layer of a palimpsest.

    Waldron “played every piece as if he were X-raying it,” as Edward Said once observed of Glenn Gould. He turned to music as a kind of mental exercise, a way of figuring out what he thought; his pieces were almost all “meditations.” “I want to be able to see what I am doing,” he explained, “and in order to be very clear in my mind where I am going I have to repeat it.” His search for what he called the “one note that goes for the entire piece” gives his music an almost uniquely obsessive sense of propulsion—the feeling of being in a trance.'

    In the Ted Panken interview he shared how he was classically trained as were most of the jazz musicians from his era and that much of his performance derived from that legacy and Bach in particular.  Here is another extract from the interview:

    Talk about your daily life in ’54-’55-’56-’57.

    Well, my life was consisting of thinking about the melodies in the daytime, writing them at night, and then recording them the next day.

    What did creating the Mal Waldron style entail?  A more orchestral approach to the piano?  A more compositional approach?

    Well, it entailed not thinking of changes as changes, but thinking of changes as sounds, so that a cluster would do for a change or something like that, just a group of notes — not thinking of a tonal concept, just a group of notes would be an impetus for soloing on.


    To read more about jazz, follow the tags in the Blog and In Praise of sections. 

    In praise of: ‘Manifesto,’ dir. Julian Rosefeldt, starring Cate Blanchett (2017)

    ‘Nothing is original (okay?)’/‘So you can steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration and fuels your imagination (okay)?’

    Cate Blanchett, ‘Cinema’ Manifesto, playing the part of an Australian primary school teacher

    'Manifesto  is a 2015 Australian-German multi-screen film installation written, produced and directed by Julian Rosefeldt. It features Cate Blanchett in 13 different roles performing various manifestos. The film was shot over 12 days in December 2014 in locations in and around Berlin. The film premiered and screened at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image from December 9, 2015 to March 14, 2016. The installation was also shown in Berlin at the Museum für Gegenwart (at Hamburger Bahnhof), from February 10 to July 10, 2016, and the Park Avenue Armory in New York City from December 7, 2016, to January 8, 2017.

    A 90-minute feature version premièred at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017

    The film integrates various types of artist manifestos from different time periods with contemporary scenarios. Manifestos are depicted by 13 different characters, among them a school teacher, factory worker, choreographer, punk, newsreader, scientist, puppeteer, widow, and a homeless man. The film consists of 13 segments, each 10:30 minutes long.' 

    Six people in the cinema, including me, it’s around lunch-time at the Cinéma des Cinéastes (Place de Clichy is just outside, the location written about by Henry Miller in books I thought about re-writing, or at least parts of them, from the point of view of the absent women). All very appropriate when watching Cate Blanchett feminise, embody, the great texts I studied as a much younger woman at high school and university. 

    Listening to her intone the pop-sensibility of Claes Oldenburg as if it were a prayer, when saying grace to her own family (eyes closed, to their sudden laughter at one point) or declare the Dada manifesto at a funeral, spitting out the words with spite, at times. Here is an extract from one of the many manifestos written by Tristan Tzara, this is from 1918.

    Every product of disgust capable of becoming a negation of the family is Dada; a protest with the fists of its whole being engaged in destructive action: Dada; knowledge of all the means rejected up until now by the shamefaced sex of comfortable compromise and good manners:

    DADA; abolition of logic, which is the dance of those impotent to create:

    DADA; of every social hierarchy and equation set up for the sake of values by our valets:

    DADA: every object, all objects, sentiments, obscurities, apparitions and the precise clash of parallel lines are weapons for the fight:

    DADA; abolition of memory: Dada; abolition of archaeology: DADA; abolition of prophets: DADA; abolition of the future:

    DADA; absolute and unquestionable faith in every god that is the immediate product of spontaneity:

    DADA; elegant and unprejudiced leap from a harmony to the other sphere; trajectory of a word tossed like a screeching phonograph record; to respect all individuals in their folly of the moment: whether it be serious, fearful, timid, ardent, vigorous, determined, enthusiastic; to divest one’s church of eve ry useless cumbersome accessory; to spit out disagreeable or amorous ideas like a luminous waterfall, or coddle them—with the extreme satisfaction that it doesn’t matter in the least - with the same intensity in the thicket of core’s soul pure of insects for blood well-born, and gilded with bodies of archangels. Freedom:

    DADA DADA DADA, a roaring of tense colors, and interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions, grotesques, inconsistencies …

    Originally created as an art installation with all the texts being heard at the same time, here they are transformed into ‘readings’ - as in readings for an audition, we are always aware that they are being performed because of Blanchett’s technique (see, for instance, that striking scene where she is a ‘tattooed punk’ inhaling smoke on the word ‘incandescence’ as if mocking the pretentious nature of the word and language itself. When checking this scene after writing that sentence, I realised this is my imagination, the inhalation of smoke follows the words, it does not frame them).  

    I like the way the characters are named, this in itself is poetic: 'Burning flame; homeless man; broker; worker in an incineration plant; CEO at a private party; tattooed punk, scientist; funeral speaker; puppeteer; conservative mother with family; choreographer; newsreader and reporter; teacher.'

    Watching this film with its emphasis on foregrounds and still scenes (or aerial shots in the dramatic opening sequence) makes you think more about how cinema is something that is constructed. With this in mind the sequence with the mother leaving her sleeping child is particularly touching (and honest, I was grateful that there was no last-minute close-up of the mother embracing her child).

    Outside as the dishevelled woman goes to her motorbike in an environment that echoes her face, etched with neglect, the scene reminded me of the great artist Chantal Akerman’s portraits of women and women’s lives. (Minutes earlier the character has the most remarkable language, poetry and politics fill her mind, as she wearily gets ready to go to work). 

    Here are links to all the texts and the scenes and this music makes up the soundtrack:

    Terry Riley/Don Cherry Köln (February 23, 1975) w/ French film of Don Cherry, 1973

    Personnel: keyboards, Terry Riley, trumpet, Don Cherry, vibraphone, Karl Berger

    Recorded one month after and in the same venue as the famous Köln concert by Keith Jarrett – see my earlier article on Jarrett’s 'Endless' here – this album was first released as a limited edition of 500. As the Discogs description has it, it is ‘a legendary recording that pairs Don Cherry's heavenly trumpet stylings, Terry Riley's psychedelic/minimalist organ work and the vibes of Karl Berger ...’

    More than four decades on the concert has never received an official release, possibly as one person states (in another Discogs summary) 'due to the fact that Cherry's trumpet distorts throughout.'

    Within jazz, the trumpet always has a transcendent quality - cutting through, providing definition. What is so evocative here is the way Cherry’s contributions are truncated, broken in a way that reinforces the totalising effect of the dense, underwater repetition behind it. This is, at once, disorientating but also offers comfort, as if these moments are remnants of a forgotten melody (or melodies). The lack of development fascinates me.

    Such music requires a different kind of listening experience. The details, the absences – the fact that Cherry’s contributions are so infrequent – become more important that the idea of completion; see here in particular ‘Descending Moonshine Dervishes,’ which invites us to make connections with Riley’s great album Persian Surgery Dervishes from 1971 (and then later was used by Riley for the title of a 1982 record)

    Here is Chad DePasquale’s take on the Köln concert, published at the Listen to This website: 

    In 1975, pioneering minimalist composer Terry Riley and jazz trumpet cosmonaut Don Cherry joined forces for a magnetic performance in Köln, Germany. Recorded live, but never commercially released, the concert is something of a hushed treasure, as well as the only record of a profound spiritual experience and meeting of two free form jazz titans. Riley’s swirling synth, droning and clairvoyant and prescient in its clarity, parades along with a triumphant Cherry, leaving behind trails of mystery and a sense of beauty in a larger, more universal form. Side A, the twenty-minute “Descending Moonshine Dervishes,” is a transcendent moment of improvisational experimentation and spiritual jazz. As Cherry’s physical presence slowly liquifies, “the lonesome foghorn blows” into some kind of misty dawn. His mournful trumpet immerses the listener into dense layers of playful percussion and dissonance. When Karl Berger joins the duo on vibraphone for side B, the tone becomes more hypnotic and reedy – a strange mystical noir – with the final three-and-a-half minutes of “Improvisation” exuding a vivid imagination. A lucid and rhythmic front row seat to the startling beauty of minimalist explorations and eloquent fusions of Eastern and Western ideas.

    Online reviews of this concert are few and far between but follow the tone above, lush in their description (one strange diversion from the pattern being this odd, gnomic line: ‘The best album by Terry Riley & Don Cherry is Live Köln 1975 which is ranked number 13,072 in the overall greatest album chart with a total rank score of 95.’)

    There is something affecting about this music, but its power lies in the way it avoids over-statement, or display (Cherry principally, but also Riley and Berger refuse to please or perform or provide dramatic moments). Perhaps it is this quality that encourages us to seek out and perhaps overuse language - adjectives, but also verbs in unusual forms - in an attempt to express how it connects with something inside us.

    Coda: ‘Don Cherry’ -

    Director: Jean-Noël Delamare, Nathalie Perrey, Philippe Gras (...) Don Cherry, trumpet, illustrating an André Breton poem in various Paris locations.

    Fr: Un homme noir, trompettiste de free-jazz, débarque sur la terre, venu d'un autre monde. Il recherche la vérité de ce monde, mais ne sait quel chemin prendre... Il parcourt plusieurs chemins, abat des monstres, pour enfin découvrir les trois vérités : MUSIQUE, SAGESSE, AMOUR. (Eng: A black man, a free jazz trumpeter, comes to earth from another planet. He searches for the truth of this world, but doesn't know which path to take. He wanders various roads, kills monsters, and finally discovers the three truths: MUSIC, WISDOM, LOVE).

    ‘Korn Dogz’ DANGERDOOM (Occult Hymn, digital release, 2006) plus Nico & Nas, interview excerpt

    Something that appeals and does truly, madly etc is when an artist or piece of music or an artist clicks with me despite my instincts not to like to it. MF DOOM was held in the category (of not being something I'd like) for a long while, until I came across some music by chance.

    Knotted up like roots of a mangrove with plenty of contradictions, something about his popularity (with people who read the same kinds of books as me and get burnt by the sun easily) made me suspicious, and I was wary because of his image as someone whose rhymes were ‘cute’ or self-aware. Even if this didn’t make much sense, as that moment of self-consciousness when an MC smiles, knowing that they have blitzed it is one of the first things I loved about hip-hop performance this second time around. Then I came across this, not so long ago …

    At some point I’ll write more on DOOM, when I can find an angle that makes sense to me without it becoming too academic and … well, see above. What turned it was an emotional depth I could hear at some points in some of his verses, principally a sadness or chastising tone that went against the stereotype of DOOM as the 'funny guy/entertainer in a mask.'

    Added to that I couldn’t help but be impressed by his brilliance. No other MC comes close to the way DOOM builds associations that have weight to them and are not just left hanging in a three-point lyrical rhumba: first idea, second, third the final word running on a rhyme that echoes a phoneme. At its best, DOOM’s lyrics can dazzle you with their skill, while also imparting something serious. Moreover, as I’ll argue below his tendency to shift tone, without developing it, is in itself intriguing in terms of technique.

    When I discovered that this track from his collaboration with Danger Mouse, DANGERDOOM  sampled Nico’s ‘Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams’ from Chelsea Girl, especially at this time when I’m thinking a lot about the use of strings in popular music, not just hip-hop but across the genres, well ping! Transformation of prejudices time (this has been sent to me).

    It's said that it also samples ‘What The Beat’ from DJ Klue, feat. Method Man and Royce da 5’9 from his 2001 record, The Professional 2

    To again use the negative rhetorical set-up: the trademark elements of a DOOM track that had distanced me before were here, principally the skits/or samples from TV, moreover the production style is so clean/considered. Normally this kind of sound would be too conventional, at least with a lesser MC. But the opening less than 5 seconds here, the way it unfurls on itself is beautiful with the strange grunt, bamboo style drums and strings are nice. There’s the essential cleverness/wordplay:

    We don’t suggest you let your girly go alone
    Come home all glowin with the the pearly glow
    It was the super AKA super sperm
    Hit her in the chin, told her rub it in like lubriderm
    Finished, oh spaz go next
    Who’s fault is it if her face taste like Vazoplex?

    The use of the ‘we’ is interesting and reinforces the menacing mood, it sounds threatening because of the ambiguous subject (to read about the play on lubiderm/Vazoplex and the rest of the song, go here). Then that emotional depth I referred to before comes through:

    ... It ain’t funny
    Ever since a young’un sonny, take the money
    His first business made each day a grand
    His only comp, shorty with the spiked lemonade stand
    That’s how he ran his hustle
    He came with a plan that took least amount of muscle
    Two for one, dime frogs for the lickin’
    And all you can eat, ”Corn dogs for the pickin”

    As DOOM says, this isn’t funny. He establishes the scene of possible sexual violence – though it’s deadpanned, it's not clear – or exploitation; 'that’s how he ran his hustle,' telling the story of someone who is again unidentified. This refusal to set up characters is striking. A less adventurous MC would either end up describing a friend back at school or who is now in prison etc or focus on him/herself as the narrator, but DOOM rarely does this. He creates a lyrical space where we are already inside the action, as he tells the story.

    As a lyrical device in hip-hop this is quite experimental: the way he gestures towards telling a story (refers to the typical paradigms and characters) without actually doing it. He refers to a situation (as above) but then doesn’t allow us to see it develop into a conclusion, as you’d expect.

    The narrative does continue, but is the ‘seemingly modest fellow’ the same as the ‘young’un’ I don’t know.

    ... A seemingly modest fellow
    With a DJ’s ear and graffiti artist elbow
    Nose of a Mouse and the brain of two weasels
    Discovered a name and new strain of the measles
    He say you accidentally caught it
    And sold circles and dots to those who could afford it
    Once you squeezed his face through the gate
    It got stuck, too much fake soy-based cheese product
    Did a scheme and was in it for the Aspercreme
    Slashed your team, let’s see who can make Casper scream
    Down to the last marine
    See him as your cable man, sizin’ up your plasma screen
    Instead of doin a jux with pistols
    Or workin’ in the back, cookin’ sacks of crystals
    Or runnin’ on logs out in deep water kickin’
    ”Corn dogs for the pickin

    Compare this ambiguity and refusal to tie things up neatly with Nas’s narrative/storytelling style that develops characters or stories to represent his arguments, in ‘What Goes Around’ from his 2001 album Stillmatic :

    The genius of Nas's lyricism is apparent certainly. He like DOOM doesn't over-state, or over-extend his references to other people's stories, he touches on them/makes connections then moves on. And yet the characters are clear to us, as is the overall argument of his lyrics. Neither could be said about DOOM's lyricism, even if we sense that they exist.  

    See here how DOOM then jumps to another subject, posing a question about ‘dedicated dads’ before – apparently – critiquing the self-absorption of his contemporary MCs suggests his intent is also to provide some (critical) commentary on the current state of affairs:

    What up to all you dedicated dads
    As stated, rap sucks Tucks medicated pads
    And these rappers need to gather their belongings
    Or get wrapped up in they extra long thong strings
    For singin’ the wrong things
    Ain’t no delayin’, you playin’ with the Pong king
    A nerd with insight and a Urkel smirk
    Purposefully misplaced invite to your circle jerk
    ... A bunch of men in cyphers
    Fake you out tough guys and make pretend lifers
    It’s still a few loose screws in his face
    Turn away as he pulled a phrase out his usual place
    ... Combination jewel case
    Almost popped open if it wasn’t for the cruel space
    Critics talkin’ slick chicken shit to sick men
    ”Corn dogs for the pickin

    Here’s an excerpt from a longer interview with DOOM where he speaks about his lyricism, the way he writes his rhymes with the listener in mind, thinking about how they will have expectations to then skirt around them.

    In praise of: ‘Sparrow’ Marvin Gaye (Here, My Dear, Tamla, 1978) plus ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow’

    Personnel: Vocals, keyboards and synthesizers Marvin Gaye, drums Bugsy Wilcox, percussion Elmira Collins, bass Frank Blair, guitar Wali Ali, trumpet Nolan Smith, tenor saxophone Charles Owens/ Fernando Harkness, alto saxophone (solo) by Ernie Fields

    Something to value is an artwork, a song, a piece of music that expresses the spirit of an artist, while gesturing out in new and unexpected directions. ‘Sparrow’ from Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear is the perfect example of this. Wiks suggests that the lyrics have a ‘poetic and religious tone’ to them, but what does this mean?

    In 1968 Marvin Gaye covered ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow’ a gospel hymn, written by Civilla D. Martin with composer Charles H. Gabriel in 1905, see the description of how the song came about (which is kind of eccentric, stolen from Wik as always) 

    Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel-chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was the outcome of that experience.

    This hymn has been covered by all the greats: Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, Lauryn Hill, Whitney Houston and by Gladys Knight singing at the funeral of Michael Jackson. (What’s interesting is the way the piece of music resonated with artists from particular eras, with nine recordings in the 50s/60s, two in the 70s and 80s each, before experiencing a resurgence in the 90s, with seven artists putting out versions of the song). Here is Marvin Gaye's interpretation: 

    ‘His Eye Is On The Sparrow’ with its stirring music and final resolution, moves from the opening spirit of despondency to comfort, knowing that God is ever-present, ‘watching over’ the one who is lost. Quoting Marvin Gaye's lyrics:

    Why should I feel so discouraged
    I wanna know why should the shadow come
    Oh tell me why why should I feel lonely, so lonely
    And long for heaven and a home

    Since Jesus is my portion
    A constant friend he is
    His eye is on the sparrow
    And I know he watches over me
    His eye is on the sparrow
    And I know he watches over me

    I sing because I'm happy
    And I sing because I'm free
    His eye is on the sparrow
    And I know Jesus watches me

    Note how Marvin Gaye simplified and loosened up the original lyrics of the hymn, leaving out the more literary, but touching refrain: “Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
    And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears.’

    Compare this then with 'Sparrow’ from the angry, sprawling and brilliant ‘divorce’ record from 1978. On one level, Gaye’s tone is tender, gentle as if addressing his lover in 'Sparrow' (his ‘sweet, itty, bitty, pretty bird.’ Even if in the same verse he refers to himself in the third person, ‘Sing to me, Marvin Gaye before you fly away ...’ thereby diluting the sentiment). 

    As with any gospel song, 'Sparrow' begins with the expression of loss, difficult circumstances, the problem or obstacles faced by the artist:

    I used to hear a sparrow singing, baby
    Oh, but one day as I went along I didn't hear his song
    But I know the sparrow should sing
    Sing on such a morning in spring
    Oh sparrow, why don't you sing?

    Sing to me, oh, sparrow come around
    Come around, why don't you come around?
    Sing about melody, aww, melody
    About the things you see
    Anything you want to sing about
    Just sing it on out now, sing it on out

    Let the world know what life's all about
    Sing, little sparrow, sing
    Sing, little sparrow, sing
    Oh sing, little sparrow, won't you sing for me?

    This encourages us to think it could be about artistic inspiration, with Gaye feeling abandoned by his muse, but then the next verse flips this entirely. Distancing himself from the lyrical framework of gospel music Gaye does not place himself in the role of the abandoned (sparrow). The ‘sparrow’ is said to be his previous support, as he sings: ‘Every time I'm feeling low/I know I can always count on you/Sing, little sparrow/About the troubles you're in, places you've been/You can sing I know it, don't you try to pretend ...’

    Taking it at face value, Gaye is singing to a sparrow (a lover) and this fits with one of the key tropes of popular music, from soul/R&B and pop music, the idealised (or real) vision of the lover who is forever true. Carried within this is the awareness that the expression of longing is what counts, the desire for the idealised love.

    Yet the song’s true achievement (outside the extraordinary musicianship, take that as a given) lies in the way it changes lyrically/musically half-way through, following the lull in the bridge, when Gaye returns, just after 3’30.” Any and all of the previous gentleness is gone, ‘Sing to me ...’ Gaye begins with a tone that sounds more like a directive rather than an expression of affection or gratitude.

    And what does Marvin Gaye want his ‘sparrow’ to sing of - the focus is light years away from gospel and indeed any kind of straightforward love song :

    Sing to me about man's inhumanity
    And all the injustice you see
    Sing sparrow, sing, little sparrow, sing
    Sing about what to give
    Sing about about how to live
    I want you to sing your tune sparrow
    Oh, little sparrow, sing

    Sing to me of jealousy
    Aww, sing what that's all about
    Sing it all out, shout, little sparrow
    Aww, sing at me
    Sing me a, sing me a song
    I wanna know what's wrong, little bird, tell me
    Aww, sparrow

    Sing sparrow 'cause I wanna know
    You sweet, itty, bitty, pretty bird
    Sing before you go
    Sing to me, Marvin Gaye before you fly away
    Never stop singing sparrow till we hear your song

    Sing your song
    Sing your song
    On and on and on and on
    On and on and on and on and
    I remember a bird