Lou Reed

Madchillainy, Sadhugold (original format: digital download via Bandcamp, 2017)

Revisiting, revising returning to the source, this riff on the Madlib/MF DOOM collaboration, Madvillainy that received much acclaim on its 2004 release (even from magazines that don’t normally report on hip-hop, as the wik-précis explains, rather breathlessly). 

My favourite detail in terms of the background: the fact that the 'record contract' with Stones Throw was apparently signed on a paper plate.

Here is the artist's self-description, provided by Sadhugold:

'Sadhugold, 25, from Philadelphia, been producing for about 10 years now, started with looping "Certainly" by Erykah Badu on Audacity lol. My major influences consist of Madlib, Danger Mouse, Alchemist, Lord Finesse, RZA. I originally started with visual art and cartooning, so I plan to one day animate visuals for my music.'

Sadhugold is part of another circle of artists (Mach-Hommy most notably, but also Fly Anakin, CRIMEAPPLE, Estee Nack, Tha God Fahim, Al.Divino) that resembles the Massachusetts line-up referred to previously, producing and creating music together and thereby forming a new centre (no need to speak of margins).

This release immediately appealed to me when I heard it soon after it came out in September. Only one track is now publicly available, 'Beginning of the Rainbow' via Bandcamp where it's available for purchase for ‘$7.77 or more.’ Here's my response to the song while listening to it in real time, and no I'm not making any claims for poetry: 'thump, swirl, internal dynamics, sloshing beat, meditative complexity … warmth/intensity.’

The YT video  of Madchillainy was quickly taken down. Sadhugold explained that he hadn't put it up. His sales took a ‘serious turn’ after some unknown poster did so he got his 'team' to remove it. But when after a period of time I returned to his email to listen to the links he'd sent through, they were no longer viable. From memory then, the rest of the release is of similar worth. Its defining quality is its ‘warmth/intensity.’  It has real verve, calming, but intense at the same time; a less-jaded, more melodic, much sweeter, more youthful, less pinned-out Metal Machine Music (maybe) :

The act of returning to a previous work and re-interpreting it as a way of showing respect and suggesting kinship has broader significance, of course and is a central part of Black musical traditions: hip-hop, jazz, dub. By chance around the same time, I read this old interview from 2012 with Yasiin Bey in HYPEBEAST, link no longer operational, that referred to this and put it in context.      

What can we expect from your new series Top 40 Underdogs and what inspired it?

I am doing this for the culture. The tradition, taking someone’s song and making your version out of it, is not new to hip-hop. It is similar to dancehall music, where there is one rhythm and many artists offer their interpretation of it. Covering songs is certainly in the DNA of the culture. 50 Cent, as a matter of fact, built his name in New York for awhile doing just that. I also like the community mind aspect of it that it belongs to all of us. It basically gives and extends the life of our culture, our rhythm. Thus, this series is something that comes quite natural for me to do. I’ve done it before. Just look at “Children’s Story,” or even my version of JAY-Z’s “Takeover” in 2004. It is something that is really fun to do, you know, giving different perspectives on a familiar piece. 

To learn more about Sadhugold, here's a great interview he did with Tyron de Harlem (Casa de Lowery). In it he speaks about his reworking of some freestyles by Meek Mill - a coincidence that LA producer  Knxledge put out a similar tape around the same time for possibly similar reasons; I thought this section of his reply on the Meek Mill project was interesting:    

'The first few jawns, honestly ... I just really liked those raw loops. All of the loops that you heard on those tapes were loops that I used to listen to continuously, over and over and over again. And it never occurred to me to put acapellas on it because they’re just loops and not full beats but when I put the acapellas on them sh*ts, the sound that came out of that was different than any flip I’d ever done. It was kinda flat but not in a bad way. It was flat like time space continuum and it pulled out different nuances in his flows that I was already so familiar with that I never really like peeped. And it was just crazy to hear that kind of delivery on my medium and sh*t, something that I listen to all the time.' 

'It was kinda flat but not in a bad way ...' 

'Ocean' Lou Reed/Velvet Underground - demo versions

Red and black beetles are joined, as I poke at them and they waddle backwards on the hot concrete; walking home from school with the other children, at the end of summer. Decades later I return to this memory, a little unnaturally; this single memory.

This single memory. Uncertain as to why, but wanting the empty comfort that forever eludes me. Older brothers playing me vinyl records. 

Now as I seek connection with my past I return to Lou Reed and the Velvets, remembering that first listening to 'Ocean' (and 'Heroin' discovering that process of development and the falling back, and feeling some kind of amazement at the essential mystery of it all).    

One, two, three, four ... 

Writing about music is a strange thing as the songs that really touch you leave you without words, but listen to the kick of that beat and how it works with the country-esque guitar - how those elements work together and Lou Reed sings above it all. 

Thinking back now I think the version that really affected me deeply was the live version on the double album, 1969 ... Just like the girl listening to the New York station whose life was saved by rock n'roll something shifted for me when I heard this for the first time.

And just to keep it fresh, here's a very rare acoustic demo (just Lou Reed on guitar) where the delivery takes on an entirely different tone.


Berlin, Lou Reed (RCA Records, 1973)

BERLIN 1973: the city thick with women with fox-stole eyes, shattered glass and junkie Schoeneberg faggots seeking out yet another fix. And, then, police find a chick’s skeleton, shot through the temple, in the woods near Munich.

Call this bitching Katzenmusik where jacked-up ‘sons of good fortune’ slug it out on the streets, or end up in the Dead Section of some penitentiary. Makes me smile, this; I recall LaMonte Young naming the Velvets ‘cat gut music’.

City streets are sheeted by ice, crumbling underfoot as I walk it. Track one: some piano, the two of them in a café where the guitars play. And that devil-guy counting down; eins, zwei, drei, vier ... At the autopsy, the doctor said her brain was TV static, like rows of needles in a lab, from shooting herself up with pills.

‘Poison is the essence of the performer,’ according to that old bore, Nico, my Germanic Queen, ha. Track two: oh-oh-oh Lady Day, when she walked down the street she was like a child staring at her feet. I open the door, velvet and tassled. Track three.

Here is the border zone. Eyes glazed, staring at me.

(Extract from my essay on Lou Reed's 1973 record, Berlin, 'The Hamlet of electricity' that I published some years ago - read it here).

So beautiful the classic rendition, with the sensitive piano accompaniment provided by John Cale, especially the way it works with/against the jarring guitar when it comes in. Compare it with this perhaps more standard version from the same year, recorded in New York.  

I'm still looking for my favourite, though where Lou Reed introduces it with words to the effect that this is his Marlene Dietrich number. That said, the vocal delivery on the album version is so touching, the way it holds back. 

In the essay I spent time concentrating on the track 'Oh Jim' which I still think is one of the most intelligent, subtle songs I have ever heard in terms of the way it unsettles perspective. 

Berlin is a record of great import for me, mapping out the trajectory of the human heart ...

'Kicks' Lou Reed (Coney Island Baby, 1976)

The morning of the show, right ...

Thinking through choices here, whether or not to choose something of deep emotional worth or this deconstructed gem, just listen to the drum-beat; perhaps though this track is a more appropriate response to the soldiers in the street and the confusion in my head, ferried as it is by the way the music builds amid all the sound effects all those chance conversations.

How you get your adrenalin flowing ...

What is with that beat, god it kills me. 'When the blood is coming down his neck, now ...' 

Pitchfork's take on the 30 year reissue: 

Kicks” is the track that benefits most from this 30th anniversary reissue’s superb, wintry-crisp remastering job, playing up the contrast between the song’s creeping momentum and its house-party ambience, while the random, sudden foregrounding of the background chatter— reminiscent of Reed’s own intrusions on John Cale’s “Lady Godiva’s Operation”— is as startling as the best horror-movie shocks. And the title track’s dreamy reminiscence is, of course, more vivid and affecting than ever, heavenly white soul that inhabits the same rarefied sphere as Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks.

Just love the way it builds, but holds back. It's a classic expression of desire held in aspic. 

When you cut that dude with just a little mania
You did it so, ... ah

When the blood comma’ down his neck ...
Don’t you know it was better than sex, now, now, now
It was way better than getting mean
’cause it was, the final thing to do, now
Get somebody to come on to you
and then you just get somebody to
to now, now, come on to you
And then you kill ‘em, yeah
You kill ‘em, now, now, cause I need kicks ...
I’m getting bored, I need, need, need, need now, now some kicks
Oh, give it, give it, give it, give it to me now, now, kicks
Hey, newspaper ...
You did it so, wow, crudely, now
With that blood coming down his chest
It was way better than sex, now, now
It was way better than getting mean
It was the final thing to do
Get somebody to came, come on to you, then
Get somebody to, ah, come on to you
Better kill them now
Better kill him now, now
Yeah, yeah, yeah, kill him now, now
’Cause I need kicks
I need some kicks
I’m getting bored
I need, need, need, need, need, need, need some kicks
Yeah, need, need, need, need, need, need, need some kicks
Oh, give it now, kicks
Yeah, need some kicks
Yeah, need some k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k-k, kicks
Oh, give it me now, now
Kicks, kicks, kicks, kicks ...

Taken from Vulture's rather earnest list of 10 'great lesser-known Lou Reed songs' ...

5. Lou Reed, “Kicks” (1976)
Coney Island Baby is prized by Lou aficionados for its creamy sound and Reed’s heart-on-his-sleeve lyrics. “Kicks” is the album’s outlier, though, as Reed viciously sings of homicidal tendencies over a sinister, jazzy groove and the background chatter of overlapping voices, creating a highly paranoid environment.