Wu-Tang

‘Won’t Catch Me Runnin’/’Remain Anonymous’ Ras Kass (PatchWerk Recordings, 1994)

Embodying all the key elements of the dirtier aspect of the ‘90s production sound – that exaggerated beat which includes a kind of in-built foundation of a meandering bassline, the tinkling keyboard sound and screechy, hard-to-work-out female vocal sample – the a/side ‘Won’t Catch Me Runnin’ sees Ras Kass present a familiar narrative of hard times.

But the b/side, ‘Remain Anonymous’ takes it to another level.

With an amazing rhyme that tackles well-trawled territory – about how Ras Kass lords over all others – it has an unextinguished energy, while capturing perfectly a kind of urgent paranoia in the delivery even if it sounds supremely confident, as it opens:

Western Hemisfear, stand clear ock
Cause now the sun sets across six-hundred and six septillion tons
Come correct, I project like a telepathic caption
Four meters over soundwaves
I comes off with positions like pornographics
Twenty questions - animal, vegetable, or mineral
What am I? Atom - amphibian, invertebrate, or mammal?

Name-checking his peers (Western Hemisfear), apparently questioning himself, while making a pop culture reference to a TV show, but also as comments on the lyrics page note, Ras Kass is also suggesting that he holds the Earth on its axis: ‘six-hundred and six septillion tons’ is the literal weight of the planet, he carries on his back like Atlas.

Much of the lyrical content in ‘Remain Anonymous’ is extremely dense (littered with references to public figures from the time, filled with puns and plays on words) but on the basis of its poetics it’s equally impressive. Notice the repeated phonemes, some offering an exact rhyme some partial in the line: ‘Cause/now/sun/across/hundred/tons’ which is then carried over into the following lines and the joke about the word ‘come’. 

I scribble incredible rhymes to rhythm, nepotism
Your prism couldn’t invent
Too many MC’s get deals from who ya down with, or where ya represent
But since I house more niggas than section eight
State statements about your state
Although my state of mind fornicates breaks
Your magazine ad got you souped up
Test-y like two nuts, marketing gimmicks
Catch wreck like Sam Kinison, convincingly
Cause what nigga got props in the industry don’t really interest me
My motto is: the bigger they are, the more politics involved
And I revolve at a rate to make your occipital skull plate dissolve
Techniques delve deep..
(Slick Rick sample: “How much you’ll never knooow”)

That moment around 1’30 with the Slick Rick sample is so cool as the producer, Vooodu – apparently this was his first release – steps back from the previous high-intensity maelstrom of sound effect to let it seem a bit patch-work, to change in mood again ten seconds later.

There’s a wild and beautiful intensity here – made up from the lyrics/delivery and music – that makes this track hard to ignore, decades on.

Two important tracks from the 80s are sampled on the track: Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s ‘La Di Da Di’ (aka ‘This might be the most sampled/interpolated hip hop song ever,’ according to one YouTube poster having been sampled on 500 different hip-hop releases); ‘Part-Time Suckers’ from Boogie Down Productions

alongside Pete Rock/CL Smooth’s ‘The Basement’ from 1992 and Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Method Man’ (1993). 

I seen the scene from the outside lookin in through a window pane
Pain; hypertension ruptured the varicose vein
The vainglorious breaks I be, perpetratin omnipotent reign
I rain acid, grate your crew to steak meat
The stakes increase on break beats, your fleet fleets run
When I'm rippin ya Kubrick's, meaning deceased, rest in peace
Pieces of my nebulous flex paralyzes oblongatas
To witness my linguistics like a Muslim takes jihad or not
Since A&R only sign gangster rap acts
Don't get it twisted stereotypin by geography West coast syntax
I signify for C-Arson
The city North of Long Beach, Southwest of Compton ...

All this juice evaporates - what it boils down to
Is the "yes yes y'all," and only that makes a rapper great
Fuck rhetoric and repertoire, demographics and heavy rotation
Slowly the lyrication makes sense
Fuck fame; I snuff that ass out the frame
It ain't Snoop Dogg, so what's my motherfuckin name?
"The arra-arra-R, A, ella-ella-S" (keep it goin)

"You don't know me and you don't know my style" - Method Man (x6)

Yo, wack MC's - it's O-V... E-R
I be R, the nigga who killed your P.R
For the brothers with skills who can't get a record deal
Remain anonymous.. (*fades out echoing*)

Fades out echoing

Super Rare Ol' Dirty Bastard Freestyle 1995 (& hip-hop monstaz)

Lost within the widespread dismissal of hip-hop as a genre in much of the media and elsewhere - the entire 'is rap music' debate; let alone all the constant aggro about the sexism, machismo in the videos etc - is a) the diversity of the emcees  b) the humour.

Who better then the be put forward in counter-attack than ODB (Ol' Dirty Bastard) who became famous as part of the Wu-Tang Clan, back in the 90s.  Now held up as a kind of icon of the bygone era, ODB outsmarted, outshone all competitors in any context.  

One of the reasons why lots of people who don't normally listen to hip-hop say, yeah I like that stuff from the 90s, I think is because it's often funny; with all that word-play, it's easy to like and most of the time not too threatening. (Now that comment isn't meant to be too sarcastic, too critical, it's just sometimes I don't understand how people can go on and on and on about how great the 90s hip-hop was, but show no interest in anything since: it would be the same as if someone rattled on about 90s Britpop and never listened to Radiohead, or something). 

But what's glorious about ODB for me is that he embodies both the humour - he's hilarious by any standard - but also the hip-hop strange. He's really funny, but far from cuddly .....

'Raw Hide' - feat. Method Man and Raekwon from ODB's Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (1995) is an American classic, maybe even a true masterpiece. Taking as an incidental (almost) starting-point the quintessential trope of White (cowboy) Americana, the Rawhide TV series that starred Clint Eastwood and ran from 1959-1965, this track is messy and smart, but above all it's angry.

And all that intensity is carried by ODB's words and delivery:  

[Ol’ Dirty Bastard]
Yea, gotta come back to attack
Killin niggaz who said they got stacks, cause I don’t give a fuck
[inhales] I wanna see blood, whether it’s period blood
Or bustin your fuckin face, some blood!!
I’m goin out my FUCKIN mind!!
Everytime I get around devils [breathing hard]
Let me calm down, you niggaz better start runnin
Cause I’m comin, I’m dope like fuckin heroin
Wu-Tang Bloodkin, a goblin, who come tough like lambskin
Imagine, gettin shot up with Ol Dirty insulin [sucks air]
You bound to catch AIDS or somethin
Not sayin I got it, but nigga if I got it you got it!!
WHAT?!? [echoes]

This rhyme is really clever the way it builds at the end via all the rhymes/half-rhymes doubling up in the middle of the sentences (comin'/goblin/gettin') and at the end as well (runnin'/heroin/lambskin/insulin/somethin') as a way to bring it to a close while making explicit the internal logic of it all.

Here, ODB is taking on the persona of a 'devil' - a monster; playing around with the notion of the Scary Black Male that is used to justify white racist violence in the US against African-American men, whether it is by police in uniform or concerned citizens 'standing their ground'.

Monsters are a recurring theme in hip-hop; running from Big L to Ice T's revenge fantasies to the eccentric pop-culture reveries of MF Doom and Ghostface Killah's Twelve Reasons to Die project from 2013 with its slasher-gore pix of a white woman 'defiled' by a man in a mask.

More recently, Joey Badass has revived the notion in his track 'No.99' where the monster-figure fights against 'the supremacy' (amid the background brouhaha of tabloid news) ...