This week I continue my quest to sift through the white noise and bring you the gems you so richly deserve:
Best Accessory To Bring To The Grammy Awards: Black People
The one thing that was supposed to make Grammy night a site of controversy went off with so much hype and anticipation that to see it in action stirred little in the way of angst or excitement. If you wanted subtext, you had to look past the protests and the GLAAD-handing and engage in a little racio-geographical investigation. Where were the black performers on Grammy night? Right behind their white patrons, thank you very much. From Paul Simon's neoliberal head-patting of his black rhythm section to Moby's continued denigration of the black voice (not to mention the Grammy cameras seemed to have forgotten Jill Scott was on stage, preferring instead the model-minority antics of the Blue Man Group) to Eminem's toting around of beefy prot駩s D-12, the race card was actually a trump card this year. And Lil Bow Wow driving Miss Madonna on the show's intro? Talk about getting served. . . .
Best Use of Muscular Bass, Upright: Now Is The Time by Alex Blake Quintet featuring Pharoah Sanders
Earlier this month at New York's Knitting Factory, Alex Blake helmed a trimmed-down version of this quintet. His partners were enthusiastic enough, but Blake himself is far too large a presence to share a stage with. Slapping the bass with manic ferocity, Blake got lost in the spiral of his own genius. On tracks like "On the Spot" and "Now Is the Time," Blake achieved live something only hinted at on record: a fully physical form of playing—head wildly shooting side to side, strings getting clomped upon like a sidewalk. His playing was brisk and forthright, with no pretense whatsoever. At the one point where he mellowed, Blake even attempted a bridge between country and jazz, with a sidelong glance at acoustic blues. But even then he could hardly contain himself. By song's end, he'd fully integrated the genres and fully integrated himself into the music, achieving as much through his gesticulations as his nimble string manipulations.
Best Use of Muscular Bass, Synthesized: "Lap Dance" by N.E.R.D. (The Neptunes)
Auteurs of the bass-pop revolution, the Neptunes have orchestrated enough gluteal hits to earn their keep for years to come. But they're unsatisfied with behind-the-scenes machinery, and on their concept project N.E.R.D., the starmakers become the objects of attention. "Lap Dance" is the first single from their upcoming album In Search Of . . . , and it's as mechanically funky as any of the shakers they've given away to Mystikal, Jay-Z, or Noreaga. Over the fat introductory two-note bass pattern (like car-audio competition fat), Pharrell (one half of the Neptune duo) whispers, "I'm a dirty dog," before breaking into his proclamation mode: "I'm an outlaw/Quick on the draw/Something you never seen before/And I dare a motherfucker to come in my face." Then, for 200 thoroughly gnarly seconds, Pharrell and his Neptune partner, Chad, simultaneously revel in and poke fun at the bizarre gyroscope of hip-hop excess they've inadvertently landed on. To add insult to injury, some white rapper named Harvey comes off like Eminem meets Joey Fatone—"You can find me drunk, whippin' and might crash/or you can find me chilling with crackers who like thrash"—and a video so raunchy MTV won't even look at it. If this doesn't slap you silly, you're silly already.
Most Unlikely Instance(s) of Visionary A&R, Scavenging-For-Hooks Department: "Get Ur Freak On" by Missy Elliott and "Oochie Wally" by Bravehearts featuring Nas
Run out of funk records? Vintage R&B just not doing it for you anymore? Well don't be scared to dip your toes in the exciting sphere of "world" music. That's right, plenty of people in lots of countries are making music. And no one's stolen the majority of their ideas yet! But hurry because producers Timbaland and EZ Elpee are ahead of the curve. On "Get Ur Freak On," Timbaland mixes what sounds like electric sitar and tabla drums into the oddest hip-hop beat this side of Company Flow (maybe that's where he got the sitar idea?). Topped off with a pair of breaks, silent save for some snippets of devotional singing, "Get Ur Freak On" is so bizarre it almost defies radio play.
That can't be said of "Oochie Wally," an EZ Elpee production for the ill-fated QB's Finest album, which takes its ethnic cues not in its beat but on the melody. Underneath traditional club-ho shouts and thuggish-pimp rhymes dances the most delicate reed sounds ever committed to hip-hop wax, the shrill South Asian shenai. Presumably it's all synthesized or looped, but it still penetrates through the urban radio haze. Better than Eric B lifting Ofra Haza! Well, not really, but it elevates this retrograde banger to a casual effervescence not seen since the '92 hip-hop heyday. No word on whether "oochie wally" is an Eastern koan of any kind, though.