3.27.2004

Corrupting the Youth

Last night, Lili and I were hanging around the house, and she asked me for a white sheet of paper, because she wanted to write.
"Can I have a pen too?" she asked.
"You bet," I said. I like it when she takes initiative and writes or paints or plays with LEGO® blocks without prompting. It demonstrates curiosity, drive, and a generally good character. We don't have a TV around here, so entertainment is usually the product of one's own designs. Maybe it's a lame idea, but I think if one has to actively defend against boredom, rather than passively, it's good for the constitution.
Anyway, I grabbed a red pen and gave it to her, and she sat at the table with her paper and pen and started writing. As you all know I picked up a new record this week, and she and I had been talking about a guy who wears a metal mask. It's kind of silly stuff, cartoony, and it's fun to hear a six-year-old pontificate on why someone would do such a thing.
When she was done writing, she carefully folded up the paper and sat in my lap.
"What did you write?" I asked.
"Nothing," she said.
"You wrote something," I said. "What was it?"
"Nothing," she said.
"Show me," I insisted. "I want to see it."
"No."
"Why not?"
"Because."
"Because why?"
"Just because." And then she hopped out of my lap, and stuffed the neatly folded paper deep into her bag, and trotted off to play with Jesus and Olivia, her dolls.
Last night, after she went to bed, I pulled the paper out of her bag and looked at it. She had copied down the phrase from the back of Madvillain's liner notes in red pen:

Written in cold blood with a tooth pick

While I can respect that she noticed how striking the phrase is, I think it's probably time that I keep a closer watch on what pop culture she consumes. Ten dollars says that if she brought that paper home and showed it to her mom, I'd be chin-deep in shit creek.

3.26.2004

Spring

The raw stink of worms in the air the morning after a heavy rain.

3.24.2004

One update to the last post: there's one exception to the lurking sound of Madvillainy, and that comes near the end of the album, "Supervillain Theme," an instrumental. It's like the villains finally bursting into the streetlight, seizing the control tower, kidnapping the hero's girl, kicking dogs, walking tall.

For anyone familiar with Boards of Canada's Music has the Right to Children, it's the opposite of "ROYGBIV". Instead of a gang of kids walking happily down the street to the playground, you have a gang of villains marching into the White House to present their demands.

It's official: Madvillain is on the streets. I took thirty minutes out of my day yesterday to run to the record store and pick it up, along with another MF Doom project, Vaudeville Villain.

This is not the hip-pop of OutKast, nor is it the decadent, nihilistic chest-thumping of the Eminems and Master Ps of hip-hop.

I remain convinced that the producer best suited to Doom's lyrics is Doom himself, but Madlib lays a smoky, jazzy, lo-fi sound on each cut that brings a new dimension to the words. It's clear on first listen that the MC and the producer are both essential to this project, but I also found the first listen monotonous and tiring - even though this is a very fresh record, it seemed one-dimensional yesterday. Today, though, it's a different record.

There's a cut built off an accordion sample, and another one constructed off a cop-show soundtrack. This record slinks through shadows and alleys, hiding in oily mud puddles beneath iron fire escapes. This record is crumbling mortar between antique red bricks, a Saturday night special tucked into the trumpet player's boot, the dark space behind the curtain at the back of the stage. Samples of screams, grunts, sneaky guitars and wailing horns peek out behind very low-key beats and Doom's trademark growl. But if you're listening for an immediate payoff, you won't find it here. You need to spend some time with this album to get some enjoyment out of it: it's a dense sound collage. It's like Orson Welles in The Third Man, slinking through the sewers and even though you think he's dead, he's still plotting in the dark.

The best description is on the reverse of the liner notes: "Written in cold blood with a tooth pick."

Vaudeville Villain, on the other hand, is ready-made for radio play. Doom's lyrics are the same psychedelic pop culture threads, the same goofy threats against any MC that wants to tumble, but the production is the hip-hop equivalent of power-metal. It's bombastic, catchy, and totally sweet. It's a much more accessible record than the Madlib-Doom collaboration, and at first I thought it was a better one. But the variety of producers (King Honey, RJD2, Max Bill, Heat Sensor) make it more a collection of singles than a proper album (not that there's anything wrong with this).

And in the end, that might be the genius of Madvillainy, that Madlib and MF Doom have cut the shit (read: skits) from the hip-hop album, tightened it up, and finally offered up something to rival rock albums, a sonic statement from hip-hop that is more akin to the dark, complex layered and crafted sound of Dark Side of the Moon than the mindless candy pop of Elton John or the overwriting of The Wall.

It's the sound that hip-hop has arrived.