My best guess is that my first exposure to hip hop was via the video for Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” in 1986. Up until that time I lived in a hip-hop-free universe. I seem to recall liking the video, but it was another year or two until I actually started to explore the genre, only looking from that point forward, failing to ever go back to the genre’s roots. To be fair, that kind of retro research wasn’t so easy to do in the pre-internet era, especially given hip hop’s complete lack of positive media coverage. If I’d been in New York City or Los Angeles I’d probably have had at least some exposure to the earlier artists. But in Seattle? No.
A few weeks back we watched the documentary Conny Plank – The Potential of Noise (recommended). It traced the story of German producer Conny Plank, and it was during a section of that film that we first heard of the hip hop trio Whodini, who Plank produced in the early 1980s. Since then we’ve picked up a CD copy of their Greatest Hits, and a few days ago added this vinyl copy of 1987s Open Sesame.
While Whodini’s earlier material was more dance and, dare I say, disco influenced, Open Sesame opens with the hard-rock-riffing “Rock You Again (Again & Again)”, Whodini clearly having registering Run-DMC’s success in blending rap and rock, choosing as their base samples of Mountain’s “Long Red”. While that song definitely rocked, it lacked recognition of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” – even rock fans couldn’t easily place it. Besides which the rock-rap partnership wasn’t the wave of the future (though Public Enemy and Anthrax certainly worked well together), instead it was the emergence of gangsta rap. Unfortunately for Whodini they found the genre moving away from their dance-friendly sound, the sound that defined the rest of Open Sesame (“Cash Money” does offer some social commentary). But I’ll tell you this – I love this stuff. It’s upbeat. And it’s fun.
What dates Lōc’ed After Dark to the late 1980s isn’t the beats, a hip hop cover of The Troggs, or Tone-Lōc’s signature delivery. No. It’s what was at the time a throw-away line in “Wild Thing”:
Shoppin’ at the mall…
The mall??? Who the hell goes to the mall these days???
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Lōc’ed After Dark is a two-trick pony with it’s pair of Top 5 hits “Wild Thing” and “Funky Cold Medina”. But have you ever listened to the entire album? Because I hadn’t until this week. And holy hell!!! The opener, “On Fire (Remix)” is a stone cold jam and the title track… oh that sweet funky title track… so damn good. Those no-wave horns that open “I Got It Goin’ On”, later followed by that Caribbean percussion and scratching? Baller. Using the word ‘supercalifragilisticexpealidocious‘ on “Cutting Rhymes”? Classic. And he throws in a One two, Buckle my shoe???? And that’s just side A.
Lōc’ed After Dark holds up, at least to these old ears.
There are a wide range of words and terms that Styrmir Örn Guðmundsson uses to describe the project that is Styrmir & the Medical Faculty. Stand-up comedy. Hip hop. An opera. A criticism of the arrogance of Western medicine. When you combine all those things there’s a lot to unpack. And when you add the visual component of the full-sized booklet of drawings, one for each song, attached inside the gatefold of the vinyl version of What Am I Doing With My Life?, you’ve got a compelling package designed to take your brain out of its comfort zone and mix things up a bit. There are references to Hitler and samurai swords and E=mc². There are beats. There are experimental tracks. We’re dealing with a lot of stuff here.
The Medical Faculty are a large and diverse group. There are a half dozen people who take on lead vocals across the album’s 14 track, and most of the folks contributing don’t appear to be involved with many other music projects, at least not as near as I can tell from looking at Discogs. The two exceptions are Bergur Thomas Anderson, who is associated with Sudden Weather Change, Grísalappalísa, and Oyama, and of course the ubiquitous producer Curver, who has probably worked on more Icelandic albums that anyone who has ever lived. Despite the broad range of contributors the whole thing holds together, all of it orbiting around the concepts and frequent vocals of Styrmir.
Recommended tracks include “The Liking Vortex” and “Most of the Cosmos is Compost”, a pair of stylistically disparate songs that provide a good general flavor of the album as a whole. The former is a bit on the experimental side, while the latter is the most traditionally hip hop effort (with an honorable mention to “Göngutúr”) on the record. You can check them out, as well as the rest of What Am I Doing With My Life?, on Bandcamp HERE, and you can purchase it on vinyl there as well. My copy notes that it is from the first edition of 700 copies, and I presume that’s still the edition that is being sold
Waving The Guns are a hip hop group from Berlin. Their style has been labelled as “conscious” and their flow certainly fits that description, though since all the vocals are in German I can’t speak much to their message. German Wikipedia offers some hints, though: Waving the Guns make political rap with a clear anti-fascist attitude. They have some party songs that are about alcohol and drug use. The title track, which translates to something along the lines of “That Must Be Able To Endure a Democracy” (I suspect the literal translation is a bit clunky…), made it to #4 on the German hip hop charts back in March, so they’re getting some play in their home country.
I like Waving The Guns’ flow. Musically they don’t overly rely on heavy beats to provide a dense structure to hid behind, using a variety of instrumental samples to provide unique beats to their tracks, like the Spanish guitar mid-range on “Das Privileg”. The vocals are front and center, the centerpiece of the songs, and they are delivered with extreme clarity. This is an album you don’t need to understand German in order to enjoy.