I once heard someone¹ claim that Johnny Cash with an acoustic guitar was more heavy metal than almost every band who claimed to be that, and it stuck with me because I know it to be true.
Simplicity in music can be so devastating. Case in point, Esmé Patterson performing this stripped down version of one of her songs. Most of the time she’s barely touching two strings, and it’s just her voice coming through on top of that. And it kills me.
1. (OK, it was the wrestler Chris Jericho, but the words still count.)
Holy crap this could be awesome. Or not. Who knows whether there will be overacting or the created drama will be over the top but who cares? I’m part of the unintended audience of late-80s early-90s suburban kids who took to hardcore rap with an enthusiasm free of self awareness. We just liked it.
In reflection, there are probably sociological reasons for the suburban adolescent embrace of NWA that could be brought to bear by academic study, but my theory is this: teenage boys have a secret desire to be seen as a force with which to be reckoned. When your mother ushers you from point A to point B in a minivan, this is not in the cards. And when said adolescents finally find freedom via driver’s license, they are still chained to the minivan aesthetic–Mom owns your wheels and she left a tape of Christopher Cross in the cassette deck. In the absence of danger, the thing to be then is outrageous. Blasting Eazy Duz It out of the open windows of a Chevy Astro van could help achieve that¹.
But there was more to it than that. The beats were good. The rhymes were scathingly funny. The music had the raw power of metal without the cheese factor; it was–and still is–good².
Mike Judge, one of the best comic minds of that era, played on the suburban rap phenomenon in two of the most hilariously true scenes from his work:
Especially in the second video from 1:16 on…”Beavis, you’re a white wussy from right here.”
All of it, brilliant.
1. The best explanation for this is in Chuck Klosterman’s book I Wear The Black Hat and his discourse on 2 Live Crew. He said in a Rolling Stone interview, “It was ‘we’re going to see how far we can use language to sort of offend people or upset people.'”
Holy crap could he rip.
This is maybe the best accidental find in the history of procrastination by means of diving into internet wormholes.
It all starts at the 1:50 mark.
That break sounds like the drum track of seemingly every early rap song I remember coming out. It seems like it’s part of just about everything and it gets embedded into your brain.
It’s the pattern I subconsciously finger-tap on the desk or the steering wheel in moments of boredom.
(Check out this list of people who sampled Funky Drummer.)
In an era where you are pretty much guaranteed access to millions of recordings in multitudes of different outlets for the rest of your adult life, if you’re ever stranded on a desert island the music will be the least of your problems. Still, there are five albums that, if you’re me, you must have in your collection in some shape, form or playlist. Because, if you’re me, you can’t do without¹.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Fever-induced and with two of the best songs ever–Everybody Knows and Down By The River–plus the mellow Round and Round as well as the double-drop D tuned Cinnamon Girl that everyone with a pulse immediately recognizes. I also love that in Rolling Stone’s initial analysis in 1969, the reviewer wrote, “In several respects it falls short of his previous effort. Young’s new material is a little disappointing…” Stupid idiot.
The Minutemen Double Nickels on the Dime
This might be the most creative output by an American band I’ve ever heard.
Widespread Panic Space Wrangler
I won’t even pretend they’re the best band but they’re the first one I truly considered to be “my band.” During college my friend Rob brought home this cassette tape during Christmas break and we never stopped listening. We saw them in some 100-person club in South Beach when South Beach was still a dump and everything about them–the musicians, the fans, the atmosphere–fit like a glove. Because, especially compared to northeastern boarding school hippies, southern hippies are the coolest cats in the world.
Uncle Tupelo No Depression
Raw, awesome and the perfect antidote to some of the other over-hyped awfulness of the era. Too bad those guys hate each other.
Yellowman King Yellowman
Everybody always played Legends and then somebody put this on and it changed how we all thought about reggae. Growing up in South Florida we were soon obligated to go to Sunsplash every year. It also predated Run DMC’s Raising Hell in our consciousness by two years with the idea of spoken word as art form. Plus there’s the live show aspect.
UPDATE: Emmylou Harris At The Ryman
Because everyone in my family knows it by heart.
(1. Nothing here is from the 21st century? Duly noted. When you come of age is when you come of age.)