No One Can Do it Better

Because Pitchfork released 200 Best Albums of the 1980s and I view such things as a personal challenge.

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I never wanted to be a rapper.  Prince, yes.  Leroy from Fame, yes.  Run DMC, no.  I think I know why.  I prefer dance, poetry or fantasy to macho, swag and confrontation.  Well, I did in the 80s that’s for sure.  Like most people my age in my country of my skin colour, rap didn’t exist one week and then it did the next when Walk This Way was suddenly number one on RTR Countdown.  Aside from Run DMC and The Beastie Boys I didn’t really engage with rap and hip hop until much, much later.  My trajectory was 80s pop, Guns and Roses, grunge.  If I did hear rap I definitely did not hear people like NWA.  The D.O.C. was a kind-of-member of NWA.

I feel like the thing to know about D.O.C. is that he released this album and then crashed his car and had to have a variety of surgeries on his throat that left him with a rasp rather than a voice.  So this album and what came later sound far, far apart.

No One Can Do It Better has some great tracks on it, and The D.O.C. has fantastic flow.  The fastest tracks are the best ones; the ones where he seems to be skating across the top of the beats landing with them and ducking between them.  All that music behind him is from Dr Dre. and I guess I understood something for the first time listening to Whirlwind Pyramid: making the backdrop to the rap is a skill.  I have no idea what a Whirlwind Pyramid is but the track underneath it is constructed out of the break beat from Yellow Sunshine’s track Yellow Sunshine, and the hook from Parliament’s Gettin’ to Know You.  Those two things, manipulated, with a little growling note and some other effects is a great backing track for The D.O.C..  I think I never noticed that behind every great rap or hip hop track is a music nerd.

And then, on The Grand Finale, where a bunch of people from NWA take turns rapping a verse on The D.O.C.’s album I thought: is this like when jazz artists take turns doing solos?  It is.  Except, sadly, they use words instead of notes and their words are often lame juvenile fantasies or tirades.  In fact, lyrically most of the album is on the theme of “why I – D.O.C. – am the GREATEST”.  Which is, alright, but a bit repetitive.

The late 80s were a truly terrible time for pop.  The D.O.C.’s album came out in August of 1989 and the singles on the top 20 countdown in New Zealand included things like: Milli Vanilli, New Kids on the Block, Edelweiss, Toy Soldiers, Bros, Jason Donovan….  Also, one of my top ten most hated: Wind Beneath My Wings.

And so there are inevitably a few things that haven’t aged well on this album which are all hallmarks of a late 80s sound.  No One Can Do It Better’s  nods to the late 80s include:

  1. The wikka wikka wikka of someone scratching a record.  I understand why it’s there – a shout out to the origins of the music – but it sure is irritating.
  2. Editing someone’s voice so it repeats a word over and over: “rock-rock-rock-rock-rock me Amadeus”.  I mean, it is kind of cool, but… yeah, we get it.
  3. Sampling spoken word audio.  There’s a funky drum break that stops suddenly and a plutely older male voice says: “and now it’s time to get down”.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.  A risky move.
  4. Eazy E.  “Loving the bitches and the hoes boo hooing / Why ’cause they’re addicted to my dick.”
  5. Rock guitar in a rap song.  This is Run DMC’s fault.  Walk This Way is a brilliant track.  It works.  Run DMC thought it wouldn’t work.  In fact they thought the person who suggested it to them was trying to ruin their career.  You can get away with this.  At the same time as this album was out I was enjoying Funky Cold Medina which is built out of samples from KISS and the Rolling Stones.  I think the rule is – you can get away with it if the riff is super tight and clipped.  For example, Back in Black by AC/DC is almost a rap track in itself; the riff is so tight and the vocals so clipped on the first verse that it would work effortlessly.  When you break that rule (let’s call it the rock riff rap rule) then you’re into dangerous territory.  Beautiful but Deadly is the worst track on The D.O.C.’s album mostly because the guitar is the opposite of tight and riffy.  It’s all big chords and masturbatory soloing.

Listening to Funky Cold Medina again I wondered: is this a trans-phobic song about date rape drugs?  The bit where Sheena has an Oscar Meyer weiner leads to this thought from Mr. Tone: “This is the 80’s, and I’m down with the ladies / Ya know?”  But in the 70s you were down with the dudes? I’m not sure what you’re saying, but the weiner image is arresting.  For a New Zealand version of this song I think he might be saying that Sheena was a man with a penis the size of a cheerio.  There are levels here, but the main one is that Tone is real man who doesn’t sleep with men but if he did they would be well hung.  Or am I getting this wrong?

Which leads us to the gallows of New Zealand’s highest charting local artist in the week that The D.O.C.’s album was released: Double J and Twice the T’s She’s A Mod.  It’s hard for me to talk about this.  About how this is essentially New Zealand’s riposte to Walk This Way.  Or about how their next single was a team up with the Auckland Regional Council’s water conservation mascot Robert D Frogg.

Dark times.  Dark, dark times.

 

 

 

Not participating in that narrative

You sometimes see headlines like this, and I don’t like them:

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Even though I know where the story is going, that it will be about predatory behaviour by the gambling industry (an industry that’s easy to hate, unless it’s horse racing because rich white people like horse racing), the connotation here is this: Māori and Pasifika are weak.  They are prey to capitalism’s predation.

It’s why I don’t like scholarship categories like this one:

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I know that this is about equity, but it reads poorly.  Being Māori puts you in the same pool as refugees and the disabled.  Being tangata whenua and seeing that might make you flinch a little.  There is a truth to this: in the Pākehā hegemony Māori are probably quite likely to feel like refugees and to be treated as if their background is a disability, but I don’t think the pitch for this scholarship is satirical.

Or how about this then:

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Didn’t John McCain bring us Sarah Palin?  Didn’t he vote with Trump 83% of the time?  Wasn’t he a warmonger who dropped bombs on civilians in North Vietnam?  John McCain is not a man I admire in the slightest.  He fits into the adulation people give Obama though.  There’s a sort of calm reasonableness and an avuncular charm to them.  Let’s remember Obama’s drone programme and ratcheting up of the surveillance state.  And let’s remember McCain calling protesters “despicable low lifes” for questioning why anyone would want advice from Henry Kissinger on whether invading Iraq was a good idea.

The most “best” thing about Trump is that the venality is now out in the open.  The previous decades have seen disguised appalling American behaviour.  Now we can just dispense with the phony concern for human rights and cut to the chase: America acts in its own interests, and will never hold itself accountable for anything.  Under cover of Coca Cola and Nicki Minaj they get to sell weapons around the world, drone bomb and kill whoever they want, cosy up to Netanyahu, cut aid to Palestine, murder Black people, separate families, limit birth control and abortion….  It’s a long list.  One that goes back as long as you care to count.  It’s just that the rhetoric has changed now from “democracy, human rights, yadda, yadda, yadda” to “America first”.

Which presents a great opportunity for the world to go, “sweet, we’ll take it from here”, and form a better alliance of peers to try and look at the world’s issues.

Yeah, I know.  Like that will happen.

At least we can not participate in that other narrative.  If you do you might occasionally say something like “hmmm, Trump sort of has a point”.  That’s ok.  Firstly, it happens very, very rarely, and secondly the media really can be as lazy as hell.  The mainstream media often is kind of shit.  Let’s be honest.  Just look back at the coverage of McCain’s funeral even in this country.  What do we hear about Yemen in New Zealand?

Then we have Trump on the deaths of white farmers in South Africa.  The media – whose default is to mock everything he says – has gone with “murders of white farmers are at a twenty year low dumb dumb” as a riposte.  To which I think most people should say, “wait, what?”  It’s not good.  You know, people getting murdered.  It feels like an awfully complex problem in which white people owning all the farm land is not good and NEITHER IS MURDERING THEM.  Lazy media response: “Trump said something dumb”.  Hey, I get it, he’s an ignorant, arrogant man, but don’t minimise the complexity and tragedy of that problem in South Africa.  Everything in the world is not a one liner to put that man down.

I say all this having made a resolution not to click on any news that has Trump in the title.  A resolution I have kept 95% of the time.  Even keeping it 95% of the time I feel like I know exactly what this nasty little man is doing.  It reminds me of when John Key came to power in New Zealand and Labour and much of the media focused on how he was a dick ignoring the fact that he was tremendously popular and would still be PM if he had wanted to be.  Stop talking about the guy.  FFS.  Talking is oxygen.

Most of the problems of the world are easily run off in a list.  None of them are about the pet leader someone hates.  It’s something like climate change, inequality, oppression, the unpicking of life, love and wisdom by social media, the way that capitalism is the root of all those things and makes even the people at the top unhappy, anxious and sick.  Neo-liberalism doesn’t want you to think about any of this.  Neo-liberalism’s concern is efficient capitalism where people are units in a profit and loss equation.  Neo-liberalism’s concern is that the local university needs to rebrand itself to differentiate itself in a competitive global marketplace.

Grant Guilford is the vice-chancellor of VICTORIA University.  The one people have gone to for 100 years, and was founded and named in the time of Queen Victoria.  University of Wellington?  There are 39 places in the world called Wellington.  Never mind.  Neo-liberalism does not care for a name of a time and a place: of history.  If he wanted to just switch the Māori name to the title, and the English name to the subtitle he might have my interest.  I wouldn’t mind being of Te Whare Wāngana o te Ūpoko o te Ika a Māui.  That would truly be a tūrangawaewae in the world.  But no.  Wellington.  The Duke of Wellington.  A man who never came to this country.  So we switch from one imperialist name to another for the purpose of being distinct.  Neo-liberalism has many features and one is a lack of irony.

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No.  The headline wants you to go: “Obama was so great” or “Trump is a dick”.  Don’t do it.  Don’t click.  Go read a poem.  Go look at the rain.  Go help a friend.  Or a stranger.

Haere rā