Monday, March 27, 2006

"Two New York icons"

glisten: Blue Eyes Meets Bed Stuy

Notorious BIG vs Frank Sinatra - "Nasty Boy / For Every Woman There's a Man"

Notorious BIG vs Frank Sinatra - "Come On / My Way of Life"

How late to the game am I in talking up the DJ Cappel + Smitty Blue Eyes Meets Bed Stuy Sinatra/Biggie mash-up? It's already seen ink in Time Magazine, on MTV and in a nearly month old MSNBC feature. When "old media" has already beaten me to the punch for coverage on something you can only buy online or at the street corner, you have to assume it's played out... but stay patient with me. I'm primarily showcasing tracks from this quality mix because they're good listening, but they're also here as an excuse to discuss a pretty amazing turn of events: the criminalization of Ready to Die.

Some background for my non-hiphop heads: Ready to Die was the '94 debut album from Christopher Wallace aka Frank White aka Biggie Smalls aka The Notorious BIG. The disc was released by Puff Daddy's Bad Boy Arista imprint and was a tremendous critical and financial success, eventually selling over three million copies and winning the hearts of an entire generation of East Coast B-Boys. Ready to Die is generally considered a touchstone of modern hip hop, one of the great albums of the decade and of the genre. You could give it a listen and decide for yourself, except you won't be able to legally purchase a copy.

This is the aftermath of a recent Nashville federal court case, wherein the rapacious owners of Bridgeport Music and Westbound Records (they have a history of litigation against both companies and artists, including Papa Clinton, over the use of unauthorized samples) went after Big Boy in a big way. The prosecution was able to conclusively prove that Ready to Die's title track lifts a complete and uncleared sample from the Bridgeport/Westbound owned '71 Ohio Players' cut 'Singing in the Morning'. You can hear samples of the Biggie and Ohio Players tracks here to get an idea of just how little of the Players' footprint remains.

The court sided with Bridgeport/Westbound and, in addition to awarding over four million in damages (to the company, certainly NOT to the band), ordered all physical and digital copies of Ready to Die (not the SINGLE, mind you; the WHOLE ALBUM) impounded and removed from radio airplay. At the moment, no chain will sell you a physical copy and you won't be able to find it online either; both Amazon and iTunes have recast the disc as vaporware. This effectively renders it banned art on a par with Negativland's infamous U2 LP. Puffy is, of course, appealing the decision. Litigation on the case will likely go on for several years and (I imagine) end with the redistribution of a revamped version of the album with the offending samples removed; but for the moment, here we are in 2006 America with a multi-platinum album being yanked from the shelves and censored by the Feds.

The ruling brings up all sorts of cloud cuckooland questions in my mind: with sales of Ready to Die suspended, is it now legal to give away copies? Could you really be busted for playing a Ready to Die track on the radio, even if it's not one that contains uncleared samples? What sort of penalties would be appropriate? Is spinning 'Gimme the Loot' at a club illegal? And what if you issued a remixed version of Ready to Die for the streets? Is THAT album illegal to sell or play on the airwaves by virtue of its tainted heritage? Where does this nonsense end?

For now, it ends for me with Blue Eyes Meets Bed Stuy: illegal art MADE from illegal art. As Chuck D (no stranger to sampling woes on both sides of the table himself) points out in a recent NPR piece on the court decision, "the incestuous mess" of current copyright law leads to "downloading running rampant; bootlegging will run rampant. Because people say, 'You know what? It doesn't even pay to go through the channels, so we're going to create almost a bastard industry... that moves quicker than legality".

Here is some of the fruit of that "bastard industry," two tracks that don't sample from Ready to Die (though much of 'BEmBS' does) but that do afford a glimpse into a pop music future far superior and more creative than what, say, the industry would have us listen to.

'Nasty Boy / For Every Man There's a Woman' is a coy repackaging of Biggie's catchy and misogynistic fuck anthem with a badass beat that's far superior to the original, a muted trumpet/trombone/flute flourish for body and a perfectly sardonic Frank crooning "Wise men know, it was ever so: woman was made for man".

'Come On / My Way of Life' succeeds more as a mash-up; elements from both songs color each other so completely that it's near impossible to tell where one starts and the other ends. Both of these certainly will appeal more to fans of Biggie than Frankie, but I daresay it's worth the download no matter where your allegiances lie.

tell me more about it...

Buy Blue Eyes Meets Bed Stuy from online purveyors of all things beat and vinyl, Sandbox, for 13 bucks postage paid.
Alternately, drop a direct line to DJ Smitty in person at BlueEyesMeetsBedstuy@hotmail.com and see if th' fella can sell you a copy from his personal stash at a better rate.
Tell him th' Hut sent you.
Listen to the 'Juicy / New York, NY' mash from the BEmBS myspace page.
Visit the official site of DJ Cappel, a fairly comprehensive guide to the works of Frank Sinatra and the leading Biggie fansite.
Asking bloggers and journalists to comment on the cultural relevancy / relative quality of projects like this is throwing chum to sharks; so there's plenty of contentious ink to choose from if you wanna read more about it. You might start with this somewhat sniffy review from The House of Ionesco; the infamous Byron Crawford's take (he's got mixed feelings) or this thought piece from CBC.
Those in the mood to try a bit more mashin' can check out DJ Ayres and company over at The Rub, where you can grab little gems like these Marvin Gaye / Ying Yang and R. Kelly / Mixalot mix-ups.


At forty five bucks and up for a single ticket to a ninety minute show, it's frankly amazing to me that The Moscow Cat circus has done so amazingly well.
Honestly, I'd still love to go. Really, who could front on the thrill of cats on a ball?
The Royal Art Lodge's online gallery is chockablock with beautiful work.
Presumably, Apple is not a participant or sponsor of the war in Iraq either.
Lil' Markie 4EVA
Rhino Records recently sent along a few discs from the new Talking Heads dualdisc reissue set and, as usual with Rhino, you've got to be impressed with the love and time they spend spitpolishing the old material. These ol' classics are nicely improved with the inclusion of a number of outtakes, acoustic renditions and bonus tracks on the CD side and with a handful of bootleg-till-now performance videos on the DVD side. Talking Heads fans should be pleased; it's the best excuse to return to this particular well that they're likely to have this decade.
Bubblegum Fink is an essential blur of pomo pop effluvia, oddball music and Big Daddy Roth culture. Lovin' that blogroll, too!
Tofu + Music = A Good Idea in Any Language
"Him shine di light pon mi an' look. When him see it seh a mi real hair him frighten an' seh mi mus come check him a di station di following morning. When mi go him shake mi han' an' seh mi have talent an' mi fi keep it up," he said.
Any time is a good time for Jerry Time.
A letter from my inbox:

My name is Ian Cho and i'm an 19-year old Australian electronica artist. To be blunt, would it be possible for you to include a link to one of my songs on Tofu Hut? My record label has put up a free legal mp3 download of one of my album tracks. I would be honoured if you would have a quick listen to it. Well, this is an strange email for me, but nonetheless i hope you enjoy the music.

The track turns out to be a pleasant wash of electronic ambient and radio signal squigglies that I can recommend as a Monday bonus track.
Give it a try here:

Ian Cho - The Flying Fish

blah blah blah
I've gotten myself into the position of doing occasional hackwork for Stylus; mostly to keep me plugged into what's what on the worldwidepop airwaves.
Here's my most recent dose of weekly snarkiness, along with corporate sponsored links where you can either hear the music or see the video and make up your own mind.

Mali's Amadou & Mariam - Coulibaly
Amadou and Mariam are a pair of blind musicians from Mali; he plays the guitar, Mariam sings. Just to up the unlikely quotient, they're also married; the only married, two-member band _I_ can think of off-hand is the long-gone Butterbeans and Susie but a BLIND, married two-member band? That's this funky? To be fair, a great deal of the funk has to be chalked up to the presence of Manu Chao, the famed French producer/performer/svengali. Manu's fingerprints are all over most of A+M's new album, notably on their first single 'Senegal Fast Food' and on 'Coulibaly,' a grooving and immenently danceable tune. 'Coulibaly' is a real joy to listen to and accessible to just about any audience you could think of.

Australia's Rogue Traders - Watching You
It is the melody of a botched lobotomy; a lightly considered nth degree retread of 'My Sharona' that features the (perhaps ironic?) lyric "I need a little edge with my electro-pop". It is not stupid enough to be fun; it takes a quarter-century old guitar riff and adds NOTHING to it and, worst of all, it's boring. There are songs in this world that are good, songs that are alright, songs that are so bad that they're good and songs that are simply, flat-out bad. This isn't worse than that godawful Embrace track you Stylus folks made me listen to earlier, but damn if it isn't close.

France's Nadiya - Tous Ces Mots
Holy Bejesus; this is my guilty pleasure of the year right here! Eighties as fuck, 'Tous Ces Mots' is a velveetastic Godzilla powered cocktail of 'Eye of the Tiger', mindless Redman-wannabe rap breaks, a clap track that won't take no for an answer, splashy hi-hats, squealing tires and a wash of paint-by-numbers synths straight out of a John Hughes movie. It is SO good; it makes me feel like I'm racing down Broadway in a supercharged '78 Chevy Nova with a trio of topless supermodels while we all do X, chug Jack Daniels out of the bottle and power-scarf pints of Ben and Jerry's. There are also video games involved in there, somewhere. I am not being facetious. This is what I want out of music. This is what I want out of life. I WANNA BREAK! DOWN!

America's Rihanna - SOS
Take note all you would-be Rogue Traders: THIS is how you remake a pop hit. Three degrees of separation from the original, Rihanna's take on 'Tainted Love' is based more on a dancehall remake of the Soft Cell song than of the actual track, a meta-move that's quickly seen and trumped by a 'Tiny Dancer' reference tossed off in the first verse. It's all very repetitive, very formulaic and catchy as hell. I'll admit, I was pretty sure Rihanna was a dry up and blow away one hit wonder but this sounds destined to eat up the US pop charts. I suppose this is why Jigga runs Def Jam and I write one-paragraph reviews of sonic effluvia for free.

Australia's Keith Urban - Tonight I Wanna Cry
So it's emo-country now, is it? This Brokeback ballad is innocuous and sweet enough without being cloying and gets a few points for sneaking in the phrase "I though that being strong meant never losing your self control, but I'm just drunk enough..." Meanwhile, this schmuck is sleeping with Nicole Kidman, but whatever; if we simply MUST have a reworked version of 'Wind Beneath My Wings' for the gunrack crowd, I'm happy that it's one that manages to be both credible and gentle enough to not burn on the way back up.

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