Earlier this month, the Red Hot Organization announcedThis Is How We Walk on the Moon, a collection of Arthur Russell covers performed by a wide range of contemporary artists — comparative left-fielders like Laurel Halo and Sandro Perri alongside Robyn, Hot Chip, and even Scissor Sisters. As it happens, that's not the only Arthur Russell tribute coming this year. Arthur's Landing, a collective of the late avant-disco musician's former collaborators, have teamed up with the London trio Standard Planets to release a version of "In the Light of the Miracle" as a limited 12-inch single.
Led by the guitarist Steven Hall, Arthur's Landing brings together a number of musicians who worked closely with Russell, including percussionists Bill Ruyle and Mustafa Ahmed, singer and clarinetist Joyce Bowden, bassist Ernie Brooks, and trombonist Peter Zummo; their debut album, released last year, was a collection of Arthur Russell covers that often sounded little like their source material. (That in itself recalls Russell's own approach: He recorded many songs over and over again, and they never sounded the same way twice.) Standard Planets have a far less conspicuous profile, with only a single compilation credit to their name so far; the songs available on their SoundCloud page are a strange amalgam of pop and electronics, alternately suggesting Roxy Music, Depeche Mode, 1990s post-rock, and contemporary Animal Collectivism. "We want people to get back to believing, contributing and progressing towards a common utopian ideal," they explained to the Quietus last year — a sentiment that might help explain their affinity for Russell's own music.
"Miracle," the two groups' collaboration, bears scant resemblance to any of Russell's various versions of "In the Light of the Miracle," but the lyric gives it away. Only six minutes long, it careers through Codeine funk, keening synthesizer fugues, full-bore horn charts, and a particularly squishy kind of disco. Echoes of Talk Talk collide with fragments of vintage house, and it's raw as anything: Oscillators detune wildly and drum machines go haywire in mid-beat, lending the same kind of seat-of-its-pants quality that animated so much of Russell's own recordings. It's less a cover version than an invocation; less a landing than a slow-motion blast-off.
Listen to "Miracle" below, and watch for the single on Steven Hall's Buddhist Army label this winter.
So, just like that, music writers have gone back to ignoring the Insane Clown Posse?
There was window of time there — which seemed to hit its peak with "Miracles" — where it was cool to condescend to the duo, play armchair Jim Goad, and project some thoughts about the white underclass onto their music. But, no more. And that's too bad because along with last week's pretty good album The Mighty Death Pop!, ICP also released the bonus album Freaky Tales (one of three bonus albums, actually), which stretches Too $hort's 1987 rhyming laundry list of sex encounters set to gulping synthetic bass, from eight minutes to a full hour of endless dick jokes and dirty-minded raps.
Suggesting Freaky Tales is tasteful is a bit ridiculous, but producer Mike E. Clark's recreation of the original beat is mindful, and Violent Jay and Shaggy 2 Dope have certainly captured the spirit of the original. In their grubby paws, the song remains a raw, uncooked lope of bass bubbling on and on and on. And released in the midst of this "ratchet music" phenomenon that's slowly engulfing the radio thanks to "Rack City" producer DJ Mustard, Freaky Tales even works as a little bit of a history lesson to all the young Juggalos imbibing rap minimalism by way of the radio, whether they know it or not. Here's where the transcendent inanity that now manifests itself as Tyga, YG, and Joe Moses got its start.
Violent Jay and Shaggy 2 Dope are also doing a Quantum Leap-like adjustment to hip-hop history, fulfilling Too $hort's original plan for "Freaky Tales," and then some. See, $hort Dog's concept was to detail his escapades with 75 girls (75 Girls Records and Tapes was the name of the label he was on when he conceived of the idea). And though Too $hort accomplished that goal if you compile many variations on the song released between 1987 and 1999 (check out "The Complete Freaky Tales" by Noz), ICP's Freaky Tales does it on one endless, uncompromising track.
Chained to the "I met a girl, her name was..." format established by Too $hort, ICP push the idea as far as they can, threading their obsessions and classic comedian callbacks through the full hour. "Mickey Mouse chick, Brenda Song / I see her on TV, my dick grows long / I don't want to diss her or say nothing wrong / Because maybe one day I can peel her thong," Violent explains, no doubt the weirdo thoughts rushing through his head while he watches The Suite Life of Zack & Cody or Disney Channel made-for-TV movie Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior with his kids. And then a few bars later: "I'm an asshole, ask Francine / I took her out to dinner and then dancing / Later on we was fuckin' / It all went wrong / I hit it from the behind and called her Brenda Song." Zinger!
My favorite freaky tale comes from Shaggy because it totally bypasses blush-worthy fuck boasts and enters the world of body horror comic strip comedy only comparable to something like Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit: "There was one time I undressed Vanessa / Her booty fell out bigger than the dresser / Between her asscheeks was her homegirl Tessa / She must've sat on her and forgot nonethelesser / Tessa was a twig, Vanessa was big, you wouldn't believe the stupid shit we did / Once we was done, two became one, as Tessa slid back from where she came from."
Yes, the whole thing is beyond juvenile, but the vast array of women — strippers, cops, Juggalo fans, suicidal women, meth-heads — provides a multitude-filled collection of female types, and keeps up ICP's inclusive sense of taking in all kinds. Lynn who farted at the water park; Lulu who made a voodoo doll of Violent J (and whose pussy tastes better than granny's stew). You get the point. What's even comparable to Freaky Tales? Imagine Berlin Alexanderplatz as directed by Robert Downey Sr.; Infinite Jest written by Redd Foxx; It's a party record and boundaries-busting endurance test, all at once.
Korean pop's American conquest has taken a very Paris turn. Sure, K-pop stars Girls Generation performed earlier this year on late-night TV, and their countryfolk 2NE1 conquered Times Square this past December. But now K-pop's assimilation of gloriously tacky American pop is complete and official: Paris Hilton will star in an upcoming video by South Korean singer Kim Jang Hoon, English-language Korean pop culture website Soompi reports.
Shooting for the video, which will be available in both 2D and 3D, is scheduled in L.A. and Malibu from August 23-25, a representative for Kim Jang Hoon's agency told Soompi. "We were thinking of Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson, and Paris Hilton as possible leading ladies for the new music video," the rep is quoted as saying. "We conducted a survey in Korea to see who was most widely recognized and realized that Paris was the one."
K-pop has a unique financial imperative to expand globally. According to a fascinating report in the latest issue of the Economist, many Korean pop music fans "rent" music through subscription-based services. Under these deals, artists and labels reportedly earn as little as 30 won (less than 3 cents) per track, which must be split among composers, performers, and the label. Agency/label/publisher SM Entertainment's head has said 1 million downloads aren't even enough to make up for the expense of producing a single music video.
In other words, what might help Kim Jang Hoon most is not necessarily how famous Hilton is in Korea, but how famous she is across the rest of the world. And, as we learned from Mad Men, Hilton is the same in every language. To the moon, Paris!
This morning, when Google Play's music section offered a free download of Busta Rhymes' new album, Year of the Dragon, Google awkwardly wandered into a lane previously occupied by sketchy mixtape-hosting websites like DatPiff and LiveMixtapes. Year of the Dragon is a free download, though you still need to provide your credit card information to download it. Google conspiracy theorists are surely, right now, drumming up nefarious reasons for this, but it mostly seems to hinge on the fact that Google Play is a pay-to-download site and so, the interface demands an account and credit card.
Arguably, it isn't all that different from iTunes, which asks for an account connected to at least, a Paypal, even for free downloads of podcasts. And Google Play has offered free downloads before, while requiring a credit card, but this one comes from a genre that has revitalized itself thanks to a dependable devotion to giving music away. Rap mixtape audiences are mostly young people who are used to downloading music for free, even the officially sanctioned stuff. The most recent comment on the album's page reads, "i cant download this album because, no credit card. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO :(."
Think of it this way: Datpiff, which forces users to create an account to download most mixtapes, does occassionaly open up their officially sponsored downloads to anyone on the Internet. Google, if they were aware of what they were walking into, if only for purposes of promotion — this is certainly the first time I noticed that Google had an iTunes-like music service, so it's sort of working — would have allowed rap fans to bypass all the sign-up junk and just cop the Busta album. It wouldn't surprise me if, within a few hours, Year of the Dragon is hosted on plenty of free mixtape websites.
The biggest threat currently haunting free Internet hip-hop is concerns over sample clearance. There was a good run of five or so years in which rap reverted back to the '80s, before sample clearances seemed to matter. Because the mixtapes were no longer being sold on the street, but given away for free, it seemed to remove the money-making aspect. It wasn't exactly legal but it had, for the most part, removed the "profit" part of the mixtape hustle to focus solely on using the mixtape for promotional purposes.
Last month however, producer Lord Finesse sued rapper Mac Miller for jacking one of his beats on the song "Kool Aid & Frozen Pizza." The track came from a free mixtape, but the video, which racked up more than 20 million views on the Google-owned Youtube, surely generated revenue for Miller and his label, Rostrum Records. Finesse's lawsuit has many rappers shook. In this video interview, Curren$y explains that his mixtape with Wiz Khalifa, Live In Concert, has been delayed due to sample clearance issues, which have also apparently, plagued a few of his previous releases. "The argument is that you get popular off the mixtape and then you on the road," Curren$y explains, "So, you probably performing that song, you getting paid for the performance, therefore you're got paid off the song, so they're supposed to have some."
There is at least, one immediately recognizable sample on Year of the Dragon. "Make It Look Easy" features Busta and Gucci Mane bouncing boasts off a loop of James Brown's "Blues and Pants." Hot Pants, James Brown's 1971 album which features "Blues & Pants" was released by Polydor which is currently owned by Universal, which is also Busta's label. So, it seems like the sample clearance issue for that are in order. This reminds me of Universal artist Jackie Chain's official mixtape, Who the Mane?. Many of the tape's most flagrant uses of other artists' music came from fellow Universal Music artists' music: An interpolation of 50 Cent on "Livin' It Up"; samples of Lil Wayne on "Bankroll," and Tatu on "This Is Not Enough.” Perhaps, this is the future of mixtapes: Major label artists making explicitly label-sponsored releases hosted by big deal websites. That doesn't sound so bad, though it certainly puts musical control back in the hands of the clueless, opportunistic majors.
Separate from all this important insider baseball, you're left with Busta Rhymes' Year of the Dragon, an adroit, unhedged collection of Busta songs with guests that nicely fit in Busta's world: Street rap eccentrics like Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, and Cam'ron, fellow NYC hardheads Maino, Flipmode Squad buddy Reek Da Villain, and comforting crossover artists like Robin Thicke and Vybz Kartel. Though much of Busta's recently raised profile hinges on him adopting a fast double-time, or even triple-time style (most notably on Chris Brown's "Look At Me Now"), he's primarily doing a more head-down grunting, gritted-teeth style, here. It works.
The best way to listen to Year of the Dragon though, might be to put your hands over years and close your eyes and pretend this is a new mixtape from Gunplay, the lanky, pan-regional maniac who has sort of rendered Busta useless, as of late. Just watch the wild-eyed video for "Take This," in which Gunplay turns the lazy-ass, "lip-sync to your song in the studio" video into a compelling piece of performance art. You're stuck in the studio with a pill-popping, weed-inhaling maniac, who convulses and babbles and well, raps or really, lip-syncs his ass off. "Take This" has been removed from YouTube for its "depiction of harmful activities." As a result, you'll have to head on over to one of the other, more unseemly video-hosting websites to check it out. Maybe Gunplay needs to link up with Google Play to prevent this from happening again.
Somewhere in Ibiza, ca. 1989: A suave gentleman, nationality unknown, with an inverse pyramid of tanned skin glowing beneath the icy white of his unbuttoned shirt, is cornering his prey at the dark end of the bar. "I want to tell you something," he purrs. "Something about your language, about your roots." Strobe lights flash in time to the robo-disco throb. "What are you waiting for? Sing in Spanish," he whispers, drawing closer. "Spanish is beautiful…"
That's one possible interpretation, in any case, of DJs Pareja's "Spanish Is Beautiful," released last year on London's History Clock label. DJs Pareja (which loosely translates as "The DJ Couple") are Argentina's Mariano Caloso and Diego Irasusta; since 1999, they have been fusing classic dance-music tropes with a sort of arch avant-gardism — a combination evident in a 2000 mix CD that brought together the glitch minimalism of Alva Noto, Oval, and Porter Ricks with songs by Madonna, Culture Club, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. In 2009 they turned up on Matias Aguayo and Gary Pimiento's Cómeme label (translation: "Eat Me"); now Cómeme are giving away an in-house remix of "Spanish Is Beautiful." If anything, it's even sleazier, darker, and more twisted than the original. Acid squiggles drip like cold sweat beneath dry-ice blasts, and disembodied phrases from Black Box's "Ride on Time" weave in and out of the mix, reminders of a dance floor that feels impossibly far away. Somewhere in the fog, hovering just beyond pupils swollen to the size of dinner plates, our yacht-hopping Lothario is whispering: "What are you waiting for…"
Download the remix below, and check the SoundCloud pages of Cómeme and DJs Pareja for more off-kilter internationalism.
There's surely no one to thank but Roman for this complete transformation of Nicki Minaj's eau de parfum alter ego into miniature femmebot, complete with gilded face mask, plastic pink wig with blunt bangs and, remarkably, breasts and cleavage. Please Roman, tell us the perfume squirts out the breastplate like an Austin Powers villain or a Katy Perry video. Called "Pink Friday," Minaj tweeted that it smells like "angels playing," yet its bottle's invocation of a dildo, a douche, and Nuvo all at the same time gives us an inkling that perhaps it's got a base note of lilies with top notes of vodka and champagne — but just a guess.
It's not Minaj's first foray into the beauty sphere — the Viva Glam spokeswoman's lipstick for MAC sold out with the quickness despite being a hard-to-wear cotton candy shade with blue undertones, though her more recent nail polish collaboration with OPI's proven more utilitarian with several glitter options and a great chartreuse hue. But she's entering the musician perfume market at a particularly packed time: Rihanna recently launched Reb'l Fleur, her scent including "sumptuous florals and juicy, ripe peaches," while Justin Bieber's Girlfriend and Someday are riding high at a major department store near you. Far more lucrative than the celeb shoe market, high-end designers have long relied on lower-price-point items like perfumes to keep their empires afloat, so at the very least it's a savvy move. And despite the salaciousness of fondling Minaj barbie-boobs every time you need a spritz, the bottle alludes to the tradition of perfume bottles in the bust of a woman, which goes back to the 18th Century but had an Art Deco revival in the 1930s. Schiaparelli would be proud!
Last month, Lady Gaga and Kendrick Lamar began tweeting at one another. On July 4th, Gaga directed a tweet at Lamar that said, "What a sweetie calling me this morning to see how I'm doin. See you soon. Love from across the pond. #Rigamortis." A follower then asked Gaga, "Are all of your fans gonna jump on him now?," to which Gaga answered, "I hope so. He and his lyrics are the shit." And so, Gaga became a hip-hop tastemaker.
On July 15, at the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago, Gaga was spotted backstage during Lamar's set. The same day, Lamar tweeted, "The power is in my hair nigga!!!," an indirect reference to Gaga's Born This Way song, "Hair." Gaga retweeted Lamar's shoutout, and also said this: "@kendricklamar #womenweedandweather listening to The Recipe. Can your new album come out now so i can go out to clubs and dance again." Last week, Gaga announced, via Twitter, that she would be featured on the single from Lamar's upcoming debut album good kid, m.A.A.d city, whose current release date is October 12. The Lamar/Gaga single is called "PartyNauseous," and it will be out September 6. The news of a Kendrick Lamar and Lady Gaga single is more intriguing than exciting. It's the result of a two-month long Twitter hype between two Interscope labelmates and it immediately brings to mind Wale's 2009 Gaga-featured non-starting single "Chillin'," off the then-next big thing's major label debut, Attenion Deficit.
Now that Wale is an Maybach Music Group's middling middleman MC, it seems hard to imagine, but there was a time when he was seen as an exciting young rapper with a lot of potential. Wale burst out of a burgeoning Washington, D.C. rap scene — cleverly marketed as "the DMV" (DC, Maryland, Virginia) — and he did things like rap over Justice's "D.A.N.C.E." with an inspiring hint of Lil Wayne's seemingly singular ability to turn someone else's song into his own. His 2008 Seinfeld-themed The Mixtape About Nothing was regarded as one of the year's best — at a time when it was still taboo to include a free download on a year-end list.
But "Chillin'" was a mess. Gaga mimicked M.I.A. on it for some reason, and its cloying pop appeal seemed to violate much of what Wale had built over the previous few years. It wasn't a Wale song and it wasn't a Gaga song with Wale wedged in there somewhere, either. "Chillin'" became something of an Internet rap watershed moment: The first in a series of disappoints from a well-regarded blog rapper who jumped to the majors and dropped most of what made him exciting.
Another failed combination of rap and Gaga: In 2009, the "Fame Kills" tour featuring Gaga and Kanye West was cancelled, though that was largely perceived to be a result of the bad press surrounding West in the days and weeks following his infamous VMAs moment with Taylor Swift.
A major label trying out bad idea that's failed before one more time isn't a surprise, but the parallels between Wale and Lamar — buzzing rappers with some pop appeal breaking through with the help of the decidedly non-hip-hop Lady Gaga — are hard to ignore. Coupled with the "Fame Kills" debacle, there's evidence that using Gaga to raise a rapper's profile is a poor investment. Much of this has to do with Gaga ultimately being more of an old-fashioned rock act than a rap-friendly dance act — dance being a genre that superficially at least, has connections to hip-hop. Gaga is a traditionalist, who uses her big voice and piano chops as code to rockist Bob Lefsetz types that she's "authentic" (SPIN's Caryn Ganz brilliantly compared Gaga to Fiona Apple), all the while, smuggling subversive challenges to hetero-normative trends inside big blasting dance music (which was once the place for music that challenged hetero-normative trends). Hip-hop however, is at its best when it ends up as pop music — not when it reaches with a little help from a fully-formed pop star.
Unlike Wale however — and maybe even because of Wale — Lamar has been planting the seed for these kind of fan-betraying crossover attempts. Section.80's "No Make-Up (Her Vice)" featured Colin Munroe on the hook and tracks like damn-near-EDM-rap "Spiteful Chant," suggest a willingness to collaborate that does his work no favors but moves his career along quite nicely. But even Section.80's success seems to exist in spite of these forced fusion rap songs, not because of them. The tracks that established Lamar are bugged-out raps like "ADHD," and Gaga-approved "Rigamortis."
Even recent good kid m.A.A.d city singles like "The Recipe," featuring Dr. Dre, "Westside, Right on Time" with Young Jeezy, show Lamar reining it in a bit. Both songs are examples of the rapper stealthily smoothing out his rough, interesting edges, and dishing out a simple direct song that will float through radio playlists like innocuous singles from J. Cole and Wale. The songs work, but they display none of Lamar's talents. So, a clunker of a Gaga collaboration with a machine behind it may not have the same shocking effect that "Chillin'" had on Wale's fanbase, and it's even worth the cred-ending gamble. It's like Kendrick Lamar has been prepping his fans for disappointment.
I think I wandered into a rap blogger version of a Beckett play the other night. I drove all around southern New Jersey on a Thursday evening, pulling into every supermarket and pharmacy with a Redbox trying to rent month-old Wiz Khalifa and Snopp Dogg straight-to-DVD-vehicle Mac & Devin Go To High School, only to discover that it is either sold out or not carried in that specific RedBox. I must've gone to five or six of these things looking for that stupid movie. It seemed pretty good! I'm a big fan of the straight-to-video rapper movie. It's the only exploitation cinema we've got left. Sure there are those cheapo CGI-fests that try to cash-in on recent blockbusters, but for pure, sincere, gut-punching trash, rappers are the only ones doing it still. Reviews that mentioned Mystikal as the voice of a giant joint, and a plot that sounds like Mark Twain's Prince & the Pauper meets Kid 'n Play's Class Act had me excited. Any of y'all see Mac & Devin? Is it worth venturing out and enduring the RedBox riff raff a second time?
2 Chainz ft. John Legend & Scarface, "Ghetto Dreams"
2 Chainz's Based On a T.R.U. Story is for the most part an unobtrusive and inoffensive listen, though it doesn't hold together like Codeine Cowboy or T.R.U. REALigion. What it's missing, I'm not sure, but something is off. Just a general atmosphere of label expectations crushing his already-crushed spirit, I guess. His world of sub-Seth MacFarlane-level jokes remain unmatched though, and that makes "Ghetto Dreams," the album's "serious" track featuring John Legend doing that sexy-ass, self-important Scott Walker singing style he's been doing lately, a bust. At least until stoic poet Scarface shows up at the end and cuts through the feigned "realness," raising the stakes: "They tell me crime pays, but I don't think so / Because every criminal I know is in the clink, yo." When 'Face shows up, "Ghetto Dreams," produced by Carlos "Six July" Broady of Diddy's the Hitmen (Biggie's "Somebody's Gotta Die" and "What's Beef," Ghostface's "Saturday Nite," and recently, Alley Boy's "Wonderful"), turns into some lost The Fix outtake. Then, it's right back to the one-liners. TRUE.
The first of two songs from Black Hippy this week that subtly take Drizzy's smoothed-out, no-consequences worldview to task. "Nibiru," named after a fictional planet that a bunch of nutbars think is real and believe is going to collide with Earth at some point, is a dead-serious, beautifully-rapped, all-over-the-place vomiting up of doomsday prophecies, conspiracy theory-building, and a decadent rap corrective. In other words, it's like a lot of great Ab-Soul songs. The first verse finds Ab accusing NASA of hiding evidence of Nibiru's existence from public photos of space, and uses Drake's "Crew Love," an Entourage-indebted dude rap that may or may not be about group sex, to do it. Rapping from the perspective of the planet itself, he says, "NASA on that bullshit, they always cropping out my crew / And they be loving the crew, they be loving the crew." The first verse ends with, "The Euphrates River's dry, so you know it's real," a useful reconfiguration of Drake's creepy co-dependent demand, "Tat my fuckin' name on you girl, so I know it's real," from "Free Spirit." Because it is 2012 and rap coverage is gossip-obsessed, these will be easily misconstrued as "shots" at Drake, but Ab's having a lot more fun with it than that.
Freddie Gibbs ft. Kirko Bangz, "Bout It, 'Bout It"
A few weeks ago, Atlanta's Trouble released "Molly World," an effective though undeniable Future rip-off (down to the title even). And now Freddie Gibbs, who raps well enough and truthfully always, and as a result, can get through any type of song with his dignity intact, gets his Nate Dogg on and then croons, with just the slightest hint of Future's signature gunk of too much auto-tune. This is one of the most fascinating shifts in street rap as of late. Somehow, doing whatever it is that Future does — wounded warbling real talk through way too much Auto-Tune — still codes as "street." Not complaining, it's certainly better than cloying rap and bullshit or a Flo-Rida impression, but this is essentially Drake, one influence removed, isn't it? The involvement of Kirko Bangz should make that even more apparent. But Gibbs is good at this sort of thing — the off-to-the-side catchy rap song — and even includes a hook before the hook that's just as memorable: "This game so dirty, gotta roll around with my thirty / And I keep my clip extended for these bitches, I ain't worried." For pure unadulterated gangsta Gibbs, though, make sure you check out DaVinci and Gibbs' "MYOB."
Heems, "Killing Time"
Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" jumps around excitedly as Heems repeats "I'm bored," over and over again, and then, he quickly climbs out from under his apathy with two energetic verses. It's inspiring. Killer lines: "They sum up my life with my four years of college"; "Apparently, if your parents be, the sons of important parents, it's a parody / It's a cakewalk, it's collusion, it's a lot of big words, it's confusion." Das Racist's "joke," it turns out, is that they aren't joking at all. They snuck in with a contrarian above-it-all funny guy schtick and have spent the past few years alienating those who just want to laugh at them. Although "Killing Time" is connected and cogent in every way that Ab-Soul's "Nibiru" is conspiratorial nonsense — Heems' "the coded language, they call that law," could totally be an Ab line — the two songs are of a piece in the sense that here is another example of a young inspired MC, who remains a bit underrated, in the midst of their moment, whether anyone cares or not, just unleashing all the thoughts backed up inside their brain. If Heems feels like dredging up his jokester side though, might I suggest a remix that samples Clint Black's "Killin' Time"?
Jay Rock, "YOLA"
Part two of Black Hippy's Drizzy deconstruction. "YOLO" or "#YOLO," which means "You Only Live Once" was, unsurprisingly, made popular by Drake, rap's most indulgent MC. It seems like it's just a license for jerks who would do whatever they want to do whatever they want. Tailor-made for pseudo-profound tattoos and hoodies sold at the mall. It's just the worst, right? Jay Rock apparently agrees. On "YOLA" (slang for cocaine), he does the thing that tough guy rappers have done forever: Take a mainstream thing and twist it to fit the gritty, grimy attitude of the streets. But there's a need for this kind of balance, especially right now. Like I said, a few weeks ago, we are suffering from a dearth of street rap right now, and the consequences will be dire, if it isn't corrected. The '90s were spent slowly removing "backpack" influences, and the '2000s saw the start of gangsta rap going away, for good. So, a phrase that celebrates consequence-free living turning into a coke-slinging tale about the perils and risk-reward tension of dealing, feels very important. Meanwhile, Kendrick Lamar announces an upcoming collab with Lady Gaga, and releases a middling, soul beat and old-head pleaser with Young Jeezy! I'm warning everybody, Kendrick will be B.o.B in two years. Prepare yourselves.
There are few things to dislike about the Gathering of the Juggalos, the annual togetherness-fest thrown by loving adult rappers Insane Clown Posse; and none of those are reasons you've probably heard. Sleep deprivation is one (I woke up to a 6 a.m. two-car bass battle, the sound of a man puking his guts out, and numerous "whoop whoop"s); constant substance temptation is another (depending on who you are); voracious bugs and sunstroke well, those are the hazards of camping. Far more prominent are the sparkling bits of ingenuity and enterprise that turn the temporary carnival in the middle of fucking nowhere (Cave-in-Rock, Illinois) into a self-standing, self-policing, self-supporting community. Some elements of ratchet do prevail, but more noticeable the Gathering is a place where no matter who you are, you can come as-is and be accepted. Moreover, you can be more you than you can anywhere else. And nowhere is this more indicative than in the fashion of the Juggalos.
They've been stereotyped as across-the-board facepainters in the style of ICP, and indeed, many do don the black and white. But Juggalos do not live by monolithic tenets, nor is there a monolithic uniform, no code of dress everyone follows, because if there is a core value to being a Juggalo, it is this: Be yourself, and fuck what you heard. The Gathering is remarkable because it's a union of people who don't necessarily feel comfortable self-actualizing in their own communities (see: widespread persecution for ICP fandom), and they jump at this chance. So as general moods go, Juggalo fashion tends to be either celebratory and vibrant — mix-and-match multicolor palettes offset by a similarly vibrant multitude of textures — or gallows-humor funeral, ink-black T-shirts and braided hair, or even shirtless to show off tattoos.
Here, there are big chicks walking around naked, and no one is saying anything
The Batman insignia was everywhere, from vintage '90s T-shirts to box-fresh Joker backpacks, but no one looked more dedicated than the older man riding around the fairgrounds on a razor-scooter, wearing nothing but an authentic Batman cowl, Batman speedos and, later, a matching strap-on dildo attached, an accessory that transformed him from costumed hero to role-playing fetishist. It was a non-threatening transition, however; the man was in good spirits, and gamely posed for jokey photos with two young women taking control of the dong. It was evident why Batman is popular, beyond the release-date merchandise convenience of The Dark Knight Rises. Dressing up like Batman, as well as dressing up like Insane Clown Posse, offers whimsical escape, while embodying one's best version of self.
This year, Juggalos put a special emphasis on proportion: Some of the best and most interesting outfits for followed a certain silhouette that cascaded almost in an A-line, tight up top to counter the flowing fit of gauzy jerseys and wide-piped shorts hemmed below the knee. One gentleman embodied this look the best: In matching oversized khaki button-down and shorts, plus thick-soled grey FUBU sneakers, he could have walked off the set of either an old DMX video, or a recent Givenchy runway, an inspiration for Riccardo Tisci's avant urban menswear looks.
That wide-bottom proportion was flipped in the case of some women, who preferred more footwear coverage in the form of the furry plush calflets that have populated rave and mall-goth culture for decades. Often matched to their shade of hair color — vibrant magentas, cartoon-slime greens — it was a more authentic take on the aspiring-mall-goth looks that have exploded in popularity on Tumblr in recent years. By preserving these concepts in amber and bucking trends, these Juggalettes have beat the circular nature of fashion, and look more chic than many big-city women trying to cop. One popular festive beauty look that doesn't pop up much in urban centers included "synthetic dreads" — strands of the material tube crin pinned in the wearers' natural hair, giving their heads the effect of resting at the bottom of a coral reef, ingenious live tubers.
Notoriously, the Gathering is smattered with nudity — not just the "titties" promised in the long, pre-Gathering advertisements, but Full Monty women and men, wandering around the campgrounds, buying sweet tea, smoking cigarettes, watching wrestling championships, no big deal. Other than the events specifically tailored to sexuality, such as the wet T-shirt contest, nakedness at the Gathering of the Juggalos took on the sterile, nonchalant feel of a nudist colony. I saw many women who were fully naked but for a pair of flip-flops the whole weekend, yet never saw them harassed or sexualized, which is a testament to the freedom of expression the Gathering allows. Further, such brazen nudity fosters self esteem in some women. Katie, a Juggalette from Bloomington, Indiana, has been to the Gathering two years in a row, and says the experience affords her a comfortability she doesn't feel at home. "In Bloomington, people look at you weird when you wear [ICP] shit. Here, there are big chicks walking around naked, and no one is saying anything." Katie, whose body type does not conform to societal demands of thinness, once participated in the Wet T-Shirt contest, and felt proud of her body. "People don't even show their true selves but once a year, and this is it," says her boyfriend, Jed.
On Saturday night, when the Insane Clown Posse was set to play, people seemed to show their truest selves of all. That's when the facepaint came out, in various levels of clown-and-zombie; some Juggalos seemed inspired by the classic West Coast cholo style of Blaze Ya Dead Homie, which itself was inspired by the classic Chicano clown art that's been gracing low-rider hoods since at least the 1980s. Other Juggalos went full Clive Barker, though never without a whimsical twist: one young man standing mid-crowd wore an orange haircap covered in nubs, recalling both Hellraiser's pinhead and the cartoony plastic hair-helmets of David LaChappelle shoots and '90s Elle magazine.
Couture was never more than a coin-toss away; one woman dressed as circus leader in tiny top hat and ringmaster's jacket brought to mind Anna Piaggi, the recently deceased Italian fashion icon whose looks could translate to Juggalo style without a hitch. But even with the phantoms of couture all over the landscape, the Gathering invoked a style flexibility that even the fashion world doesn't offer. And to experience that was worth all the bass contests and AM barfers the Midwest had to offer.
So many things could go wrong when remixing Elton John. For one thing, that's Sir Elton John, and now that Prince Harry has refashioned himself as a DJ, you can bet that there are royal repercussions for sullying the work of one of the Queen's own.
So Australia's Pnau — the duo of Empire of the Sun's Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes — must have felt some trepidation when they got their hands on the multi-tracks to Elton John's biggest hits from his golden period, 1970-76. (They did have one advantage over your garden-variety bootleggers: Sir Elton is apparently their official mentor, although it's unclear what, exactly, such an arrangement might entail — beyond, presumably, free eyewear.)
Wisely, they went the extra-credit route. Rather than simply delivering clubbed-up versions of his perennial crowd-pleasers, they mixed and mashed bits and pieces of multiple songs into sleek assemblages with an uncanny relationship to their source material — a particularly kaleidoscopic take on déjà vu. The result, Good Morning to the Night, was released last month on Casablanca Records. Despite its home on one of disco's most legendary labels, the album is more pop than dance, but a newly announced deluxe edition of the LP, due out on September 25, aims to make good on the Casablanca legacy with new remixes from Seamus Haji, the 2 Bears, and the rising producers Cahill, Mele, and Siege.
The 2 Bears — Hot Chip's Joe Goddard and his Greco-Roman Soundsystem cohort Raf Rundell — do exactly what they do best on their remix of "Sad," dropping Todd Edwards-styled vocal chop over a shuffling, jacking house groove before unleashing a melancholy chorus cribbed from Elton John's "Curtains": "When summer burned the earth again…" As feel-bad hits go, it's just the thing for a summer marked by drought. Listen to their remix below, along with a flashier rework of "Good Morning to the Night" by the reliably feel-good Fred Falke.