Plus: Mase & Miguel, No Gang Colors, ZZ Top, and mixes by Omar from 'The Wire' and Spoek Mathambo
So, E-40 was on America's Got Talent last night, rapping with an old guy. To explain: When this season of the show began and they went through the prerequisite freak show, one act was a wrinkly creep named Burton Crane, who dressed like Don Magic Juan and said "whatcha gonna do" over and over again, which was enough for him to declare himself "the grandfather of rap." Old people are weird like that. In the beach town where my grandparents live, there's this guy who called himself the "Old Fart" and walks around with a fart machine and a hat that says "old fart" on it and seems to just harass people. Sounds "hilarious," right? Like I said, old people are weird. Anyways, because last night was the season finale, there was a ton of time to kill and products to push, so Flo-Rida showed up, as did Justin Bieber and Big Sean, and Nick Cannon along with this Crane character performed his "whatcha gonna do" half-a-song and for whatever reason, E-40 was there too, ugh-ing and ooh-ing his way through the thing. Here's video of it. Why was I watching America's Got Talent? Because it's good-bad reality TV as opposed to bad-bad reality TV, like that crackersploitation debacle, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, okay? Back off. Justin Bieber featuring Big Sean. Crazy old white man featuring E-40. Insert something about the state of rap in 2012. Onto the music. It's a weird week for Friday Five, featuring two mixes, two rap-rock experiments, and one R&B remix featuring a rapper.
Michael K. Williams Omar Mix
Over at Vulture, Michael K. Williams, the actor who played lone-wolf, drug-slanging, shotgun-wielding, heteronormative ideal-challenging Omar on The Wire, revealed a mix of songs he put together to help him get into character. The mix is heavy on 2Pac, Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill, Nas, and Notorious B.I.G., and finds some room for Common and Young Jeezy, as well, presenting a fairly complex and contradictory group of songs that you can imagine being helpful when entering Omar's headspace. Listening to the playlist, I kept thinking of this comment from The Wire co-creator Ed Burns, who proudly explained that hip-hop was not part of the show. Referring to Season Four's kids, Burns said, in an interview with Baltimore's City Paper, "If you want to see 'hip-hop,' you go out into the county and watch white boys walk up and down the street." No doubt, Burns' attitude came from a desire to not reduce black characters to gangsta-rap stereotypes, but that flair for the dramatic and the performative, which is at the heart of hip-hop, was often absent from The Wire. Something always felt off to me about The Wire, and I think it has something to do with at least one of the white guys behind the show being dismissive of rap. Omar, though, always felt alive — especially in the last season when he turned into a sort of immortal hood superhero — and it makes sense that Williams, with this playlist, was smuggling some hip-hop back into the show. Listen to the Omar mix here if you've got Spotify.
Miguel, feat. Ma$e "Adorn Remix"
Earlier this year, you probably heard Mase on the remix of Wale's "Slight Work." He destroyed the bleep-bloop wub-wub mess by getting incredibly goofy, rapping things like, "Getting money like I'm Jewish, get attention like a nudist / Got a cult following of bad broads like I'm Buddhist / As a student, I'm a truant, and you know my mind affluent." His appearance on Kanye and crew's the Weeknd-wannabe "Higher" is one of Cruel Summer's few second-half highlights, and here he is, occupying the first minute or so of Miguel's "Adorn," the "Sexual Healing" for the post-Neptunes set, and inarguable R&B single of the year. He rattles off a genuinely adorable series of things he'll do, like "I want to lift your confidence / Skip across continents/ Vacate places Mrs. Obama went," in his swollen-tongue flow that is, secretly, the most important rapping voice to a whole lot of the rambling, mumbling charming rap going on right now, from Kanye West to Das Racist's Heems. Welcome to Mase entering his third, or maybe even fourth, comeback phase.
No Gang Colors "CG Violence"
No Gang Colors is a one-man bedroom-metal project on J. Randall of Agoraphobic Nosebleed's Grindcore Karaoke label. But the group flirts with hip-hop sampling and production styles, including some Big L raps on last year's Honorary Cop EP, releasing a mixtape of chopped-and-screwed metal remixes called 666 Mixes for Cash (which paired the Swans with Scarface and dared to slow up Pig Destroyer), and even collaborating with Cities Aviv on an upcoming split seven-inch. "CG Violence," from their new album, Hacking Heaven ("a documentary in digital audio"), begins with AraabMuzik talking about his early drumming career, then drags a sample of Sonic Youth's "Silver Rocket" until it sounds like something off Sonic Youth's brown-acid bummer opus Bad Moon Rising, then punctuates it with screams from Helmet's "FBLA." All this mess of hiccups and stutters sounds like one of those early fuzzing and buzzing tape hiss-happy Triple Six Mafia underground tapes.
Spoek Mathambo Nitecasting 4: Spoek Mathambo's Sexually Harrassed Mix
The commentary on the very young and pretty terrible Chicago rapper Chief Keef has spiraled out of control, especially once — surprise, surprise — Lupe Fiasco wandered into the debate, reducing Keef to a symbol of all that's wrong with Chicago and rap music. There really couldn't be a better example of how violence births hip-hop, and not the other way around, than Chief Keef. No one wants to think of it that way, though. Instead, Keef's being called a "goon" and "savage" by Lupe (who has since apologized, of course), "[un]civilized" by Prefixmag ("let's wait and see if Chief Keef will return the kind words, or if civilized behavior is something he 'don't like'," har har har), while The Huffington Post absurdly asked, "So if Fiasco leaves rap…won't rappers like Chief Keef fill the vacuum?" No. The answer is no. What's this have to do with Spoek Mathambo's 28-minute mix that begins with clanging Kraftwerk and ends with a cut from the '80s electro crew Sexual Harassment? Well, nothing really, but Mathambo's terse sprint of a mix feels like a dose of plurality and open-eared party line-destroying excitement in the middle of a debate about hip-hop that's creepily narrow-minded and conservative. Booty-bass pioneer DJ Magic Mike shares sonic space on Mathambo's mix with footwork freak DJ Rashad, while the proto-rap of Sun Ra's "Nuclear War" chills with Wiley's grime and Too $hort's winning, um, Short Dog-ness.
ZZ Top "I Gotsa Get Paid"
Back in May, ZZ Top premiered "I Gotsa Get Paid," a crunchy cover of DJ DMD feat. Lil Keke and Fat Pat's "25 Lighters," in a beer commercial. It was also featured on their iTunes-only EP from June, Texicali, and it kicks off La Futura, their latest, not-that-bad-but-needs-more-synthesizers album, out this week. Awhile back, in a blog entry on Classic Rock Magazine's website, writer Scott Rowley gathered quotes to highlight the way that this group toyed with the continuum of black music, making it clear that African-American popular music doesn't have to stop influencing old white guitarists just because it doesn't sound like the blues anymore. Guitarist Billy Gibbons explained that he "became fixated with this hypnotic chronicle of the toil of a ghetto hustler," and considers "I Gotsa Get Paid" to be "a homage to these heroes of the Houston ghetto." I mean, their version of the song is basically just ZZ Top's deadpan, frying-on-the-asphalt blooze, but it's also a surprisingly smart tribute to hip-hop and a great example of a few old rockers who don't need to get it, totally getting it. This rap stuff? Not all that different from the desperate tales of the blues and black rock'n'roll! There are a few moments where the guitar riffs even seem to crumble up and approximate DJ Screw's wobbly record scratches.