One of my favorite songs by the late Chuck Brown is 1988’s “That’ll Work (2001),” a go-go version of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” The credits on the 12-inch read like this: Written by Richard Strauss, arrangement by Deodato, additional arrangement by Chuck Brown. So specifically, “That’ll Work” references Eumir Deodato’s take on “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from 1972’s Prelude. Deodato’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra” is used to hilarious, deadpan effect in Hal Ashby’s 1979 movie Being There. It plays when Peter Sellers’ character, Chance the Gardener (or Chauncey Gardiner), leaves his caretaker’s home for the very first time and sees the outside world. In Being There, that outside world is Washington, DC, the birthplace of go-go. You can watch that scene from Being There here. Could be a stretch, but I gotta think Chuck Brown’s referencing Being There with “That’ll Work.”
Even if it isn’t a reference, there’s a cool weird history going on here. It begins with an 1896 Richard Strauss composition that references Nietzsche’s 1885 seminal work of philosophy. Flash-forward to 1968. Stanley Kubrick’s heady, art-film blockbuster 2001: A Space Odyssey also wrestles with Nietzschean ideals and makes that connection apparent via Strauss’ Nietzsche-referencing composition. The scenes it accompanies becomes so iconic that the Strauss composition becomes known by most as “the theme from 2001.” Four years later, a Brazilian composer creates a zeitgeist-grabbing, goofball-serious funk version of “the theme from 2001.” Seven years later, Hal Ashby uses Deodato’s groovin’ cover to reference 2001 and bring all that Kubrickian seriousness back down-to-earth. Nine years after that, a DC artist bases a go-go song around that version, famously used in an iconic DC movie! Also, rest in peace to Donna Summer. This weekend I will wear down the other side of the single-sided 12-inch version of Summer’s “MacArthur Park Suite.”
Ab-Soul ft. Jhene Aiko and Danny Brown, “Terrorist Threats”
You know you’ve made an out-there song when Danny Brown is the guy who steps up and brings it back down to earth: “Ain’t got shit but an EBT card from a fiend / That owe me and it’s in her daughter’s name / How the fuck is they supposed to eat? / How the fuck am I supposed to eat?” It’s the same righteous nutjob thing Ab-Soul does well on Control System, but it’s weighted down by the basic needs that prevent most of us from even having the time to ponder the stuff Ab’s worried about. But man, this whole thing where you say Obama’s exactly the same as all the other kind of corrupt, constantly compromising past presidents is a whole bunch of back-patting hipster cynicism (see also: Killer Mike’s “Reagan”), but Ab-Soul’s on this Philip K. Dick bat-shit crazy, the CIA-blew-up-my-home, sci-fi genius vibe, so it’s easier to digest, maybe even expected: “Dear Barack, I know you’re just a puppet but I’m giving you props/ You lying to the public like it ain’t nothing, and I just love it, hope it don’t stop.” On the previous verse, Ab cogently deconstructed the myth that the suburbs are less drug-infested than the streets. He’s the best member of Black Hippy, right? He’s certainly the most hippie member.
Killer Mike “Don’t Die”
An intro full of Nintendo sounds, James Brown horn stabs, a Dick Gregory sample, air raid sirens, Killer Mike cackling, and then: “I woke up this morning to a cop with gun/ Who told me he was looking for a nigga on the run / I thought for a second, and I screwed my face / And asked them dirty pigs ‘Why the fuck you in my place?’/ He said, ‘Chill or we kill, this is a warning’ / Then I told him, ‘Fuck you, where is the warrant?’ / Then they got to punchin’ and kickin’ and macin’ / Then, the whole situation went Larry Davis / Thinking about my lady and thinking about my baby / Thinking, ‘These two motherfucking pigs going crazy’ / They wanna kill a nigga ’cause a nigga on his rap shit / Wanna leave me dead on a mattress, Hampton / I’m a Public Enemy because I’m cold lampin’ / And I don’t give a fuck about a party in the Hamptons / And I don’t give a fuck about a motherfuckin’ Forbes list / Far as I’m concerned, that’s a motherfuckin’ whore’s list.” Then he talks some shit to the cops (“Motherfucker, my dad was a cop”) over more air raid sirens and there’s another verse. No chorus. “Reagan” is the real highlight of R.A.P. Music, but I’m gonna probably write something longer about that soon. Still processing this amazing album.
RL Grime “Trap on Acid” Afrojack’s loping “Pacha on Acid,” best known for being the bouncing, slightly geeked-up part of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” (and both those songs, really just cleaned up, not as vicious versions of “Waters of Nazareth” by Justice, maybe the most important song of the 2000s) is the basis for this shticky, witty, not-quite mash-up, not-quite remix from RL Grime, who specializes in this kind of fusion, it seems. By acid, he means the subgenre, not the totally awesome psychedelic, because acid house is what you’re hearing in those squashed-up squelches by way of Afrojack’s jacked-up production style. Mixing them with grunts and the basic skittering sounds of Lex Luger suggests a fascinating fate for Luger’s update on the trap sound, which as I mentioned, seems to be getting pushed off the radio by the jerk/hyphy fusion of DJ Mustard and others. Rather than curl up and die like most rap radio trends, the Luger stomp’s being absorbed by the borders-breaking world of Soundcloud producers breaking down the borders of dubstep and post-dubstep and everything else. And those mixtape drops (“this is a certified hood classic”) are nice insider jokes for all the blog-scraping rap dorks out there, legitimizing this potentially goofy rap-rave novelty.
Rye Rye ft. M.I.A. “Rock Off, Shake Off” M.I.A.’s “Big Things Poppin'” shout-out shows just how old this bonus track from Baltimore rapper Rye Rye’s debut Go! Pop! Bang! probably is, but you know, I’m sure the label had good reason for holding off an interesting personality from a burgeoning Baltimore club scene with a co-sign from one of the most significant and subversive dance artists of the 2000s, right? Waiting until club music is accepted by way of LMFAO and then forcing Rye Rye to jump onto some EDM sludge, when she was ahead of the trend by at least five years totally makes sense! But whatever, “Rock Off, Shake Off” pairs a classic Bmore club chant with production by the Egyptian Lover, who provides a typically gurgling, kicking, clapping, Orientalist electro banger like it’s 1983 again. And then, Rye Rye runs circles around it! To give you a break, M.I.A. does that half-awake chant thing she’s been doing post-Kala. These two should just do a whole album together, with production from old school weirdos like the Egyptian Lover, and producers like Blaqstarr and Nguzunguzu. Listen to “Rock Off, Shake Off,” borrow a bunch of old electro EPs from a more tasteful buddy, and never return to the terrible, regressive retro Girl Unit EP, Club Rez again, okay?
Squadda B. ft. Pepperboy “Stop Trying”
The “hustling and grinding sucked, but now I get to rap and that rules” approach is hardly new, but it remains fresh and really affecting when rappers do it without also doing that reverse idealization of the game, in which the terrible-ness of the streets is so well-wrought and daunted upon that it ends up seeming noble and awesome. Here, Squadda B of Main Attrakionz, and Pepper Boy — who despite his connections to Internet rap, has a really thrilling Lil Boosie-like quality that could find him breaking out of the Tumblrsphere — choose to dredge up memories of why dealing drugs just sucks and leaves you feeling empty. And producer Ryan Hemsworth, stand the fuck up! He’s been doing a lot of great work lately (like that Live for the Funk mix) and on “Stop Trying,” he takes cheapo synths and dinky percussion and puts his obvious old school video game obsession to work, adding this cute, catchy, melancholy Adventures Of Lolo 2-like melody to the end of the loop. The hook, “Stop trying nigga,” repeated over and over, is pure Three Six Mafia and really shouldn’t work, but here, because Squadda B is just weird like that, he twists its meaning to celebrate creative side-hustles. A kind of cloud rap version of “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”