Friday, June 11, 2010

Ten From the '90s Part Four (1993 [sort of]): KMD- BLACK BASTARDS CD (Sub Verse)

Lots of folks like to fetishize the ‘80s as the classic locus of hip-hop grandiosity, “old school” authenticity and all that, and I’ll certainly agree that there was a surplus of major creativity and rapid fire evolution in hip-hop during that era, but I tend to think of the ‘90s as an epoch of constant rap innovation, the decade where it no longer had to answer questions of musical validity and also produced records at a high frequency that could stand toe to toe qualitatively with the best from any contemporaneous genre. It was also the period where underground hip-hop really began to exert itself as a deep, sustained counterpoint to the more commercial manifestations of its form. In 1993, this writer was neck deep in the assorted permutations of the indie-rock scene, and when I wanted a momentary respite from that environment, I almost always turned to two things: jazz and rap. Gang Starr, Souls Of Mischief, Beatnuts, Del the Funky Homosapien and numerous others formed a powerful, diverse, and still relevant sonic labyrinth that is/was secure from ever running dry. Much of this movement was in fact many different smaller and often geographical scenes, with quite a few reacting to and extending the funky intellectualism of the A Tribe Called Quest/De La Soul/Jungle Brothers/3rd Bass axis, so in turn it was indirectly related to earlier heavies from the ‘80s like Boogie Down Productions and the Ultramagnetic MCs and the Def Jam scientists. It was an extremely fertile stream of sound, a landscape that eventually sent both Outkast and Nas into the larger public consciousness. So, am I going to enthuse on any of the abovementioned names that happened to release a record in 1993? Nah, how ‘bout we talk about BLACK BASTARDS by KMD, a record slated for public consumption in that year only to hit a stumbling block (brick wall, more like it), not becoming legitimately available until 2001, and if you drink in the cover above, I’ll doubt you’ll have any difficulty gleaning why. KMD’s first record, MR. HOOD from ’91, is an outstanding mixture of De La Soul’s deceptive surface lightness and a deeper, well pronounced black consciousness that was just beginning to really articulate itself, largely due to Public Enemy’s righteous clamor. Many people today recognize the name KMD, if at all, as the place from whence came MF Doom, but back in the day (as they say) MF Doom was known as Zev Love X, and KMD were just one group amongst many populating a culture that was dedicated to promoting hip-hop as something other than a string of one-hit wonders and flashes in the pan. If BLACK BASTARDS had actually seen release at the time of its completion (which means that Elektra would’ve momentarily had to act as something other than an ass-sucking corporation), I have no doubt it would now be recognized as the equal of any rap disc released in the first half of the ‘90s. But reality stinks in this case (Elektra unable to be anything but what it was), so this amazing record now needs as much posthumous advocacy as it can get. Where MR. HOOD was the kind of fun-flowing jam, full of good humor and Sesame St. samples, that you could play while yr Mom grilled shish kabobs and you played chess with yr Uncle, this follow up was a noticeably darker affair, at times bordering on angry, though it is always coherent and in firm command of its intentions. In some ways this progression is comparable to the big jump Public Enemy made from YO! BUM RUSH THE SHOW to the gargantuan follow up IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLIONS (I’m sure you know the rest), but KMD weren’t militant in delivery (while being tight with Brand Nubian). Instead, on their second record, KMD were concocting an extremely varied sound. Some of it sounds like a pissed off Tribe (and can you ever recall Q-Tip sounding pissed off?), other parts examine cyclical loops of acoustic bass that boom large without any self-congratulatory back-patting, and there are additional passages that present a sustained dexterous elasticity full of ragged intensity that sits in contrast to the deliriously smooth sonic flow promoted by DJ Premier on records by Gang Starr, Jeru the Damaja etc. I’m notoriously a guy far more concerned with the creativity of DJ’s and producers in the hip-hop scheme of things, quite often caring less about the constant stream of verbiage that spouts from the mouth of an MC, indeed not connecting so much with what the words are saying (the content), instead absorbing the sound and unbroken extendedness of the vocalization (the form). All that explained, both Zev Love X and Rodan excel at being fully formed rappers; I’m quite confident they’d sound fantastic if I didn’t understand a word of English, though their command of the language is admirable. And the late DJ Subroc (Zev Love/Doom’s younger bro, felled by a reckless New York motorist) integrated a raw, sample heavy density that never once feels like it’s recycling itself. His astute ability at weaving a funky progression of cleanly picked guitar samples is the sort of thing that’s been almost entirely left behind in hip-hop’s current more technocratic state. BLACK BASTARDS might have been temporarily sidelined by the bottom-line assholes at Elektra, but its subsequent release establishes a deep corrective to that bad major-label mojo, so do please search it out if it sounds like yr sort of rafter shaking ruckus. It’ll blast grand between STEP INTO THE ARENA and I WISH MY BROTHER GEORGE WAS HERE. It also sounds sweet three times in succession, and that’s a sure sign of a truly great record.

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