October 2007


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 — It’s like vodka and milk

 

Rumination on The M-O-double-B

It is often said that ours is a generation under rap, the way that an older demographic is a generation spawned under the psychedelic hamperings of the ambiguous catch-all phrasing that is Rock And Roll. Regardless of the truth of this statement (to which there is none and it is a stupid thing to say), there are certain qualities that Bob Seger and Tom Petty have, that will never ever be grasped by Juvenile or Big Pun (R.I.P). Of the many perhaps most important is a band, but secondly it is the free wheeling nature the guitar riff can capture; or the rambling sense of homelessness a some good keyboard chords can evoke. Rap is dogmatically rooted in the region from which it originates, and thus lacking in that essential transcendence, instead it seems that the opposite is true, that rap exists as a transportive instrument that can bring a rough grittiness (perceived or otherwise) to a bucolic locale, such as a strawberry patch in Idaho. 

 
This is not to say that Rap is difficult to listen to outside of the hometown of the artist, because to say that would be like the statement that began the first paragraph, wrong. Rap travels exceptionally well. There is nothing better than being on the Pacific side of Panama with Alicia Keys singing and Nas wondering about “If Heaven Was A Mile Away;” or kludging through the rain in the twisted streets of the 16th in Paris with headphones and the Ghost Dog soundtrack playing, or in Puerto Rico on a golf cart and a boombox bumping Camp-Lo, or scratchy vinyl of Madvillian at a coffee shop in Amsterdam (maybe the only place that album ever sounded good), or spilling Champaign at the disco on the roof in The Bund in Shanghai and singing “it’s like the more money we come across, the more problems we see.” Rap plays well around the world. Perhaps because of the very transportive quality mentioned earlier. It is difficult to be in the club, or the car, or wherever, and here the opening lines of Juicy, and not think about New York; how ever, it is a very fun song to pop some bottles to and sing along, regardless of ones current location. 

 
That said, nowhere outside of New York does Mobb Deep make sense. They are perhaps the most physical location specific rap ever. I remember a time sitting in a car near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. It was when H.N.I.C. came out and I liked it a lot and liked to listen to it. I was sitting in a car listening to Prodigy talk about something, and thought to myself “how could I possibly like this shit?” But as soon as I got back to New York I was breaking bread, ribs, and hundred dollar bills.  

 

Also, right around H.N.I.C. when I saw Prodigy on the street twice or three times a week for months. This severely endeared the little guy to me (he is maybe 5’2’’). There was this morning I was at Union Square at 5:30 or heading home, and he scooted by on the bike with his long ass chain dangling, one tattooed fist clenching a Newport; presumably he too was heading home. I always saw him at those early hours when the streets are finally calm, and he was always by himself looking fucked up and grumpy. He looked exactly that that kid who is always everywhere (you know the kind i am talking about) who talks the most amount of shit. I respect that.

Guys like Wu-Tang have context in Paris or Berlin. Nas has a context in Morroco or Mexico, Tupac has context because everyone in the world love that guy (Its true! Everywhere in the world a Tupac gets love!). Even a guy like Jadakiss, whose raspy wittiness is essentially New York has more of a worldly sense about him, mainly due to his fascination of casting himself as this worldwide drug dealing don, which works just fine.  But Prodigy and Havoc? They get love outside of New York, but there music doesn’t make sense anywhere else. Maybe because it is too grim and too addled by blunts and Hennesy. Maybe it is because their brand of murda muzik is incredibly ignorant ghetto shit. Maybe the beats are depressing and the preposterously localized world view, one in which Red Hook is another world, and Coney Island represents another constellation, just cannot translate. They are on the benches, proudly so; it seems that for these guys Albany would be an out-of-state trip. 

 
However, I have been listening to Mobb Deep a lot. Particularly, Return Of the Mack, which was Prodigy’s mixtape last year where Alchemist did all the tunes for (classic material, best rap album of last year, really drugy and paranoid and strange. P gives up rapping on the album which is good, he just kind of talks. It works perfectly when he is talking about being high on crack in police interogation rooms or when he says ‘I ain’t even wiping my sweat, it keep me cool.”) Also I have been listening to Hell On Earth, and of course, Infamous.

 

Cause you’ll fuck around and get your ass torn apart
Challengin the Mobb in the arts
Our literature stands collossal

 

This is because I am in Bombay, which becomes oddly desolate by eleven o’clock at night. Packs of dogs run through the street and naked babies tug at my leg for money; smacked-out amputees stumble on their crutches with their eyes rolling in the back of their head, and gangs of thirteen year olds try to pimp girls younger than them; or try to sell more dope. Garbage is everywhere, and the streets are lined with people sleeping. It is a natural environment for Havocs beats, and Prodigy mumbling about being stressed out and shooting people.

I wasn’t up in the mix puffing lah and relaxin’ on the 41st side of things back in ‘94. In fact I didn’t even go there until 1999, when I took my bike over QB and had a look around. Queensbridge housing projects are really massive and weird. Even spending an hour there makes Havoc and the oddly cinematic self important epicness of his beats make sense. They are a world unto themselves, self-sustaining and welfare dependent breeding grounds of rappers for the last twenty years.

 

Bombay, is too massive to be understood, and isn’t possible to characterize lyrically; though the young women hip-hopper I had lunch with the other day HardKaur, is doing a good job in trying to. She says she wants to be for Bombay what KRS-1 is for the Bronx, which is a lofty goal I guess. But her preferred chaotic rhythms of Bollywood cannot come close to capturing the despair and the desire to give up that Havoc and P encapsulated ten years ago and ten thousand miles away.

 

Endnote —

I saw Chamillionaire at the club last Friday here in Bombay. It was presented by VH1 and the club had been decorated very hip-hop style. Fake brick walls with wack graffiti and bedazzled cash signs hung from the ceiling. Chamillionare is a cool dude and makes semi-interesting music. I missed his show, but he was living it up and bottle popping at the booth next to ours. I hollered at him and he was really taken back by what he had seen in his short time in Bombay saying something the extent of “it’s wild out here.” To which I could only agree with him.

 
As fate would have it turns out that last year, VH1 tried to bring Mobb Deep, and unsurprisingly, they didn’t show up. I have had tickets to at least six of their shows, they never show up anywhere; they are to busy on the park benches, perhaps. But they don’t know what they missed, because in Bombay there is really a war going on no man is safe from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The only one that exists is the one which lies underfoot

Six tipsy, wild elephants electrocuted in MeghalayaSix Asiatic wild elephants were electrocuted in a northeast village as they went berserk after drinking rice beer, a wildlife official said Tuesday.“Nearly 40 elephants arrived at Chandan Nukat, a village nearly 240 kilometers west of Shillong, on Friday looking for food. A few of them found beer stored in plastic and tin drums and got drunk,” said Sunil Kumar, a state wildlife official.

The elephants then uprooted an electric pole and in doing so were electrocuted. “There would have been more dead elephants had the villagers not chased them away,” said Dipu Mark, a local conservationist. The elephants are known to have a taste for rice beer brewed by tribal communities in the northeast.

Four wild elephants died under similar circumstances in the region three years ago.

 — Hindustan Times

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… Because India was a land of repetition, a land of nothing new. You couldn’t say anything about India that hadn’t been said before, and if you succumbed to India’s vivid temptation to generalize, all you could do was utter a platitude so obvious it looked like a lie – “the poverty’s a problem” or “All these cows are in the street,” or “It’s real dirty.”

            Like a living, billion-strong festival of futility, India was the proof that you could not do anything here that hadn’t been done before. India was a reminder of the extravagance of human self-deception, and the fundamental lesson of Indian life was that people and even animals have previous existences, past incarnations, they had lived on earth before, they’d been through all this – they had to have done so, for otherwise how could they stand it? Nothing was new, and even the illusion were hackneyed, the deceptions old hat.

            I’ve lived enough, he thought, entering the mind of someone about to be reincarnated …

— Elephanta Suite, Paul Theroux, pg. 47

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It is a sticky Wednesday night. There is nothing more to the night except this, and that where the night has fallen is in Bombay, and that the monsoon has passed and there hasn’t been a cloud for days, and that the moon is trying to be full but it remains more than a quarter away.

 

Cardboard is padded with banana leaves. Men, women, babies, but strangely no teens, are fetal in the filthy side streets and sprawled on the shoulders of the highways. There are no real highways in Bombay, so where they are sprawled is really only an avenue that has two lanes in each direction.  The sleep looks to be sound as there is not a twitch or a hiccup. The dogs are asleep too. They sleep wherever they want, and if the day has been too hot and they are too old, their sleep is easily confused with death. Taxi’s have their doors swung open, and from each door there is a body part. At one taxi a man heads lays out backwards, there is a breeze, but the night is sticky and there is sweat n his forehead. Blood must be rushing to his cranium, but his sleep is profound too. at the next taxi there is a mash of limbs, and this is either a crinkled malnourished leg, or a too strong arm. It is only a heap of a body inside, so either/or, it doesn’t matter that much – they are sleeping well.

 

The bus lumbers down the street. The lights are turned off; the lights in the cabin and the headlights. There aren’t many streetlamps, in fact on this street there are no streetlamps. It is good that the bus is lumbering; because otherwise it seems one of these men who lazily cross the street yawning would be struck and killed.

 

Change, a few Rupees is thrown on to the tattered cloth. The men are all serious looking with push broom mustaches and grubby clothes. Some of them don’t wear shirts, but they all have pants on. The smoke from their bidi’s perfumes the air, and it is clear that this game of cards is going bad for some – and good for others. Maybe it is going well for the man who is happily sipping at his pressed sugar cane juice. He must have gotten it from the stand just up the way. It is lit by bright lights and there is a huge wheel grinding away. Funny that something so mechanical would be quiet, but it is. It must be going well for the man with the sugar cane juice, his pinky is erect and though his voice is hushed it has the vibrant tones of a man about to collect a large pot.

 

The rules of this card game are as drawn out as mysterious and endless as the matches of cricket. India won tonight, but they lost to Australia for the past five days, but tonight was the world cup, but it didn’t mean anything. The match started at noon and has just finished an hour ago. The card game is like this.

 

A car rounds the corner and honks the horn. It is a nice new car, and the windows are tinted, and the horn is loud. It is amazing only in that there has been such a soaking silence. The men don’t look at the car passing, and more change is thrown around the carpet.

 

One of the men has had enough. He puts his cards down and lays on his side. The exhaustion is total and soon he asleep. Bombay is a place that requires a nap here and there followed by a few hours of being undisturbed, funny that a place such as this would require being undisturbed; because the luxury of such is reserved for the smallest percentage of the population.

 

A sleepless child has decided to set off a long string off fire works. The noise and the sparks incite the implied reaction. There is a burst of excitement. The men look up from the card game, and those two old dogs over there don’t really get up, but they start barking. They lie on their bellies and bark bark bark.

 

The night is sticky and heavy in darkness and not even this moment of confusion can stir the sleeping taxi drivers. It has set in its temporary permanence. The sun will rise, the concrete will simmer in heat by eleven o’clock, and the traffic and horns will blare away as if everyone behind a wheel has the same mentality as that sleepless child. But tonight that all seems far away, and even though the eyelids of the men playing cards hang heavy, they do not want to give it up. Not this silent sticky darkness, not right now.

 

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