03 June 2009

Un Hip House

Last summer there was a debate over what to call Wiley's Wearing My Rolex and some of the records that followed (Rolex Sweep, Tinchy Stryder's tranced-out effort etc). They were all unusual in that grime MCs were rhyming over what was basically a four-to-the-floor beat. 'Electro-grime' won the vote I suppose, but for me that didn't really do justice to what was going on. It didn't convey what was significant about the rhythms these MCs were using, the fact they sounded more like house than anything from the grime spectrum, or from hiphop, the obvious first stop for a grime MC looking to branch out.

It all sounded, to me, deep down, like a 2008 resurrection of hip-house. If I'd had a blog then I would have said as much, but I didn't, and now that I do... I'm far too late! Because I was reminded of this by Simon Reynolds' blog-post over at The Guardian where he makes the same point in passing. And there's also a great Top 20 of Hip House in Fact from last month, put together by Alex Waldron from Greco-Roman.

And while rappers from the UK grime scene are migrating towards these beats, a kind of housing of hiphop is also taking place. A-Trak's recent mixes are as much electro, disco, go-go and house as they are hiphop; Kanye West is flirting with house. Why are rappers gravitating towards this rhythm? Boredom with hiphop's current state of atrophy / entropy? Boredom with what feels like its complete disappearance, which has been brought about (in the US) by its total commercial ubiquity?

The Re-Press of the Repressed

All of the above I'd say, but I think there's also a huge transgressive pleasure in play, a thrill at breaking a taboo. Hip-house's return is like the return of the repressed. Hip-house has a strange kind of shame attached to it, a perversity even. Last summer at the very moment that it topped the charts, it was the genre that could not speak its name... this stuff was not allowed to be identified as hip-house.

Because hip-house has been uncool for nearly 20 years: as two genres closely related by birth, hiphop and house, developed and became fully-formed adult identities, a point was reached where to bring the two together was almost like an act of incestuous union: they were related, sure, but that only meant that never the 'twain should meet, that they could not procreate. And this state of affairs didn't happen in spite of its popularity, its popularity only made it less cool. That is, with two 'fully-grown' genres, the purists within each movement formed a kind of ideological team which policed the borders of each.

There was a point in the late 80s when hip-house had a possible future ahead, with records like Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock:

and, of course, the Jungle Bros' I'll House You, the one hiphouse record everyone remembers, as Alex Waldron rather ruefully points out in his Top 20

By 1991, there's a very different view from the Native Tongues. De La's 'Kicked Out The House' is introduced with 'In no way are we trying to disrespect any sort of house or club music, but we're just glad that we're not doing it...' The verse/chorus goes roughly:
Kicked out the house, you got
Kicked out the house, hip house
Kicked out the house for good
(I can't be your lover)

(With your wrinkled pussy)
(I can't be your lover)
(With your wrinkled oh, oh oh)
(I can't be your lover)
As you can see, no disrespect there at all.

So what we have is a case of a 'lost future'. Why? I'd guess because, as argued above, the two genres have grown away from their common ancestry (one example: think about how massive Kraftwerk were for Afrika Bambaataa and other early hiphoppers...). Partly it must be to due to the fondness of Eurocheese club producers for a rap: 2Unlimited, Snap. 'The Power' is an interesting case study. Initially it was put together as a track with an a cappella laid over the top from Chill Rob G's 'Let The Words Flow'. Chill Rob G made was responsible for some of Wild Pitch's finest moments – my favourite being 'Court is Now in Session':

The lines that always stuck out for me being:
It's a pity the way the city treats the poor
I got congressmen, councilmen, tell me what are they for?
I write letters, or better, I even give them a call
But they kick back, cool out in my City Hall
...It's the fact that he remembers it's *his* City Hall that I've always liked.

Now, Chill Rob G's album already featured this hiphouse excursion before Snap appeared on the scene:

...But Snap, when it came to release the single, ended up using not Chill Rob but an unknown rapper called Turbo B (presumably to economize & avoid paying Chill Rob). Another curious historical detail: Nomad's I Wanna Give You Devotion, another hip-house hit from '91, was based on a sax riff sampled from the original instrumental of 'Let The Words Flow'...

Chill Rob digression over.

Release Yo 'Delf?

So around the turn of the 90s hiphop and house were sundered, although their mutant offspring manages to hide in plain sight in the charts, in tracks like Jason Nevins' remix of Run DMC's 'It's Like That' (is this the purest hip-house record of all time? And if Daft Punk had been the remixers what would have happened next?)

The main point of division though I think is this... House is predicated on a sensual logic which demands surrender, release, ecstacy, Ecstacy, rapture. Now hiphop is about many things, and is capable of its own kind of sublime, but one thing it is definitely is about keeping one's cool. A glance at the trad canon of rap greatness shows you that the great rappers either had a past as a drug dealer or pretended they did, or pretended they still were (Biggie, 50 Cent, Jay Z). The blatantly drug-damaged rapper is a rare thing indeed... There's ODB. RA the Rugged Man? Other than that the extent of it tends to be heavy smokers/snorters... Until that brief burst around '01 when Missy and P Diddy were dropping pills. But I think that's the crux: chemically-induced or otherwise, hiphop culture was too reluctant to lose its cool; too hip for hip-house. It's all part of hiphop's long resistance to lysergic culture (with some exceptions). I think there's a lot to be said about psychedelic hiphop, or the problems with such an idea, a kind of survey of the many attempts to get it off the ground as a direction...

That's it. A Bit Patchy I know (does the provenance of the sample alone practically make this hip-house, rap or no rap?). Most of the above applies to US hiphop in relation to house, whereas in the UK, as much as it may bother the NME-reading section of Dizzee's fanbase, the grime MC has always been closer to the rave than their US counterparts (grime having grown out the trusty old hardcore 'nuum). And probably there's a Woebot dissertation on hiphouse floating around which will show these disconnected ramblings up badly. But there it is.

1 comment:

kai yin said...

HI! just read this. was grand, insightful. good work!