Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Adventures In Rap #7: "The Show"/"La-Di-Da-Di"

So in my effort to tackle the history of rap as thoroughly as possible, to make sure that I'd heard every last droplet of worthwhile early rap ever released, I gave a listen to Street Jams: Hip-Hop From The Top, Vol. 1-4. While I'd already heard many of the tracks elsewhere (Sugarhill Gang, Run-D.M.C., etc.), there were several I had not. And several I may never need to hear again. I probably could have lived without Full Force's "Alice, I Want You Just For Me," The Fat Boys' "All You Can Eat," Fresh Gordon's "Gordy's Groove," Spyder-D's "Buckwheat's Beat" (yes, that Buckwheat), and Word Of Mouth's "King Kut (Featuring D.J. Cheese)," most of which are about on the level of Bobby "Boris" Pickett's "Monster Mash." While from a historical perspective these songs are fascinating, from a musical and lyrical perspective they leave a little to be desired.

At some point rappers must have realized that you can have the greatest lyrics in the world but if your beat stinks it doesn't matter, and that, by the same token, you can have the slightest lyrics on the face of the earth but if your beat rocks, then no one cares. At this stage the discussion probably went about as far as "Hey, let's just put Drum Machine Pattern #16 and some synth riffs on there and let's go to Chuck E. Cheese."

But Street Jams was not a total wash, thanks to the inclusion of what is possibly the most quoted single in the history of hip-hop: Doug E. Fresh & the Get Fresh Crew's "The Show"/"La-Di-Da-Di." Amid the plethora of Saturday morning cartoon rejects, "The Show" and "La-Di-Da-Di"stood out like a sore thumb.

First of all, the music isn't total crap. "The Show" has a slinky, jazzy, spacious beat that grooves along with a rich layer of non-dated echo (as well as a comical keyboard riff which occasionally slips into the Inspector Gadget theme tune!). What really sets Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick apart from their 1985 brethren is the level of playfulness, irony, theatricality, and whimsy that they employ. They know how to be silly and yet not give the impression that they're constantly winking at you. They manage to be goofy without sounding like sell-outs. They're simply just...better.

First of all, you've got Doug E. Fresh, "The Human Beatbox," whose beatboxing isn't just amusing as a novelty but is actually filled with ingenious little details and split-second gags. Still, I don't know just how much human beatboxing I could take by itself. That's where Slick Rick comes in.

Slick Rick is possibly the greatest rapper of all time. Maybe in one sense at least. Not as a profound voice of human expression, perhaps, but just as a pure rapper. Whereas most rappers, before and since, have tried to come off as aggressive, Slick Rick is mellow. Every "mellow" rapper who's followed, from Snoop Dogg to Andre 3000 to Shock G to Das EFX, probably owes a little debt to Slick Rick. Some of the mellowness is probably unintentional: Since he spent a good portion of his childhood in England, he has a slight British accent that makes his phrasing even more distinctive than it already is. He elongates, he exaggerates, he plays around with words to create a surreal effect. He is the shit.

Together, Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick have a rapport that is unstoppable. Doug E. Fresh raps a line while Slick Rick makes a little throwaway joke in the background. Their absurdity is well-structured and logical. It's like the two class clowns, whom everybody knows are way funnier than the rest of the kids, getting up in front of the chalkboard and just goofing around for minutes and nobody minding. Like on the opening of "The Show":

Slick Rick:
Excuse me Doug E. Fresh...

Doug E. Fresh:


Slick Rick:
Have you ever seen a show with fellows on the mic
With one million rhymes that don’t come out right?

Doug E. Fresh:
They bite

Slick Rick:
They’re never right

Doug E. Fresh:
That’s not polite

Slick Rick:
Am I lying?

Doug E. Fresh:
No, you’re quite right

And so on. I also love Slick Rick's only full verse in "The Show":

Slick Rick:
Well, here’s a little something that needs to be heard
Doug, I was walking downtown

Doug E. Fresh:
Word Rick

Slick Rick:
All along, no one to be with
Step on the D-train, 205th
I saw a pretty girl

Doug E. Fresh:

Slick Rick:
So I sat beside her
Then she went rrrr, like she was Tony the Tiger
I said, oh darn, there's been a mistake
Honey, my name’s Slick Rick, not frosty flakes!

Now, although "The Show" was the A-side and the official hit (it peaked at #4 R&B), "La-Di-Da-Di," the B-side, is in some ways even better, and has been even more influential. Here is only a partial list of songs that have sampled "La-Di-Da-Di," just off the top of my head: The Beastie Boys' "Hold It Now, Hit It," Snoop Dogg's "Lodi Dodi," The Notorious B.I.G.'s "Hypnotize," Das EFX's "Jussumen," De La Soul's "My Brother's A Basehead"...and that's only the tip of the iceberg.

Gone are the cheesy keyboard riffs of "The Show." This time around, Doug E. Fresh is the music! Slick Rick takes center stage for a charmingly raunchy tale including the usage of Oil Of Olay, Johnson's Baby Powder, and Polo Cologne for God's sakes. The interplay between Slick Rick as the storyteller and Doug E. Fresh as the sort of Greek Chorus is delightful, like something out of a puppet show or a campfire skit.

At one point an exchange goes like this:

Slick Rick:
Then I dilly

Doug E. Fresh:

Slick Rick:
I ran through a

Doug E. Fresh:

Slick Rick:
I bumped into this homegirl named

Doug E. Fresh:

Slick Rick:
from the

Doug E. Fresh:

I also love:

Slick Rick:
I woke up around ten o’clock in the morning
I gave myself a stretch up, a morning yawn and
Went to the bathroom to wash up
Put some soap on my face and my hand upon a cup, said
Mirror mirror on the wall
Who is the top choice of them all
There was a rumble dumble, five minutes it lasted
The mirror said

Doug E. Fresh:
“You are you conceited bastard!”

And finally, lest anyone mistake this for some sort of crossover rap, the song goes out with an R-rated bang:

Slick Rick:
And on and on and on she kept on
The bitch been around before my mother’s born
I said, “cheer up!” I gave her a kiss
I said, “you can’t have me I’m too young for you miss”
She said, “No you’re not,” then she starts crying
I says, “I’m nineteen”, she says

Doug E. Fresh:
“Stop lying!”

Slick Rick:
I says, “I am — go ask my mother
And with your wrinkled pussy, I can’t be your luverrrrrr!”

The words of a true artist.


Herr Zrbo said...

It's interesting when you hear these certain phrases which appear over and over again in rap songs. Like the "Ricky Ricky Ricky/Biggie Biggie Biggie/can't you see/somehow your words just hypnotize me" line. They're like the memes of rap.

Peter Matthew Reed said...

I want a copy of your 3 volumes of rap history. I can paypal you the money if you copy it and post it to me. My email address is petermreed@gmail.com. Let me know if this is possible!