Friday, January 2, 2009

Adventures In Rap #10: "Boyz-N-The- Hood"

You may be sitting there in your jacuzzi, snorting coke off a woman's well-tanned stomach, listening to The Chronic or AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted or Eazy-Duz-It and wondering where it all began. Well wonder no longer. You might be forgiven for not immediately sensing the significance of "Boyz-n-the-Hood" upon one quick listen, but this, for those who remain unaware, is nothing less than the birth of the most notorious rap group to ever grace a suburban white kid's stereo speaker. Dr. Dre producing. Eazy-E rapping. Ice Cube writing. I mean here it is folks.

According to scholars, "Boyz-n-the-Hood" is not the first gangsta rap song. But it is close. Many point to Ice-T's "Six in the Morning," but the Original Gangster himself credits Philadelphia rapper Schoolly D and his single "P.S.K. What Does It Mean":
The first record that came out along those lines was Schoolly D's "P.S.K." Then the syncopation of that rap was used by me when I made "Six In The Morning". The vocal delivery was the same: '...P.S.K. is makin' that green', '...six in the morning, police at my door'. When I heard that record I was like "Oh shit!" and call it a bite or what you will but I dug that record. My record didn't sound like "P.S.K.", but I liked the way he was flowing with it. "P.S.K." was talking about Park Side Killers but it was very vague. That was the only difference, when Schoolly did it, it was ' by one, I'm knockin' em out'. All he did was represent a gang on his record. I took that and wrote a record about guns, beating people down, and all that with "Six In The Morning".
And thank goodness he did! All right, so maybe it's quite possible to imagine a world without gangsta rap but for better or worse that is not the world that we live in today. More than twenty years later, what can we say about a musical genre that not only refuses to explicitly condemn violence, but in many ways actively endorses it? If your initial reaction is to dub all gangsta rap immoral, as mine was, you'd be wise to recognize the links between the debate over the merits of gangsta rap and the debate over the merits of violence in cinema. Chew on that for a while. But I'm getting ahead of myself here; "Boyz-n-the-Hood" is hardly a work of major controversy.

Its musical merits are negligible, and yet its awkward lurch possesses a certain sleazy charm. Dr. Dre's usage of sampling at this stage is laughably rudimentary. Instead of building the background beat out of a bedrock of samples, he simply uses a drum machine and throws in a barely-altered sample (Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff," the Staple Sister's "I'll Take You There," etc.) in between each verse. Needs some work, dude. (Note to aspiring rap producers: Never sample a song that is catchier than your own - otherwise the listener will be thinking "All right, 'Mr. Big Stuff'! Oh, wait, damn, I'm actually listening to 'Boyz-n-the-Hood.'")

Eazy-E sounds notably mellow and restrained; those who were present say he accepted rapping duties reluctantly and felt nervous and uneasy. This sense of caution would not last.

The real meat of the song, however, is Ice Cube's engagingly rambling lyrics. He makes no attempt to dilute his South Central slang for easy consumption:

Cruising down the street in my 6-4
Jockin' the freaks, clocking the dough
Went to the park to get the scoop
Knuckleheads out there cold shooting some hoops
A car pulls up who can it be
A fresh El Camino rollin', Kilo G
He rolls down his window and he started to say
It's all about making that GTA

GTA? Can Somebody help me out here? "Good Time Ass"? "Gold Trans Am"? I really don't have a clue. Then comes the vaguely threatening chorus:

Cuz the boyz n tha hood are always hard
You come talking that trash we'll pull your card
Knowing nothing in life but to be legit

And now here, I believe, is the first clue as to just how seriously you should really be taking these lyrics:

Don't quote me boy, cuz I ain't said shit

So there you have it, straight from the source: "Whatever we say, we're basically just fucking around." It goes on:

Donald B's in the place to give me the pace
He said my man JB is on freebase
The boy JB was a friend of mine
Till I caught him in my car trying to steal my Alpine
Chased him up the street to call a truce
The silly cluck head pulled out a deuce-deuce
Little did he know I had a loaded 12 gauge
One sucker dead, LA Times front page

Here we have the first hints of violent action as gratifying fantasy. N.W.A would quickly expand on this approach and take it all the way to the bank. Next comes the misogyny:

Bored as hell and I wanna get ill
So I went to a place where my homeboys chill
The fellows out there, making that dollar
I pulled up in my 6-4 Impala
They greet me with a 40 and I started drinking
And from the 8-ball my breath start stinking
Love to get my girl, to rock that body
Before I left I hit the Bacardi
Went to her house to get her out of the pad
Dumb hoe says something stupid that made me mad
She said somethin' that I couldn't believe
So I grabbed the stupid bitch by her nappy ass weave
She started talkin' shit, wouldn't you know?
Reached back like a pimp and slapped the hoe
Her father jumped out and he started to shout
So I threw a right-cross cold knocked him out

Ooh, milestones in almost every line! We get domestic abuse as acceptable expression of anger, casual dispensal of prostitution terminology, and I'm sure there's more but I've got other fish to fry:

I'm rollin' hard now I'm under control
Then wrapped my 6-4 round the telephone poll
I looked at my car and I said, "Oh brother"
I throw it in the gutter and go buy another
Walkin' home I see the G ride
Now Kat is drivin Kilo on the side
As they busted a U, they got pulled over
An undercover cop in a dark green Nova
Kat got beaten for resistin' arrest
He socked the pig in the head for rippin' his Guess
Now G is caught for doin' the crime
Fourth offence on the boy, he'll do some time

N.W.A's great "breakthrough," if one can call it that, was to completely toss aside any notion of personal responsibility. In N.W.A Land, a person can crash his or her car, and yet simply "throw it in the gutter and go buy another." Wow! It's like Grand Theft Auto! Yet Ice Cube's narrative does not suffer for its tenuous grip on reality, but rather gains strength by existing on its own surreal wavelength, as evinced by the improbable conclusion:

I went to get them out but there was no bail
The fellaz start to riot in the county jail
Two days later in municiple court
Kilo G on trial cold cut a fart
Disruption of a court, said the judge
On a six-year sentence my man didn't budge
Bailiff came over to turn him in
Kilo G looked up and gave a grin
He yelled out "FIRE!" then came Suzy
The bitch came in with a sub-machine Uzi
Police shot the girl but didn't hurt her
Both up state for attempted murder

So see? Women aren't so bad after all! Sometimes they bust into courtrooms and start mowing people down Terminator-style. Oh that Ice Cube, what a romantic.


yoggoth said...

You answered your own question in the same post in which it was posed. Quite an accomplishment.

I will take issue with "casual dispensal", however. Kind of awkward don't you think?

yoggoth said...

Concerning the album -

This is actually one of my favorites on your mix LE. The beat may be rudimentary, but it's catchy.

Little Earl said...

GTA = Grand Theft Auto! Well I'll be damned.

Re: "casual dispensal." I thought of going with "casual dispensation" but for some reason I stuck with what I had.

Herr Zrbo said...

LE, have you heard the cover version that was released a few years ago? Here's a link.

Little Earl said...

Ah yes, the Dynamite Hack version. A one note joke but well executed nonetheless. They actually based their version on the remix that appeared on Eazy-Duz-It, which is why you hear slightly different lyrics.