Kierkegaard was on to something when he decided that patriotism is the refuge of scoundrels. But something tells me that if the great Dane were a music critic in 1997, he'd quickly find a correlation: Controversy is the last refuge of the terminally bland.
Any wet-behind-the-ears music-biz publicist can tell you that if there's nothing to sell, create a diversion. Make it look like people are arguing about your artist. Arguments arouse curiosity, and curiosity makes those cash registers go ka-ching.
In the case of Nastyboy Klick, publicists didn't exactly start a controversy, but they must have erupted in hosannas of joy when one broke out.
It all started a few weeks ago when the Arizona Republic chose to run a front-page feature on the predominantly Hispanic Phoenix "rap group," Nastyboy Klick. The group is currently experiencing startling national success with its single "Down for Yours." In the latest issue of Billboard, "Down for Yours" is holding steady at number 69 on the hot-100 singles chart. The Republic piece focused on local guys overcoming tough odds to make good.
That's when things started to get weird. In response to the story, a flood of angry calls poured in, from people who didn't take kindly to seeing such an element on the front of their paper. One woman typified the reaction by saying, "It's a disgrace you had rappers on the front page." One can only wonder where these civic guardians were only weeks before when the more angry--but all-white, Scottsdale-reared--Chronic Future got even bigger play on the front page of the same paper.
Republic reader advocate Richard De Uriarte answered the criticisms by saying the paper hoped to reach "different segments of the community," and this story was part of that effort. De Uriarte concluded that "Yes, rap is controversial. So was rock 'n' roll in 1955." On a personal note, he offered that "'Down for Yours' is actually melodious, even for a person whose musical tastes froze with the Four Tops."
Well, the reason the tune sounds melodious to him is the exact same reason hubbub over this story is so absurd. Never in the course of musical discourse have so many been so outraged over something so insipid and tame. Unless you count the mid-'70s uproar over Paul Anka's "Having My Baby."
NBK's debut album, The 1st Chapter, is "rap" music only by the most literal definition. MC Magic talks his way through tepid, bubble-bath seduction slow-jams, offering none of the verbal skill or rhythmic instinct that would earn him any credibility in the hip-hop community. Despite his repeated references to riding through Chandler, or kicking it "on the AZ side," this is absolutely generic music that could have come from anywhere. References to the hometown set against beats this dull do the Valley music scene no favors.
Chuck D once made the point that nonlisteners called his music "rap," but real fans knew it as hip-hop. Rap suggests any kind of music with a talking vocalist over it. You could put a bossa nova, a country rhythm or anything else underneath and it would be rap. Hell, you could say that William Shatner was rapping in the late '60s when he dropped his ungodly version of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" on an unsuspecting world.
"Hip-hop," as a term, is more specific. It refers to a sound, a rhythm, a production approach and a sensibility. Nastyboy Klick may be rap, but it'll never be hip-hop. Its music is R&B, pure and simple, and pretty nonthreatening R&B at that. Anyone who doubts that should listen again to "Down for Yours." Roger Troutman makes a guest appearance with the gimmicky, robotic vocoder that he used to such cheesy effect in the '80s. The album's lone risque track--and only halfway respectable rapping effort--is "Bookies Freestyle," in which Bookie Loc unleashes several incongruous expletives, seemingly desperate to inject some toughness into the mix. When these guys talk about kicking it old school, they mean Kool and the Gang, not N.W.A.
Adding a touch of surrealism to the proceedings, the group's publicists fanned the flames of the Republic controversy, perhaps in an effort to turn a dull dishwater sound into something scandalous. Don't buy it. It's unlikely that The 1st Chapter has another potential hit to offer, but if it does, it will only do what all weak music does when it attains unwarranted commercial success: Stand in the way of something more legitimate.
School's in: The Beat Angels are up to no good again. The punk-popsters recently started up a weekly Thursday-night showcase at Mason Jar called "Rock 'n' Roll High School," featuring some of their local favorites. The concept has not as yet included school desks, detention rooms and mystery-meat entrees, but give the boys time. In related news, look for the current (September-October) issue of Option, which features a sizable profile on the band as part of a "Living in the Past" feature on bands who cling to a vintage sound against all trend-hopping odds. Particularly worthwhile is singer Brian Smith's explanation of how Poison killed the term "glam" for all the rest of us.
Who's in town: My, this is one of those weeks when it'd be nice to have a clone to help you catch all the happening shows. First, and foremost, the mighty Wu-Tang Clan hits town for its first-ever collective show in the Valley. That is, if it doesn't pull out, like it recently did on the Rage Against the Machine tour, under some highly murky circumstances. Let's hope nothing goes wrong with this one. Wu-Tang Clan will be at Veterans' Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, September 20, with Tha Alkaholiks and local heroes Know Qwestion.
In a different vein, The Edge (KEDJ-FM 106.3) hosts "That Damn Show!," an extravaganza at Peoria Sports Complex benefiting Aids Walk Arizona. On the bill for the Saturday, September 20, show: Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Phunk Junkeez, Offspring, Artificial Joy Club, Soul Coughing, Buck-O-Nine, Bloodhound Gang, Goldfinger, Our Lady Peace, and Voodoo Glow Skulls.
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Jazz fans should drop everything for the Saturday, September 20, Danilo Perez show at Che Bella Tuscan Grill and Bakery. True to his 1996 album title, Panamonk, Perez infuses the distinctive Monk harmonic sense with some brilliant Latin inflections. He can also be seen at 2 p.m. that day at the Biltmore's Borders.
Finally, Seattle band Super Deluxe, one of the world's best exponents of power pop, is scheduled to perform on Wednesday, September 24, at the Fender Showcase Room of Electric Ballroom. No member of Poptopia Nation should miss it.