Tag Archives: Wu-Tang Clan

A LOVELY WOMAN IN MOTION, HER HAIR WAS DARK AS NIGHT

My grandma’s funeral is tomorrow morning, and I’m having some trouble sleeping, so I happened to catch this interesting moment on a Letterman rerun on this hotel TV in Ohio.

Aaron Neville – Gypsy Woman (Live on David Letterman)

Gypsy Woman” is actually the first single that Curtis Mayfield wrote when he became the lead singer of The Impressions in 1961, and it ended up being the most successful single they ever had.  This is how their version goes.

The Impressions – Gypsy Woman

The version that moves me the most though is one that I became familiar with because of the opening to Wu-Tang’s newest (and perhaps most underrated) full group album 8 Diagrams.

Wu-Tang Clan – Campfire

The Persuasions – Gypsy Woman

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CONSTANTLY READING EVERYTHING ABOUT MORPHOLOGY, C.R.E.A.M.!

Raise your hand if any of these mean anything to you: N.W.A., U.G.K., KRS-One,  D.I.T.C.,  TLC, Y.M.C.M.B., MondreM.A.N., E.P.M.D., O.F.W.G.K.T.A., Big K.R.I.T., M.J.G., RZA, GZA, M.O.P.?  If not, you better pay more attention when you read this blog.

When it comes to abbreviations for shit, rap’s got everybody beat.  I’ve always taken this phenomenon in hip-hop for granted, it never crossed my mind to examine it closely until I somehow stumbled across this explanation of where the word “O.K.” comes from.  If you think you know, you might be surprised, because apparently there are a lot of incorrect stories out there involving everything from ex-presidents to French seaport prostitutes, but the real explanation, though less colorful, actually makes a lot more sense.

The etymology of OK was masterfully explained by the distinguished Columbia University professor Allen Walker Read in a series of articles in the journal American Speech in 1963 and 1964. The letters, not to keep you guessing, stand for “oll korrect.” They’re the result of a fad for comical abbreviations that flourished in the late 1830s and 1840s. Read buttressed his arguments with hundreds of citations from newspapers and other documents of the period. As far as I know his work has never been successfully challenged.

The abbreviation fad began in Boston in the summer of 1838 and spread to New York and New Orleans in 1839. The Boston newspapers began referring satirically to the local swells as OFM, “our first men,” and used expressions like NG, “no go,” GT, “gone to Texas,” and SP, “small potatoes.”

Many of the abbreviated expressions were exaggerated misspellings, a stock in trade of the humorists of the day. One predecessor of OK was OW, “oll wright,” and there was also KY, “know yuse,” KG, “know go,” and NS, “nuff said.”

This explanation brings up another interesting point too: intentional misspellings.  Just like in rap, sometimes words are misspelled in a way that reflects how they’re actually pronounced in that given time period and region; “nuff” instead of “enough”, “yuse” instead of “use”, “oll” instead of “all”.  Other times, a certain misspelling is chosen that actually confuses the meaning of the expression instead of clarifying its pronunciation such as “know” instead of “no”, “wright” instead of “right”, or “korrect” instead of “correct”.  This is also a very common device used in rap music.  Have you ever listened to Z-Ro before?  How about Suga Free or OutKast or Salt-n-Pepa?  Or Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire?  The list could go on indefinitely.  It’s interesting that in the 1830s version, they combined the two devices into one, first misspelling the words and then abbreviating them, while in rap it tends to be more one or the other, but both devices are still at work in both arenas, and rap has another interesting practice of taking existing words and acronym-izing them after the fact.  2Pac famously put the word “nigga” in a positive light in “Never Ignorant, Gettin’ Goals Accomplished“, while K.R.I.T. took on the negative form of that word to draw attention to the traps that he feels too many of his race fall into: becoming “another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed and Encouraging Racism“.  Cee-Lo told us in ’94 about how “the GoodDie Mostly Over Bullshit“.  Killah Priest puts forth a pretty surprising evaluation of the Good Book given his chosen moniker in “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth“.  Once again, the list goes on.

But why would anybody want to do this?  Superficially speaking, it seems to create a barrier between writer and reader.  It takes words that everyone is familiar with and obscures them with confusing mangling and mutilation.  But where language purists see verbal disfigurement, rappers and writers see verbal hot-rodding.  Why does a car need to go 160 miles per hour, or have doors that open in every possible way except the normal way, or have 26″ rims and a wood grain steering wheel?  Because it’s cool.  And I don’t mean “cool” in a diminutive way at all, in this case “cool” plays a very important social and cultural role that should not be scoffed at or underestimated.

In the case of the custom car world, any or all the modifications mentioned above could easily get in the way of the normal functioning of a car in the same way that all the transformations words go through in the hands of rappers might get in the way of someone immediately understanding what is being said.  The same thing can be said for rappers’ extensive use of slang.  But for people who use these linguistic devices, part of the message being conveyed goes way beyond the literal meanings of the words being used.  Part of their reason for rapping is to convey a certain access to a set of knowledge only available to a select group of people.  If you can’t decipher the message that’s being put out there, then it probably wasn’t for you in the first place.  To understand what is being said, you have to either be born (or at least raised) in the culture that gives rise to these word modifications, or study really hard and learn it as a second language of sorts.  Some might argue that this is an unfair and exclusionary practice that makes people feel left out, and under certain circumstances I might be inclined to object to these practices, but in this case I don’t, because I feel it’s aimed in the right direction.  This is not a case of powerful people of the world imposing an obscure coded language onto a lower class to marginalize those who can’t gain access to the cipher, it’s a tool used by people in positions of societal weakness to have something of their own that they can relate to each other about and gain some shred of power back from those who have more of a say over how their lives go than they’d like.  They might get lower wages, get put in jail more often, have more difficulty voting, and not get proper justice for crimes committed against them, but they can at least make you feel really “uncool” when you hear “bickin’ back, bein’ bool” or “MOB Piru Damu” for the first time and have no idea what they’re talking about.

Wu-Tang Clan – C.R.E.A.M.

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GUEST POST: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SINGLE WORD IN A RAP SONG EVER?

this guest post written by Matt Hall (@mattisonherenow)

First of all, I’d like to tip my hat to my good friend Rick/DJ REDLite for not only starting this blog (which is consistently every bit as real and honest as it is entertaining), but also believing that my silly-ass thoughts are worth consideration. My late night nonsensical emails to Rick about songs I’ve been thinking about have long predated this blog. I guess I’ve sent him so many YouTube links and asked him so many absurd questions that he had no choice but to ask me to write another late night note for all of you to read.

One of the most recent emails I sent him was to ask the question, “What is your favorite single word in any rap song ever?” I feel like this is a topic that is pretty solid for my first post here.

I can honestly remember the first time I ever heard “Verbal Intercourse” from Raekwon the Chef’s first solo record Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. I think it was the first Wu-Tang album I heard after Enter the 36 Chambers. Nas’s verse was the first time anyone from outside the Wu-Tang camp had rapped on one of their tracks, and in that era (almost 20 years ago!) that really meant something. Raekwon talks a little bit about recording that verse and his choice of bringing in Nas to feature on the track here.

Nas has the first verse, and he opens up with some of the best lines of his career, in my opinion, and when he gets the line

“Smoke a gold leaf I hold heat nonchalantly”

the way he delivers the word: “nonchalantly”; gets me every time. It’s got more syllables than anything else in the verse, and the way he says it, totally cool and unconcerned, is the very definition of the word itself. To me it is the gold standard in flow.

Raekwon – Verbal Intercourse (feat. Nas & Ghostface Killah)

I really love everything about the song though, Raekwon and Ghostface have excellent verses as well, and the RZA’s production was at its all-time peak in this era. The way he loops the, “but WHAT,” from The Emotions song “If You Think It You May As Well Do It,” is brilliant.

Interestingly enough, Nas didn’t write that verse specifically for the Raekwon track. It actually first showed up on a song called “Déjà Vu” on a demo recorded for his second album It Was Written.  Some rap fans at the time felt like that album was kind of a let down after the undisputed classic that is Illmatic, but I think it’s aged well. I’m not sure why “Déjà Vu” got left off. There’s
speculation that the label wanted Nas to go in a more radio-friendly direction, and that song definitely has a grittier feel. Either way, it’s a classic verse, and it features my favorite single word in any rap song ever.

Nas – Déjà Vu

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WHETHER DENSE, WHETHER LENGTH, WHETHER STRENGTH, WHETHER WIDTH

I’ve mentioned before that one of the biggest things that allowed me to start getting interested in and accepting hip-hop was RZA‘s amazing Wu-Tang Manual.  It gave me insight not just into the music of the Wu-Tang Clan, but hip-hop in general, and allowed me to understand the environment those people came up in and the difficulties they faced.  That understanding of just how different their world was from mine made it possible for me to begin to accept the more superficially objectionable content of a lot of rap music.

I also just love RZA’s perspective and approach to life, he’s probably just as inspirational to me as a spiritual thinker as he is a musician.  So I was very excited to see this new interview with him where he discusses a lot of those topics that he deals with so well: spirituality, music, creativity, fear, life, and even more.  Very inspiring.

RZA 1-2-1 interview with Jeff Staple (parts 1 & 2)

Here is that song he is quoting from at the end of Part 2.  I was really excited to hear him reciting those lines, I’ve thought for a long time that this is my favorite RZA solo track.

RZA – A Day To God Is 1000 Years

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BROKEN AND BLUE

Back when I was doing that Let The Beat Build series for a full week straight, I made this post about a particular Wu-Tang song that has a pretty amazing build in it.  There’s more to that song than just how awesome its build is though.  I almost included all this stuff I’m about to lay on you in that post, but I decided it would be better to leave that song as it is in that post because of the series, and wait a bit before I came back and revisited it to let you know about some connections that stem from that song.  They’re pretty sweet.

Here’s where the music from that Wu-Tang song came from I was talkin about.

Isaac Hayes – Walk On By

Isaac Hayes didn’t write that song though, Burt Bacharach and Hal David did, and it had already been around for about 5 years when he made his version.  The original sounds completely different though, you wouldn’t even notice it was the same song except for it having the same lyrics.  Well, and the same title.

Dionne Warwick – Walk On By

Now I thought it was that version that was used in a track from one of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time, but it actually turns out it’s this version.  Thanks to Mike Allen for settin me straight.

The Undisputed Truth – Walk On By

J Dilla – Walkinonit

The Undisputed Truth indeed.

Doesn’t it sound a little bit like those record scratches at the beginning of that song are saying “Rick Dean”?

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LET THE BEAT BUILD #6 – WU-TANG CLAN

Well I guess I’m going to have to eat my words about RZA not being a producer that has big builds in his music usually, cuz he produced this one too and it’s one of the most effective builds I’ve heard in rap.  I feel like this song illustrates better than any other song I’ve heard the idea of reaching a breaking point and having to change your whole attitude to adapt to circumstances.

Wu-Tang Clan – I Can’t Go To Sleep (feat. Isaac Hayes)

The beat starts out so emotional and mournful, and after it builds to that unbearable climax, it totally flips and switches to a sound that feels more like embracing that dark side and living with it and giving up on a lot of those feelings you were having, for better or worse.  And the lyrics match perfectly.  It hits so hard when that build ends during RZA’s verse and he comes in all off-beat and aggressive going “Walkin’ through park hill drunk as a fuck…”  It’s a beautiful representation of what happens every day, unfortunately, to so many people.  And with Isaac Hayes jumpin in here and there, fuckin perfect.

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LET THE BEAT BUILD #4 – NAS

I guess the cat’s out of the bag as far as my excessive, undying love for The RZA and the whole Wu-Tang Clan after that last post, so it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the opportunity to see them live a few years back when their tour came through this part of the country.  I still had to go all the way to Chicago to see ‘em, but man was it worth it.  It was definitely one of the most star-struck moments I’ve had in my life, seeing all those dudes just a few feet away from me after listening to them and seeing in them in videos for years.  I even got to touch Method Man when he crowd-surfed after performing his self-titled single from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)!  Fuckin’ unreal.

But it wasn’t just those dudes that I got star struck by that day.  That same day I got to see Talib Kweli, Jean Grae, Slum Village, and, last but absolutely not least, Nasir Jones, aka Nas.  He was the only one at the show to perform without a DJ, which I thought was a little weird, but I got over that real quick because he really did an amazing job performing all the songs he did.  I’ll particularly never forget this one, because the live context only intensified the crazy build this beat goes through.  I still kinda can’t believe I got to witness this.

Nas – One Mic

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THE SAGA CONTINUES…

Over the past few days, I discovered a whole slew of pretty awesome new Mary J. Blige songs with features from Beyonce, Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes, and (most importantly for this post) Nas.  I did a big time double take when the beat for this one kicked in.

Mary J. Blige – Feel Inside (feat. Nas)

Because I’ve listened to this song…… maybe like a jillion times?

Wu-Tang Clan – Triumph

Man that video rules.  I haven’t been able to track down an original sample for that song, which makes me think that maybe RZA just recorded that shit using synths and stuff and whoever produced that Mary J./Nas track just sampled that for their beat.  Could be wrong though, feel free to school me if you’ve got the knowledge I don’t.  Keep a look out for that new Mary J. Blige album too, I think it comes out in just a couple days and it sounds pretty tight to me so far.

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RAP JOURNEY #6 – FROM RICH BOY TO DONNY HATHAWAY

So after I saw the video for that “Strugglin” song by Rich Boy (in case you missed that one, just check out this post, it was one of the first posts I put up) I decided to look a little deeper into his work.  It seemed to me like he didn’t just get lucky on that one, I had a good feeling he had more shit I was gonna want to hear.  Turns out he does.  I was vibin’ to this track on my way to pick up Matt to get some tacos and recognized the sample in the background from something I’d heard before… maybe a Ghostface song or something?

Rich Boy – Ghetto Boy

I ended up being pretty much right, it was a song from Wu-Tang Forever  with almost the exact same title, but a very different feel, in my opinion.

Wu-Tang Clan – Little Ghetto Boys

I still felt like there was more to be uncovered on this journey though, it seemed like I’d heard that sample someplace else too, in a third (totally separate) context… y’all are probably way ahead of me already.

Dr. Dre – Lil’ Ghetto Boy

Yeahh, can’t forget that one.  Here’s where I start getting sidetracked though.  I was re-listening to this track after I figured out its significance in this journey, and a line from the Dre verse stuck out to me, it comes just a little before the 2:00 mark.  I DEFINITELY know where that gets used.

The Notorious B.I.G. – Things Done Changed

OK now hold up hold up a second, I kinda left you all hangin on that Ghetto Boy stuff though.  We chased that sample through east coast, west coast, AND southern rap spanning a couple decades almost; but where’s the SOURCE??  Behold.

Donny Hathaway – Little Ghetto Boy

Yes.  Mission complete.  Yeah, I know a lot of this stuff isn’t crazy underground or obscure  or anything, but hopefully even seasoned rap fans were unaware of at least one of these steps.  Or at least enjoyed being reminded of them.  I know I had fun.

That’s a rap journey, y’all.  Dig

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LIVIN’ FOR THE LOVE

Earlier today, For The Love by The Isley Brothers came on at work, and I realized I let the whole 15th anniversary of 2Pac’s death go by without re-listening to this song, which is a damn shame.  I feel like The Isley Brothers might be some of the most sampled dudes in rap (except for James Brown), and one cool thing about them is that they’ve stayed active over such a long time, and Ron Isley has even appeared in quite a few really awesome rap songs over the years too.  I think it’s cool when old school dudes like that keep up with and support new music later in life.  I mean Ron Isley sang Twist and Shout before the Beatles did, and now he’s on Wu-Tang songs and shit.  That’s awesome to me.  Much respect.

Wu-Tang Clan – Back in the Game (feat. Ron Isley)

Ron Isley – Contagious (feat. R. Kelly)

UGK – The Pimp and the Bun (feat. Ron Isley)

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