N.W.A

Catching Up On The Week (Aug. 14 Edition)

Some #longreads as you plan a trip to Burma

The big event this weekend will be the release of the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, but before you hit the cineplex you may want to brush up a bit on your knowledge of the legendary group.  Pitchfork has an extensive feature documenting N.W.A’s relationship with “reality”, as well as a behind the scenes look at the creation of Dr. Dre’s comeback album, inspired by his work on the film.

Stereogum published an essay this week taking a look at the way hip-hop’s relationship with classic soul music has evolved over the years.  There are many sections where the explanations are obvious, but the piece is still worth checking out for the occasional nuggets and background information on production techniques that may not be so obvious.

We are still a few weeks away from the release of their new album Ones and Sixes, but nevertheless this Stereogum profile of Low is worth reading if you are not already hyped for the return of one of the most consistently great rock bands of the last twenty years.

For those of you who need your oral history fix, the Washington Post has an extended look at the story behind the 1995 version of the Lollapalooza festival.

Finally, we have linked to interviews with frontman Stephen Malkmus and guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, and now we can link to an interview with Pavement bassist Mark Ibold conducted by Noisey.  And because you surely have not had your fill of discussing the career of Pavement, Consequence of Sound has a comprehensive look at the band’s entire catalog, EPs and all.

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Over the Weekend (Aug. 3 Edition)

News, new music, and other fun stuff to help you through the unbearable heat…

The biggest news of the weekend is the announcement that Dr. Dre will be releasing a new album in the very near future, though it is not quite the album many fans expected.  Instead of releasing the much-delayed Detox, which for years was teased as the expected followup to 2001, Dre is releasing Compton, inspired by his work on the upcoming N.W.A biopic.

Speaking of long-awaited followups, it has been nearly a decade since the release of Tool’s last album, and while for years fans have been teased with tidbits detailing the slow process of following up 10,000 Days, that does not mean the band members have been remaining idle.  Maynard James Keenan announced that his other, other group Puscifer will be releasing a new album on October 30, and has shared “Grand Canyon” from Money Shot this week.

Puscifer first https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dM3yqRp5Yy0, but that is not the only time the show skewered the music industry.  Pitchfork talked to co-creator David Cross about some of the classic sketches that revolved around music, including a fun story about a meeting with The Strokes.

With the upcoming release of the rarities collection The Secret History, Vol. 1 (which is now available for streaming via NPR), Pavement is back in the news.  Vulture asked guitarist Scott Kannberg (aka “Spiral Stairs”) about his favorite tracks that the band recorded, and Scott responded with quite the diverse set of songs.  However, we have to admit that we are disappointed by the lack of inclusion of “Unfair” from his personal list.

Remember what we said about Foo Fighters and viral content last week?  Here is another example, as a thousand Italians cover “Learn to Fly” to try to convince the Foos to visit their town.

Alternative Nation linked to a bunch of previously unreleased Nirvana tracks this weekend, but since they have probably already been taken down by the time you read this, you should probably use the site as a guide to try to track down the individual tracks on your own.

Finally, SPIN decided that this was the appropriate moment to rank every single Metallica song that was ever released, and that is probably as good a way as any to waste your time this week.

Covered: “Fuck Tha Police”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original.  If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

In light of recent tragic and inexplicable events, it seems an appropriate time to discuss one of my favorite covers of all-time.  Growing up, I didn’t listen to much hip-hop beyond what would crossover into the mainstream, and focused much more of my attention on rock.  So my entry into classic hip-hop comes from a different direction than a lot of people, and was influenced by my love of Rage Against The Machine.  I became a devoted fan of the band soon after the release of Evil Empire, having been transfixed by Tom Morello’s ability to manipulate the guitar in ways beyond its intended purpose in “Bulls On Parade” and “People of the Sun”.  But I also appreciated Zack de la Rocha’s unique drawl and his fiery lyrics, which read into this as much as you need to, very much appealed to a politically-minded middle-schooler.  It wasn’t long before I attempted to track down everything the band did, and with the advent of file-sharing a few years later, that became easier than ever.

One of my first finds in the early days of Napster was a live recording of a one-time cover that the band did at a Philadelphia show back in 1995.  Apparently there had been concern by the local police that rioting would break out at the Rage Against The Machine show, because of the unassailable logic that angry music leads to uncontrollable hooliganism.  The large buildup of police at the show did not escape the band’s notice, and the band extended “a nice, friendly message to the fraternal order of police in Philadelphia.”

I loved the ridiculous pure noise that Tom was able to coax out of his guitar to mimic the turntable in the original and how by slowing the riff down and adding some distortion the entire band was able to create such a hard-edged groove.  It was the perfect example of the group’s ability to find the intersection between rap and rock, something that while many other bands attempted during that era but spectacularly failed to do so (as those who have the painful memories from living through the nu-metal era of the late-90’s can attest).  You can feel Zack’s genuine anger in his performance and the passion that he has in what he says, so it’s easier to forgive a few of his lyrical mistakes or that he only perform’s Ice Cube’s verse.  I loved this cover so much that I spent countless trips to the record store looking through their bins to see if I could find a copy of the import album Live & Rare so I could have it on disc, ultimately proving successful.

As big a fan as I am of the cover, nothing compares to the anger and importance of N.W.A’s original.  Their blunt reaction to the brutality of the LAPD was a shock to the rest of the country, but it gave voice to those who experienced repression on a daily basis but had been ignored to that point.  While many forcefully disagreed with the group’s view and felt that they were a threat, N.W.A was representing the point of view of a constantly persecuted group that felt the need to rebel in any way possible.  This is a response and attitude that is as old as popular music itself, but it speaks to the power of hip-hop (and the power of other biases) that there were those who assumed that every lyric the group spoke was intended to be the truth, and as a result should be censored (we’re seeing this play out once again with the recent Supreme Court case Elonis v. United States).

As for the music itself, the reliance on simple drum machines and turntables are a hallmark of the era but are also used to great effect.  The big hits with each beat provide a nifty contrast to the main funk sample, though the Twilight Zone-ish guitar riff used in the post-chorus hasn’t aged well.  As for the lyrics, there are several great lines throughout, and unfortunately as pointed out above, they are as relevant as ever.