The Serpico Mixes: The Featuring Disc

In a joint collaboration with my weekday roommate and Bronx ally Skip Serpico, I’ll be discussing a mix CD a week. He makes them, I listen to them and provide my in the moment commentary. You, hopefully, read said commentary and maybe open up your musical horizons. You can come here every week for the Serpico Mixes. And you should also visit Skip’s site, Fission Spaghetti, for his musings on food and Saturday Night Live (and more!)

 If you think about it, this project here is kind of The Serpico Mixes by Tim Stevens ft. Skip Serpico. Or maybe vice versa.

If you think about it, this project here is kind of The Serpico Mixes by Tim Stevens ft. Skip Serpico. Or maybe vice versa.

Mix #11

Theme: Featuring

 See your name in shiny disco lights! (image from dcps.duvalschools.org)

See your name in shiny disco lights! (image from dcps.duvalschools.org)

One of the things that I used to complain about with hip hop was all the “featurings” that occurred in the late 90’s. I don’t actually think it happened more then than no, but it felt like it was EVERYWHERE. And I did not care for it. Beyond the “if I wanted to hear Ma$e I’d buy a Ma$e album,” I don’t think I had much reason for it. Maybe it was because collaborations in rock were comparatively limited and thus “special” and if you did it all the time, it ceased being special and was thus “wrong.” I don’t know, honestly, but it did bother me back in the day. So, bear that in mind as we explore this mix together.

Get Your Girl in the Mood Quicker by King Tee ft. Ice Cube- Why don’t we promote all our products like this anymore? Why not make a fun song that can exist beyond being a jingle? I ask you this.

We Gonna Make It by Jadakiss ft. Styles P- Is there any more perfect summation of how hip hop looks from the outside than “Fuck the frail shit”? I would argue that no there is not.

The rest of the song may also confirm a lot of preconceived notions about hip hop (if you were placed in a time capsule in the mid 90’s or are currently paying your AARP dues). It indulges in plenty of the genre’s tropes like guns, drugs, and copious amounts of racial slurs.

And yet…there is something undeniable about it. The big string infused beat, the idea of taking back power for yourself (even via a criminal enterprise)…there’s a reason the guns and drugs subset of hip hop caught on and it is not that we, as a people, suddenly decided to be sociopaths. This is well produced and compelling.

Twinz by Big Punisher ft. Fat Joe- Unhesitatingly spat undiluted aggression that conceals the lyrics’ moments of vulnerability, humor, and cleverness. I both applaud its “never take a breath” approach and confess that the enterprise feels a little punishing by the end. Which I suppose is fitting, right? (I’m so sorry.)

Verbal Intercourse by Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah and Nas- I’m not clear if the first 30 seconds of this track is part of the song as it more closely resembles a Robert Altman film, with the layered dialogue, than a hip hope tune.

Overall, I can’t comment on the lyrical content because the horn loop and the distorted voice bed was too distracting and annoying for me to concentrate through.

The Recipe by Kendrick Lamar Ft. Dr. Dre- By in large, most popular music tracks, be it bubblegum, hip hop, rock, or R&B should not run almost six minutes. That’s my unsolicited advice for all of you aspiring musicians. It’s not an ironclad rule or anything….think of it as a strong suggestion.

This is another song that is hurt by the beat they’ve chosen to rap over. The sample from a Twin Sister song makes too little and too much use of Andrea Estella’s voice all at once. Too little because it is too soft to really make out and too much because it is played on a constant loop. The result is I can’t help but strain to figure out what Estella is singing and end up frustrated because I still cannot and I’m ignoring the actual lyrics of the song.

Hip Hop Drunkies by Tha Alkaholiks ft. Ol’ Dirty Bastard- This is a song glorifying alcoholism so you are going to need to be on-board with that if you are to stand a chance of enjoying it. For one, it reads too much as a cartoon with the sound effects including burps, glasses clinking, and the classic “skedaddle” sample for me to take it at all seriously. The presence of ODB only confirms this impression to me.

It is not the funniest track ODB has ever done but it has occasional moments. Non-essential but it made me crack the occasional smirk.

Afterparty by Method Man ft. Ghostface Killah- Pretty subdue, as afterparties go.

Gettin’ Down At the Amphitheater by Common ft. De La Soul- The amount of time CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD gets referenced in hip hop songs will never cease to confuse and delight me. I have a theory that while all hip hop stars say their favorite movie is SCARFACE their real feelings are CHILDREN is the best.

I got to know Common as the socially conscious type so to listen to an unapologetic ode to sex and partying (that’s a bit dumb) like this is certainly surprise. A good surprise, but nonetheless not something I was expecting from him.

Off the Wall by Redman ft. Eminem- This song was used in NUTTY PROFESSOR II? Really? I don’t remember a lot of graphic references to fellatio in that movie but it is possible I just forgot that part of it.

This is one of those interesting tracks that calls into question the “featuring” system in the same way Jamie Foxx getting nominated for a Best Supporting Actor nod in COLLATERAL makes you question the Oscar nomination system. (Come on! Foxx is not support in that movie. It is a movie with two leads, ok?).

It may by Redman’s song and Mr. Marshall Mathers may be the guest, but the song seems far more oriented to and around Eminem’s concerns, especially in 2000 when he was still very much a lightning rod and his Britney Spears/Christina Aguilera references were of the moment rather than achingly late. It’s just odd to imagine Redman writing a song to showcase another artist.

Given the Em orientation, it is an unsurprising offering in the vein of a first M.M. album single model. Think “My Name Is” or “Without Me” but less self-aggrandizing, more oral sex centric. So clever, quick, and juvenile. All the good and frustration you’ve come to expect.

The Motto by Drake ft. Lil’ Wayne- I am deeply uncomfortable with Drake “Hard Edition.” I do not want to buy into the myth of masculinity as expressed by much of hip hop and condemn him for being teen soap star from Canada, but he also kind of begs for such comparisons when he attempts to indulge in those same tropes.

On the other hand, he’s undeniably skillful so it is a good song.

Lil’ Wayne’s verse, on the other hand, is lyrically interesting but delivered with such a sense of boredom that it really brings down the song.

America’s Most Blunted by Madvillain ft. Lord Quas- The pothead’s response to the Alkoholics song earlier on this disc. This song is far more successful. Funnier, quicker, and boasts a better beat.

Who’s the Champion by Ghostface Killah ft. RZA- Can we just take a moment to acknowledge what a weird movie THE GREAT WHITE HYPE (where this song comes from) was? I vaguely remember being kind of disappointed it as a kid and then I saw it again about a year ago and…well, it’s weird. Tone, pacing, acting…nothing seems to fit together. Is it broad comedy, a satire of the boxing industry, a satire of race relations in the U.S., an upside down fable about the fame machine and how it uses people as fuel? I honestly don’t know.

That shot of Jeff Goldblum in a suit smoking a cigar in the arena though? That remains badass.

Ok, enough stalling.

I was kind of disappointed when the song abandoned the barroom boxing match play-by-pay format it opens with, if for no other reason than it was different. The second verse is about drug dealing though, with seemingly no connection to the first verse until the narrator gets in a street fist fight.

On the other hand, that odd divergence might just be an accurate reflection of the weird (not at all) little film that spawned it.

Is There Any Love by Kid Cudi ft. Wale- The entrances into each verse are suitably grabbing and almost explosive (which is unusual for a Kid Cudi track). However, they sort of tail off before entering the chorus—basically a looped sample rounded out by an “uh-huh-huh”—and the chorus is just not very good. More of the beginning of the verses, less of the rest.

History by Mos Def ft. Talib Kweli- I like everything about this song but the looped woman’s voice saying “history.” I feel like I’m harping on the samples a lot more this review cycle, but it is really sticking out to me more. Maybe I’m in a bit of snit.

Graffiti by Digable Planets ft. Jeru the Damaja – Immediately, the sound of a woman’s voice grabs my attention. Except for samples, there hasn’t been much of a female presence of this mix.

Every element here works together. The beat, the various verses, carried mostly by Ladybug Mecca, the “noise” repetition that goes on just long enough to have an impact but not so long to annoy. This one is pretty perfect in its production.

The Watch by Ghostface Killah ft. Raekwon- Is this the song that inspired the hit film THE WATCH? With the aliens and Vince Vaughan? If so, I wish the movie kept it closer to the source material. The plot and characters are just stronger here.

Anyway, the rap battle format they use here, even though is “just fucking” with the other injects a difference in energy into the song that is appreciated and makes me like the song more than I might if the diss verses were directed to an invisible exterior target.

Keeping It Rollin’ by A Tribe Called Quest ft. Large Professor- This contains one of the single grossest descriptions of sex in any kind of music I’ve encountered. Hint: it includes the word spackle.

Old School Rules by Dangerdoom ft. Talib Kweli- I do not specifically nod to producers much because,  to be honest, it is a gap in my knowledge. That said, I do know Danger Mouse and I think he does some solid work here. The beat is simple but it just fits. Big horns, a good drum loop, space for the rappers to be heard while they spit their lyrics…if it was simple, everyone would do it, but Mouse sure does make it look easy.

Come On Baby by Saigon ft. Jay-Z and Swizz Beats- So this isn’t a Jay-Z track? Are we sure?

Anyway, Sean sounds likes he has some motivation here, the “come on baby” loop is well modulated and thus, despite being constant, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and the “ahhhhhhh” chorus piece actually works. There’s not a lot of depth to discuss here, but I enjoyed it.

Milk ‘Em by Ghostface Killah ft. Myone & Trife Da God- At one point, someone here raps “if you’re feeling froggy than leap,” so that’s it, show’s over. We have a winner. And if you disagree, well…it sounds like you’re feeling froggy. Refer to “Milk ‘Em” about how you should handle that.

State to State by NO I.D. ft. Common and Dug Infinite- The rappers here, especially Dug Infinite on the first verse are just having a great time with the language and I love that stuff. The use of “perpetrate” as a common verb in the chorus also takes me back to working in a prison and its use in the dialects of both officers and prisoners with that kind of ease and ubiquity.

Live At the Barbeque by Main Source ft. Nas- Unfortunately, this offering never lives up to the promise of that “oooooo” at the start. I was expecting a big party track or, at the least, a Summertime-esque song dedicated to the backyard barbecue. There nothing bad here and plenty good, but after that setup I found myself distracted by thinking about what I was not getting.

It’s Been Emotional, Dialogue from Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels- Good clip. I question its relevance to my experience listening to this disc though. Not much emotion for me.