“I Don’t Like” (Chief Keef)

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Obama declared that a “defining project of our generation is to restore [the] promise” of “the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead” despite the “accident of [your] birth.” With the introduction of the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, however, we’re encouraged to think structurally, from increased pre-school (“public savings” and a return on investment!) to “fair discipline practices” in schools and criminal court systems. Lest we think he’s appealing to crusty Baby Boomers in the former and white liberals/wonks in the latter, keep in mind that young men of color are a “drag on State and Federal budgets” that should be salvaged in order to “unlock their full potential.” (But as Michelle Obama points out, if her parents “did everything right,” their children would just “have a chance.” Slim odds, slimmer hopes.) Enter Chief Keef, avatar of Chicago lawlessness. There’s a whiff of racial discipline all around. Reviewers called his album everything from “irresponsible, unforgiving, and often infectious” to a representation of African American culture. How can young black and brown men account for themselves given these odds? Here, the trax flounders: snitches, whiners, pregnant women, wanna-be drug kingpins are all objects of derision. Then again, it’s also about cuckolding you. A monetization of the outlaw—both ways. Isn’t this what the whole conversation is about?

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“Unlimited Capacity for Love” (Grace Jones)

After the loving community—an insomnia-induced incarnation desiring a prenuptial agreement for inclusion—hits the “floor,” singer wonders how one can “add another to love” without inheriting “classic” community’s exclusions. Lacerating kick drum and staccato descending bass figure point the way, repeatedly; it’s the rest/pause which can admit the rest of us (without worrying about dividends). In the reverse: apart from “hope” and “without pressured expense,” one should only fret about how to expend love without short-changing.


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“Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” (James Brown)

Overall strategy to document (and eventually attack) the hitch/delay: the “one” is muted (surrounded by two bass notes), main bass line hobbles before the “four,” and community is waiting for the “comer[s].” “Don’t wave your hand” if you’ve “been plugged in” to the white hierarchy; revolution through active unplugging—“Don’t let ’em do it”—to avoid distractions. Free-form guitar solo and main, picked riff (no hammer-ons) lay down the formula: attack the smooth, middle-class aspirations with stiff uppercuts. The fifteen-rounder doesn’t have to last a lifetime, but you better commit to going the distance.


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“To Beat or Not to Beat” (The Horace Silver Quintet)

It’s difficult to see the relation between the Arthur episode (season 4, episode 7b) of the same name and the trax, what with the cartoon’s focus on the dangers of performative versatility and the general busybody-ness of friends. Same with Hamlet, in which the division or break between states is considered, contextually, inevitable. In both texts, an awareness of the law–of gravity in the former or of law’s tardiness in the latter–leads one down these analogous paths. Silver’s treatment isn’t enamored of subjection, and we’re asked to focus on the force of the beat. Spatially located and loosely arranged, this is a formal hard bop tune. (Unlike his “Song for My Father“–whose bassline was wisely lifted by Steely Dan for “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number“–this trax eschews boogie and avoids romantic notions of place.) Unfaithful to the citation, too, is the piano solo; ascending and falling twice, it meanders at high and low registers, ending further down the scale than where it began. Be(at): one is never and always emplaced, (actively) occupying and occupied.


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“River Deep-Mountain High” (Ike & Tina Turner)

Moving past the stock, insipid metaphors (I’m a puppy, you’re my rag doll, etc.), the attraction of the track long premised on inability to hear its coherent architectural foundation (its abyssal bottom, provided by Spector). Recently, and within “pop,” perhaps only W.C. Hart’s Circulatory System tracks function this way, with the 4 or 8 tracks compressed and recompressed to the point of invalidating depth perception (telescoping out and out again, a la House of Leaves). Relation to the other as endless, and without ground.

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“Rebel Rouser” (Duane Eddy)

Appropriate that police sirens were among the other street noises which upset the 2000-gallon echo chamber during recording, forcing 24 takes. Humming pitch manipulation (amp tremolo, Bigsby, and echo) forces open bass strings to throb; likewise, the rebel only needs sound to bounce off of walls to calculate the limits of the social enclosure. Which helps explain The Sharp’s semi-intelligible ‘jungle’ lyrics (giving us the local color[eds]): elimination of outside “noise” stresses the (strained, always porous) perimeter while attempting to perfect the system. Battle plans.


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