Matson on Music
Music Monday: Emerald Street Boys, Past Lives, Gucci Mane and Zomby
Posted by Andrew Matson
In the tradition of "to the beat y'all, rock rock y'all," these Emerald Street Boys tracks are proof of a Seattle rap era many don't know existed: "the old school."
"Christmas Rap" and "We're Coming Closer" bump at comfortable roller skating tempos and sound at once mildly amateurish (by today's standards) and hugely important. When MCs Captain Crunch, Sweet J and Sugar Bear rap "Some people say quit/ Others say we ain't it/ But they know in their heart/ We can tear this place apart," it's a cliché line that rings true. The Emerald Street Boys didn't quit in 1981 or '82 or whenever these tracks came out, and because of that, hiphop is still tearing this place apart in 2010. In a good way.
If these particular mp3 rips are a bit grainy and worn-sounding, blame local music man Cidewayz, who posted them in a thread dedicated to old Seattle rap on the message board 206Proof.com and confessed he played the vinyl everyday for at least a year when he was 10 or 11.
Photo via Blunts
This is Seattle's best rock song in a long time. It's on Past Lives' "Tapestry of Webs" album, which doesn't come out until Feb. 23. To my ears, "Falling Spikes" is basically a funk verse with a singalong rock chorus — a groove is established by everyone doing a complimentary rhythm part, then an anthem is launched by everyone stopping the polyrhythm and getting on the same page. Horns honk in the background like approaching geese while guitarist Devin Welch and guitarist/bassist Morgan Henderson slash and burn sparingly, decimating any and all rock tradition. With drummer Mark Gajadhar, they create a vigorous, undanceable rhythm over which singer Jordan Blilie howls like a teenage sandwich-board Armageddon soothsayer. When the whole band morphs into something resembling pop-punk for the chorus, Past Lives blasts into awesomeness, its salvaged parts catching fire.
Detached from its original beat, Atlanta via Alabama rapper Gucci Mane's vocal is noticeably slurred and zoned out, tuneful in a falling-asleep kind of way, a meditation on all the ways you don't want to mess with him. UK producer Zomby steps up to the plate and delivers a home run of a beat that's equally spacey, made of deep bass hits and staccato synth arpeggios. In keeping with one of his trademarks, Zomby plays with melodic triplets in 4/4 time on "Boi" to create subtle, melting shifts in rhythm over a foundational beat that never changes. The result is world-conquering rap, a unification of transatlantic dance music and populist Southern American rap not because it's a novel combination, but because they musics have grown similar over the years. From the Diplo/Gucci mix, freely downloadable here.
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