Thursday, September 11, 2003

Gangsta's paradise

Someone’s been watching me, having read “Have gun will travel – the story of Death Row Records” on holiday I got thinking about the gap in my record collection dedicated to Gangsta Rap. During the height of Gangsta Rap I was enjoying the more left field acts of the genre who ploughed a more conceptual furrow – The Goats (Politics Hop), The Gravediggaz (Death Hop), Pharcyde (Silly Sausages Hop) Cypress Hill (Munchies Hop).

I wasn’t a fan of G-Funk; it was a little weedy after the sonic onslaughts of Public Enemy and NWA, and the brilliantly creative samples of the Party Hip Hop it was now eclipsing.

The book is basically the story of Suge Knight, yet, if it was good enough to have a subtext (it isn’t) it would actually be the story of Dr Dre. Reading it I began to realise that with the exception of the few lyricists with anything to say (Eminem, Chuck D), the producer is god in Hip Hop. All the great dynasties have been themed through their production teams; Sugarhill Gang, Marley Marl, The Bomb Squad, Dr Dre, Timabland, and The Neptunes – the lyricists are two a penny.

Lyrically, Gangsta Rap is banal, but reading the book, so are the lives of its protagonists - which are a very boring cycle of fights and beefs punctuated by about three stories of interest i.e. Suge Knight holding Vanilla Ice out of a 23rd story window by his ankles to make him sign over rights to his album, and the killings of Tupac and Biggie Smalls – which seem to be little more than petty spats that got out of hand rather than any lawless street war. There doesn’t even seem to be very many guns involved – in fact they all seem to jump out of their skin when a gun appears.

Given Death Row’s extensive roster of acts you’d think it’d be difficult to find the definitive Death Row album, but it becomes clear that since the 90’s hip-hop has been all about franchising (Wu Tang Clan with Method Man, GZA, ODB, etc, Eminem with D12 and 50 Cent) and most of the spin offs are crap reproductions. The Death Row records worth having have been produced by Dre, and of those The Chronic is where it all started.

The Chronic is a brilliant album, as well produced as any I’ve heard, especially turned up to 25 in the car. But after The Chronic, the genre (sub-genre? whatever) leaves me cold, I like Snoop’s drawl but the rest on the West Coast just make up the numbers and the East Coast equivalent is really very lame pop RnB.

However, being a consummate archivist when it comes to my record collection I needed something to fill my East Coast Gangsta void. The record that always comes into my head is Mo Money Mo Problems by Notorious BIG (featuring inevitably Puffy on backing “Ah Ha’s” and “Oh Yeah’s”). This record is several years old, and was deleted ages ago. I’ve been trying to track it down since I got back from holiday, preferably on 12”, but I’d even failed to find it on CD. The Diana Ross sample has drilled into my head constantly ever since – you don’t know how pre-occupied I’ve become with the record.

Well, someone does, yesterday whilst virtuously walking from Blackfriars to Marylebone after a meeting I dropped into HMV. On a rack of re-released classics, there it was; a repress of Mo Money Mo Problems by Notorious BIG. It wasn’t there last week, but there it was: it – perfectly positioned product meeting me – target demographic. It was expensive, but I’d become so obsessed by it I just had to have it.



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