If, in today’s warp speed popular entertainment culture, The Fugees “Blunted on Reality”, is their “Stevie at the Beach” or even “Eivets Rednow”, and their worldwide smash “The Score” was their “Talking Book” or “Innvervisions”, then for member Ms. Lauryn Hill, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” would be her magnum opus, her “Songs in the Key of Life.” “Unplugged” might be her “Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants.” But taking “Miseducation” as her “Songs in the Key of Life”, this weeks “Anatomy of THE Groove” feature, “Every Ghetto, Every City”, would be her equvalent of Stevie Wonders “I Wish.” Like that all time funk classic, “Every Ghetto, Every City uses an arch-funky groove to tell a soulfully nostalgic story of the artist days of growing up. Stevie’s took place in Saginaw, Michigan, but Hill grows up from a girl to a very talented woman in “New Jerusalem”, a very Old Testament nickname for the state of New Jersey.
The groove is one that caught my attention when I first copped the CD back in 1998. Hill and her musicians and producers waste no time laying a mean groove down. Just as Stevie dug back into an older, funky barrellhouse/stride/gospel/boogie woogie funk style for “I Wish” that recalled the older folks music of his youth, Lauryn Hill reaches back for a funky clavinet based groove to tell her story of growing up in the early days of hip hop. On closer inspection, she also adds some unique touches that hint at a unique merger of hip hop and instrumental funk that nobody has quite taken up in the same way. The groove is very siimple and funky, beginning with a funky clavinet riff, supported by a loud and upfront bass line. The bass line provides a lesson in playing funky bass with a lots of space, not taking away attention from the vocals in a modern Hip Hop/Soul situation. The bass basically lays down a funky two note groove based on the “One”, with some pick ups to lead you back to “The One.” Every four bars the bass plays a very funky James Jamerson inspired run. The drums hit a nice light swing in a manner similar to the way D.J Premier programmed his drum patterns. Every few bars, the producers add what sounds like a digital turntable scratch sound, a very popular effect in the late ’90s. In this context however, of a throwback funk groove, it works not just as a hip hop sound but also as a reflection of the antique nature of the groove, an appropriate touch like vinyl white noise.
Ms. Lauyrn Hill begins her tale of growing up in a manner similar to Wonder, “I was just a little girl/skinny legs and press and curl/my mama always thought I’d be a star.” She goes on to tell a story of the inner city we really no longer hear. Her inner city had kids stealing but at the same time, streets that nurtured her. The chorus strikes a note of universality, because as unique as her ubringing was, she sees flashes of it all around the world, “Every ghetto/every city/and suburban place I’ve been/make me recall my days/in the New Jerusalem.” She backs up richly soulful vocalizing, with hip hop shot outs, in effect serving as her own hype man, as Diddy was so famous for doing around that same time. This message of an experience that transcends ones specific place on the map was certainly needed in that time period of Hip Hops “East Coast/West Coast beef.” She goes on to talk about morning cartoons, and takes us all the way through the golden days of hip hop, talking about when “Self Destruction” dropped and emulating the famous Hip Hop break “Heaven and Hell is On Earth”, by the 20th Century Steel Band, who’s high pitched vocals have been heard on numerous hip hop cuts over the years.
“You know its hot/dont forget what you got/looking back”, she advises us on the funky eighth note driven bridge section of the tune. When this song hit, it affected me on several levels, bringing up thoughts of both the classic funk era, which I was born after, but who’s music I knew intimately, as well as the classic hip hop era, during which I was alive but heard the music in a blur, not always as music but as a soundtrack to bike rides, basketball games, baseball card trading, barbecues and games of hide and go seek, in Cross Color jean short outfits, of course. But I do remember very clearly, when Ms. Hill dropped this song and the nostalgic yet alive vibe it created. Funk like this doesen’t just live in 1978, or 1998, it lives each and every day it’s grooved. So “Every Ghetto, Every City” is my pick of the day, and you can be sure I wont forget what I’ve got looking back!