1986 was a crucially important year for funky music in the decade. The electro/synth based sound that tended to be the dominant force in the music within the past few years were giving way to a sound where electronic instruments were being used as accents to either a fully organic or organic sounding instrumental bed. This came to prominence with songs such as Prince’s “Kiss”,’Duran Duran’s “Notorious” and the late and great James Brown’s “Living In America”. After leaving her original label Island and singing up with Manhattan Records,she took a stab at co-production with Nile Rodgers for her first album on the label Inside Story. One of the songs on it that always caught my attention was “White Collar Crime”
The song begins with a slow,rolling shuffling beat that’s accompanied by a high pitched digital synthesizer playing a rather Asian style melodic phrase. Grace’s vocals than kick in with Nile’s guitar providing a subtle accent to the lyrics which,through a series of different stories,illustrates the songs chorus of “white collar crime/you don’t have to do time/blue collar crime/you do time every time”-sung to lower volume horn chart/guitar call-and-response playing opposite melodic statements. On the bridge of the song,the horns scale up as grace asks “do they get away with it” before the drum emulator shuffle is let to solo with the horns fanfaring back into the original phrase-after which Nile himself is heard saying “it’s all the same” as Grace responds “it’s a money/power game”
Showcasing Mac Gollehon,Steve Elson and Lenny Pickett on horns and co-writer/instrumentalist Bruce Woolley on synthesizers? This song has a similar quality to Grace’s “Slave To The Rhythm” in the sense that it is what they call a runaway groove. This amounts to a form of dance/funk which has a light and understated instrumental quality-rhythmic enough for a strutting model but un-intrusive enough where it doesn’t interrupt the focus. Of course Grace Jones,being a former model,is a natural to produce a song in such a way. Not only that,but the lightness of the production and arrangement take away from how hard hitting a groove this actually is. And it’s hard hitting in more ways than one.
By this time? The Reaganomics policy of trick down economics and the Wallstreet/Gordon Gekko attitude of “greed is good” was starting to contrast with how American society actually seemed to be functioning. Especially when it came to foreign policy and black Americans. Grace Jones,twice a foreigner as a Jamaican woman having began who career out of Europe,than crossed over in the US,really made her comment very strongly here. Using tabloid/yellow journalistic expletives such as “it’s outrageous nobody cared” and “shocking,it’s all so mocking”? Jones makes lyrical points that would be made in far more direct ways by hip-hoppers such as Public Enemy and NWA in a short two years time. And that was already being explored by hip-hop by KRS-1 and Eric B & Rakim. And that’s basically the treatment of a wealthier criminal versus that of a smaller time hustler. Indeed Grace Jones and Nile Rodgers provide a very stylish groove out of the money/power game.
He’s been called The Beat Conductor,The Loopdigga,Quasimoto,DJ Lord Such,his own name Otis Jackson Jr,Yesterday’s New Quintet. But whatever name he chooses,Madlib is someone who crosses the barriers between two sources of musical information in my life: my friend Henrique and my father. It was my father who first started introducing me to Madlib when he shared a mutual interest with keyboardist/then local DJ Nigel Hall in his Shades of Blue and fascination with Mizell brothers period Donald Byrd. So each time a new Madlib CD came out,my father got it and we listened to it on the way home from the record store. Hearing all the layers of 70’s and 80’s soul/funk/jazz-funk samples in his music? Madlib really began to call to mind Henrique’s discussions with me about hip-hop being an important archival music for the funk,jazz and soul music that moves both of us. When this album was originally released earlier this year featuring the rapping of Freddie Gibbs? I had a feeling an album like this would follow from Madlib himself. This was what I wanted to hear. And what a thrill it is too!
With “Scarface” as the orchestral opener the album goes into the slow crawling cinematic oriented soul break of “Deeper-after which comes the the call-and-response clavinet based melodic funk of “High”-featuring the lyric “I get high” which slows down to a crawl by songs end. “Harold”,with its jazz guitar solo and “Bomb” with its symphonic electric pianos and keyboards are both deep,spare funk pieces. “S**tsville” and “Thuggin” are both beautifully dramatic pieces based on keyboard and guitar oriented orchestral soul-with the mildly classical twist a Stevie Wonder or David Sancious might add to the mix. “Real” and “Uno” are very spare pieces-more designed to focus on an MC than the music itself. “Robes” on the other hand is a melodically soulful jazz type number a beautiful female vocal looped in and out of the mix. “Broken”,”Lakers”,”Shame” and “Knicks”,the later with a male soulful vocal moan loop are all beautifully orchestrated,piano based Thom Bell style early 70’s soul ballads. The album continues on with the horn oriented intro “Watts” before going into “Pinata”-an early 70’s sitar led slow groove with the organ solo repeating again with the string refrain breaking it up now and again.
As someone who was never at all part of any aspect of hip-hop culture from the inside? I’ve had to observe the genre from without. And though I greatly admire the rapping abilities and lyrical statements of people such as The Roots’ Black Thought,Chuck D and KRS One? There are many times when certain MC’s,especially those of the more braggadocio and profane variety,to be highly distracting to the often fascinating music that is often taking place around them. Therefore the instrumental hip-hop of artists like Madlib always interest me. Since the man is obviously far,far more versed in the soul/funk spectrum than I? Have to admit I am not 100% aware of most of the artists he loops and samples in his music unless specifically indicated. But still the fact that many rap superstars give the impression that hip-hop is all about personality and not music tends to make many people forget that their is a very strong musical art form at the very core of hip-hop. Its part of the DJ based culture that rose out of the disco era. And since that mid/late 70’s era is Madlib’s favorite period to draw inspiration from? I personally champion him as a strong modern purveyor of the thoroughly music end of the hip-hop genre. And that is why I chose the instrumental version of this,as opposed to the one with Freddie Gibbs as MC. Either way,this is impressive funky soul loops,breaks and cinematic grooving delights!
*Here is the original Amazon.com review: