“There’s still a contingent of die-hard music lovers who think [The Beatles] were mass-produced (they certainly were a studio creation to some extent), shallow (a thousand love songs cut with a few cheap psychedelic ribbons!), and soulless (white British youngsters ape American R’n’B? It’s like Malibu’s Most Wanted).”—"Fucking Metal Interview" with me, rap legend Jesse Dangerously.
I can never repay Twitter for the things it brings me. Someone had the idea to bring El-P in on the new Killer Mike (now Mike Bigga) record, and the gods were generous enough to rub an unmixed snippet in our faces just to show us how to know what’s exciting anymore.
This is. This is exciting.
Mike asked the internet for feedback on his performance here, and retweeted when I paraphrased Ladybug Mecca to tell him he “straight New Yorked it.” That democratizing of communication is another thing Twitter does for us, although I’m not always certain of how much I like it. This time I do.
What I meant was that he really came to meet the beat where it came from, even while the beat itself brought El-P’s characteristic crunch to a southern church. (That makes it Churnch.) Killer Mike’s been known for putting tracks in their place, even outshining established legends when his own legend was yet to be so established (like is anyone else on “The Whole World” even trying to kick it in 6/8? Why is he the only one who counted beats on that?), but this verse fragment shows even more versatility.
They say your latitude determines your attitude, and he contradicts that here.
The rhymes are thoughtful and evocative of the style Jay-Z adopts when he wants to sit you down and tell you something serious, and very well constructed, but of course from my political perspective, I’m a little nonplussed by the positing of woman as vessel by which a great man is delivered, or accoutrement to the great man’s legacy.
Like I said though… southern church. It’s certainly not the least respectful thing I’ve heard a rapper say about women today, in a song I liked.
My enthusiasm continues unabated. Can’t wait to hear this record for real.
Last month I went to see The Blow in Montreal, which was an unbelievable spectacle that made me want to be a better performer. I had a stupid fight earlier in the evening and kind of shot myself in the foot in terms of 100% feeling great about the experience in retrospect (note to self and everyone: always be more patient; you will never wish you had been less patient), but that is not what this totally public famous person blog entry is about at all.
See, after the show I picked up The Blow’s new album, Poor Aim, on vinyl. It’s issued on K Records, and it comes with a download code, like all vinyl should in this crazy modern future times.
As soon as I got home from Montreal, … I went to sleep, because I had to be at work in like three hours. But the next evening I promptly tried to use the enclosed code to download the album, and for some reason it just didn’t work. I don’t recall if it gave an error message or what, but something was wrong and I seemed to be out of luck.
So I fired an e-mail off to the most official-seeming address I could find on the K Records website, including my download code just in case, and letting them know that the failure had occurred.
And I never heard back, and I was pretty disappointed to not even get a polite refusal, let alone a new code or something. And then some time passed!
And then last night as I was leaving written-in-crayon feminist/labour film Made In Dagenham (wish it were better; secretly just an ordinary cheeky-British-working-class-quirk comedy), I got an e-mail from Ben Hargett at K. It read:
I send you a YouSendIt with this record last month, and the files have expired by now… but I wanted to make sure you got it. Let me know if you didn’t!
Happy holidays, -Ben
IT IS THE BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE THAT ANY RECORD LABEL HAS EVER OFFERED, EVER. Sending a personal YouSendIt was more than I expected on its own, but he FOLLOWED UP WHEN HE DIDN’T HEAR BACK FROM ME. It was so considerate that my FACE COULD BURST OFF OF MY HEAD AND CIRCLE THE MOON FOR A WEEK.
What a good dude. What a good business. What a good record!
Toolshed is Timbuktu, Chokeules (CHOKE-you-leeze), and Psybo (SIGH-bow), and they are the party time central soul of Backburner, but those party times are largely reserved for house parties or dingy bars full of old men. Clubs where women actually enjoy going to dance really make the dudes salty… one way or another.
Peep the magic insolence. If this bandcamp player HTML didn’t work right, just go to toolshed.bandcamp.com but that’s pretty embarrassing for all of us. Oh unless you want to download the track free forever, in which case, show no shame.
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me.
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
This goes for any creative endeavour. It’s also why we shouldn’t always rush to share our first attempts at anything with everyone. Time estimating is key. Then let them go back and gobble up your juvenilia when you’re already established as a serious creator, so they can sift for the sparks of what they know came later, rather than the sparks of what they HOPE will come later.
Hey Jess, Here's another question: Do you know of any rap or hip-hop track, other than yours, that is done in an odd-time signature? I don't mean 3/4 or 6/8 or any where the numerator is in multiples of 3, I mean the more complex stuff with prime numbers, such as 5/8, 7/8, 11/16, 13/16, etc.
Instrumental hip-hop (or at least sample-based) producers have spent time in that territory since the mid-to-late nineties - DJ Shadow, Squarepusher, probably a billion jungle and drum’n’bass producers - but very, very little rapping has been done outside of 4/4, and almost all of that was in 6/8, plus a tiny bit of 3/4 (the difference being one of emphasis).
I have heard two raps, not by me, in 5/4. One was by a guy from Guelph, Ontario, called Astrolabe (later known as Treevortex, who put out a dis track to Wordburglar and so got a dis track from me on the 2004 Backburner mixtape, What Have You Done For Rap Lately?). He just looped up the opening drums from Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” and kicked it over that. I still have the tape somewhere but I don’t remember if it was any good.
The other one was… geez, who was it? Someone artsy. Dream Warriors? Divine Styler? Aceyalone? Damn, I should know this.
I’m sure there are cats out there doing it… very little of it has ever made it to my ears, however.
Just to clarify, when I said:
"Secondly, reading this caused dangerous bodily reactions:
...Ambition… is that all?""
The 'is that all' was a copy and paste from your earlier post. Just making sure you knew, as you seemed to try to answer that (ie your) question, and I didn't want you to feel that I was being dismissive of the magnitude of that line-up, as my intentions were quite the opposite.
Also: I don't have a driver's licence either. I think we win?
Haha oops right. Ahem.
I felt like I had won for a while, but I tour in cars so much that I think it makes me a jerk to not be able to take a turn at the wheel. See also: road trips. Plus I guess my household owns a car now, so I should spread my wings a little? Maybe?
Hey Jess. I'm nowhere near as feministic as you, but why is it that women are expected to wear high-heels? I don't find them any more attractive than if they wore more comfortable shoes. Oh well. To each his own fetish. But still, I do feel sorry for every woman and girl who has to put up with the discomfort of wearing uncomfroable shoes.
What I recommend, when you wonder stuff like this, is NOT to ask some dude you know, even if he is me and therefore super into feminism. On feminist issues, seek the words of women! It takes some legwork, mainly because different women and different feminists have different personal ideas on different topics, as well as different perspectives on the feminist zeitgeist and theoretical dialectic for every topic, and reading what they’ve already written will give you a much better grasp of the range of ideas than if I just tried to remember everything I’ve heard people say about it.
So having said that, my stance on this, and pretty much any cosmetic issue faced by women (make-up, body hair removal, coiffure, thinness, cosmetic surgery), is that the societal pressures that lead women to feel like they have to conform to a particular beauty standard are lamentable, but that if women derive any sense of agency from their decisions regarding the way they present themselves to the world, then that’s awesome.
So the answer as I see it is for women to continue to present themselves however they like, doing what they wish and not doing what they don’t, and for the rest of the world to fuck off telling them that they should or shouldn’t.
I’m psyched for the woman who LOVES her high heels, and I don’t want to tell her she’s wrong just because every other woman shouldn’t have to love them.
Why do you so vehemently oppose Will Smith music? Although clearly not the most impressive music in either writing or delivery, it is almost all sort of joyous in a very comforting way. I accept that opinions will differ, but I'd like to see the reasons behind someone whose opinion on such matters I greatly respect's dismissal of music I enjoy
Oh I was being mostly facetious, I don’t vehemently oppose his later music. I just absolutely revere his first three records, they attracted me to hip-hop in the first place and set the tone for everything I would come to appreciate later - charismatic delivery, clever rhyme schemes, intricate rhythmic patterns - and as time went on, I felt like he was moving backwards on all of those fronts, and basically not holding up his end of the bargain, ha.
It’s the general rule that for the first few years a rapper who really cares about being dope is working, he or she will improve, then hit a peak (usually far short of where you thought it would be), and then begin a slow decline into mediocrity (or quitting) as the strain of trying really hard to be dope just burns all the hunger out.
I can’t handle that the same person who wrote “Numero Uno” in 1989 and threw down those crazy hype patterns was also responsible for such middle-grade performances as the singles that came out under his government name.
If he’d just come out of nowhere with that stuff, I would have probably been fine with it. It was better than, like, Ma$e. I was also really mad at mainstream rap in general, being all wrapped up in the INDEPENDENT AS FUCK flag being flown by Rawkus, Fondle ‘Em, Anticon, Solesides, then Quannum and DefJux, plus every weird Canadian rapper. So when Smith came out and explicitly identified himself as “jiggy,” aligning himself with the shiny suits and flashy cars and no substance that had taken over the public face of East Coast rap music… it was a personal affront. He was like dead to me.
Which is to say - it was totally all in my head, and he didn’t really do anything wrong, and it doesn’t matter except that I still don’t like his real name shit at all.
You have collaborated with Bryan Lee O' Malley. How did that come about, and what was it like to work with him?
I met Bryan through his wife, Hope Larson, who is also an accomplished and decorated cartoonist. She had started a small imprint called Tulip Tree Press to release Rebecca Kraatz's book of House of Sugar strips, and someone told her that she needed to get Lefty Lucy Communications to do PR for the book because it would be perfect,
Lefty Lucy was run by my partner, Audra. Tulip Tree turned out to be her last client before we moved away from Halifax.
Hope would come by Audra’s house, where I was staying, to talk biz sometimes, or socially, and often Bryan would be in tow. I hadn’t, uh, actually read Scott Pilgrim, but my friend Mark had, and he forced me to borrow volumes 1 & 2 (the only ones out at the time) so I would know why he was so psyched!
And it’s because they were really good!
But in addition to being talented and attractive rock stars, Hope & Mal were just really fun to hang out with. It was hard to co-ordinate, with them living all the way out in Mount Uniacke (about a two hour drive from peninsular Halifax; birthplace of Buck 65), but we did our best. One time, they even drove us from Halifax to Sydney, Cape Breton, so we could catch a ferry to Newfoundland. Also so we all could hang out!
I can’t remember when I first heard about Kupek existing. I think Mal was on a bit of a hiatus from music when we met. We always talked about producing something together, though, and just kept not getting around to it.
He sent me a demo of a song called “Archon” in early 2007, and said he wasn’t happy with the drums and could I do whatever it is that I do (I probably talked up the drums) and make it sound more awesome. But I couldn’t come up with anything better than what he had, which I thought was pretty dope. So nothing happened there.
Then we moved away from Halifax, and they moved away from not only Nova Scotia but Canada, and we all kept in touch via the internet, but it is sad to have not seen some nice friends in so long. We make up for it by sending one another copies of our latest creative outputs when they happen.
Then last year, Mal got the members of Kupek all back together and decided to just trickle out an EP’s worth of songs over the course of a few months. Secretly, he asked me to join him on one of those songs! I said YES INDEED!
He had it already started, and it was most of “Heard About You” already. I immediately identified with the lyrics, which were written from a perspective of feeling uncomfortable (to say the least) with the way celebrities are treated as subhuman psychic punching bags by the entertainment press, and regular press, and generally everyone everywhere. It was a time when Britney Spears, in particular, was really getting dragged through the dirt for no good reason, and I already got choked up every time I listened to “Piece Of Me” off Blackout, and saying something about all that seemed really pertinent.
I happened to have a couple of lines that I had been saving for years, waiting to write a whole rhyme on the topic. One of them was
arbiter of taste / targeter of fakes harbinger of greatness / part of their disgrace (and I was like ooh five syllables four times, I am a genius)
and the other was
First we turn ‘em celebrities, then we burn ‘em in effigy …didn’t we learn in the seventies? (and I was like ooh SIX syllables three times… but what does the last part mean? so I axed it.)
and really the process of writing the hot 13 was just finding the tissue to connect those to segments, and continuing along that trajectory, once established. I wrote this:
Say hello to the arbiter of taste, the targeter of fakes The harbinger of greatness, and then part of their disgrace It’s hard to wear a straight face when they start prevaricating* Swearing statements with bare naked faces that scrape the pavement First we turn ‘em celebrities, then we burn ‘em in effigy And watch them crumble under the scrutiny like Let It Be** It’s you and me and all them screaming fans in coliseum stands Lately, no-one seems to want to see ‘em land safely You can’t hate me, I’m just the messenger, your humble servant Sworn to hunt the person you’ve heard of that’s undeserving Of your worship - human scum and perverts under the surface Stupid blunders serve as proof that no-one’s perfect And if it’s worth it, I’ll bury you in DIRT!!
*five syllables SIX times! ON TOPIC! GOLDEN GOD OF RAP. **sometimes I’m worried that only I get this reference. The Beatles were filmed during the creation of their Let It Be album, and tension from those sessions are said to be what broke the band up, ultimately. Or I guess there is the MEDDLESOME WOMANtheory, but thankfully “Yoko Ono” didn’t rhyme there. Anyway, when you’re not four people but an individual, and the pressure of public scrutiny is making you feel like breaking up… what do you do?
The reason the verse is thirteen bars instead of a more traditional twelve or sixteen is that I ignored Bryan’s instructions and just wrote to exactly the demo he sent, rather than changing it to suit me, then really liked it.
It’s only slightly melodic, but I chose to use cranked up Autotune when I laid it down, and here are the reasons why:
Lil Wayne does a lot of non-melodic rapping through Autotune, just for the robotic qualities I guess, and he gets a lot of public scrutiny (but less pilloried than women do, of course);
Kanye had just done 808s & Heartbreak, and I was pretty sure at least part of it was a masterpiece, and he gets a lot of public scrutiny (this was prior to Swiftgate though);
The overbearing synthetic quality that it lends to the vocals evokes some kind of human disconnect for me (which is why I thought it was so effective on Kanye’s record), and even though I took on the unsympathetic role of the hatER rather than the hatEE, I think the quality worked;
I was juuuuust trying to figure out Ableton Live, and using VST plugins for kind of the first time, and really anxious to put that stuff to use (REAL TALK);
It sounds fuckin’ DOPE !!
Now, I’m not a good DJ, but I do own a lot of wax and a pair of 1200s and gosh darnit, the song was crying out for cuts! I wound up finding a phrase on (suitably Torontonian) Kardinal Offishal’s 12” for “Belly Dancer,” where he just says "I heard about you, you know!" It sounded really judgemental, when taken out of context. Perfect. So I clumsily scratched it in, and when I sent the stems to Mal, I sheepishly said I could get someone else to do it for real when it was time to finish the track. Oh, I also processed the scratch track through Autotune! With the beat in the background and everything (no a capella), it really gave the cut a weird crunchy quality that I loved.
So yeah then I sent everything off to Mal like… how’s this? And he was like “… I’m going to go change my whole shit now.” And he pulled off the old lead guitar, and replaced it with noodly lines that echo melodies not only from his verses, but from my backing vocals, and beefed up the whole thing with more synths and basically made it EXTRA SUPER AWESOME. When he sent me the last demos, I couldn’t listen to anything else for some time. I mean I am always listening to my own shit but I was listening to HIM, TOO! UNPRECEDENTED.
So the short answer is, it was a treat to work with him, and I love the result, and I’m really happy to let you know that we’re about to do it again. We both had our minds completely blown by Kanye’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, possibly each relating unhealthily to (probably different?) parts of it, and wanted to make something … commensurate. I won’t say too much, just keep your ears peeled!
I am of the opinion that you are a highly intelligent person with a strong moral compass. Let's assume that my assessment is correct for the sake of this question: What influences and life experiences do you believe helped you to develop such a strong social conscience?
Um maybe it was YOU being so NICE to me all the time??
Okay so dammit I wrote out a long response to this and then got kicked off the internet, and I lost it forever, and my life is the worst life. Let’s see how succinctly I can run back through it again.
Okay 1. cliché, but I was raised by parents with deeply held progressive values and a thirst for social justice;
2. Listening to rap from the age of ten gave me a window into some range of perspectives on the disparity of racial experiences in our culture, and taught me how to be very angry about it;
3. Being a lonely teenager trying desperately to find ANYthing remotely sexy to read led to shoplifting certain books from the discount store (Debating Sexual Correctness was the big one) and doing yahoo searches of the text-only internet for sex-related keywords which in turn led me to lots of sex-positive feminist essays and resources. That was my gateway into the broader world of feminist perspectives. I was really, really lucky to find those things by accident, because I sure didn’t understand feminism at all until I started reading things that feminists had to say about it;
4. I’m just really sensitive and care a lot about everything and I don’t know exactly where it comes from.
Firstly, in 'For Lack of Trying', you say "maybe it's about time I got my driver's licence" - do you now have one?
Secondly, reading this caused dangerous bodily reactions:
"Full Spectrum (tentative title) - Backburner posse album
Beats by: Timbuktu, Fresh Kils, Uncle Fester, Beat Mason, Ghettosocks.
Rappers: Ghettosocks, Jesse Dangerously, Wordburglar, Timbuktu, Chokeules, Psybo, Thesis Sahib, More Or Les, Jay Bizzy, Man Alive, MC Frank Deluxe, ginzuintriplicate, Ambition… is that all?"
I wrote “For Lack Of Trying” in 1998 or 99. Don’t you think that, having formed such an intent, I would have gone out and snagged that license by now?
Well, I didn’t. I keep forgetting to do it.
As for the Burner album line-up… I think that’s all? I might be forgetting someone obvious, though. Johnny Hardcore didn’t turn any verses in, and I don’t think Rez Villain did either… in other words, the two dudes with kids. Typical!!
Hey, Jesse, you've answered questions about your own album(s) releasing, but do you have any information on some other rappers that (I assume) you're friends with? Like The Wordburglar, I've heard that he's supposed to drop an album this year, but I haven't been able to get any info on it.
I know he’s been picking away at new songs for another full-length for, well, four years now, but life keeps getting in the way, plus other clichés like that.
I don’t really know how close he is right now - we don’t see one another very often. Oh but you assume correctly that we are friends! We played little league baseball together as little kids, and then used to just talk about rap for hours when he worked at Strange Adventures (comic shop) in Halifax.
I’ve heard stuff that at least WAS going to be on it, and it was amazing, and it didn’t wind up on his Burgie’s Basement CD of unreleased tracks NOT going on the album… so it still looks good for being dope when it does drop, ha.
He plays this stuff pretty close to the chest, so I don’t think you’ll see many announcements on the work in progress until it is very close to actually being released. Just stay tuned to him on Twitter and I’m sure you’ll be in the know when the inevitable 3rdburglar (my name, by the way) does drop.
I think I really screwed up naming this tumblr. Apparently they’re all supposed to be called fuckyeahsomethingorother.tumblr.com and just link to a ton of photos of that given something-or-other.
It seems in some ways like something in between Wordpress, Twitter and mmmaybe LiveJournal… but the way it’s used continues to baffle me longer than any of those things did. I can’t quite figure out whether there are or are not comments on posts. If there aren’t, it’s a very odd mix of social and broadcast-only.