In tha Beginning ... There Was Rap(Priority 50639)These...


December 18, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

In tha Beginning ... There Was Rap

(Priority 50639)

These days, when rappers talk about paying tribute to the old school, what they generally mean is sampling a slice of a rap oldie, the way Puff Daddy's "Ain't Nobody Hold Me Down" uses a loop from "The Message" by Grand Master Flash & the Furious Five for its musical bed. But "In tha Beginning ... There Was Rap" takes a far more literal approach, using an all-star array of contemporary rap stars to remake a dozen hip-hop classics.

Covering a rap record isn't quite the same thing as reworking a rock oldie. Where rockers tend to honor the lyrics while taking liberties with the original rhythm and arrangement, most of the rappers here take the opposite approach, adding their own words to the old-school groove.

For instance, when the Wu-Tang Clan take on Run-D.M.C.'s "Sucker M.C.'s," the Clan rides the same beatbox pulse as Run-D.M.C., but personalizes the rap, augmenting the original rhymes with lines of their own. Audacious as that may seem, it's truer to the spirit of the original than a word-for-word cover would be, if only because the often autobiographical content of the rap would ring false coming from other rappers.

Sometimes, sticking close to the original wordplay is itself a form of tribute. The Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" is such a classic that Eric Sermon, Keith Murray and Redman don't dare mess with the rhymes; what makes the remake interesting are the ways in which their delivery changes the flow.

When Snoop Doggy Dogg delivers "Freaky Tales" almost word-for-word, it's less a reflection of the rap's timeless appeal than of Snoop's respect for its author, West Coast pioneer Too $hort. Bone Thugs-N-Harmony take a similarly reverential approach to N.W.A.'s notorious "---- Tha Police," offering a performance so like the original it barely sounds like Bone Thugs, while Master P gives his props to Ice-T with a near-perfect read of "6 'N tha Mornin'."

Contrast that with Sean "Puffy" Combs' reworking of LL Cool J's "Big Ole Butt," and it's easy to see the value of such deference. Although Puffy gets the general thrust right, his tone is all wrong. What made LL's rap such a winner was that he turned his philandering into a mildly self-deprecating joke; he was a dog, and he knew it. Puffy, by contrast, takes the rap as a testament to his own studliness, an approach that completely erases its warmth and wit. Some rappers, it seems, haven't really learned anything from the old school.


Ben Folds Five

Naked Baby Photos (Caroline 7554)

When Ben Folds Five moved up to the majors, it didn't entirely leave its original indie label behind. Although the band had signed with Columbia, it owed an album to Caroline Records; trouble was, the group couldn't cut any new material for that album. So what we get on "Naked Baby Photos" is leftovers -- demos, concert recordings and songs that weren't quite good ** enough to release the first time. To the band's credit, "Naked Baby Photos" isn't as full of embarrassing juvenalia as its title jTC suggests, though "For Those of Y'All Who Wear Fanny Packs" is quite cringe-inducing. But apart from such live tracks as "Julianne" and "Song for the Dumped," it does little to showcase the band's strengths.

Neil Young, et al.

The Bridge School Concerts, Vol. 1 (Reprise 46824)

For more than a decade now, Neil Young has been raising money for the Bridge School in Hillsborough, Calif., and the benefit concerts he has staged have attracted some of the biggest names in pop music. But the best thing about "The Bridge School Concerts, Vol. 1" isn't that it features performances by stars ranging from Tom Petty and the Pretenders to Beck and David Bowie, but that the performances are so unique. It's a pleasure to hear Don Henley lend his lithe voice to the Beatles' "Yes It Is," and a stunner to hear how at home Ministry is with the hippie sentiment of the Grateful Dead's Friend of the Devil." In fact, the album's only disappointment is the amount of discord in Simon & Garfunkel's performance of "America."

"Live" (Universal 53109)

If you didn't know better, you'd be sorely tempted to sue Erykah Badu for bait-and-switch on "Live," a hybrid of jazz and R&B. First, it's early in her career, the second album in fact, for Badu to be releasing a live set, which, in effect, is a collection of songs from the first album, "Baduizm." But Badu and her band are superb, with performances that in some cases, such as "Certainly," surpass the studio originals. Second, the mellow grooves of "Live" seem at first blush to set the mood for a cozy night with a lover of choice. To the contrary, Badu, who was near delivery of her first child during recording, is full of righteous fury. Both versions of "Tyrone," a wake-up call to a trifling lover, are powerful and unsettling and brilliant. The lady's got a serious attitude and the talent to match.

Pub Date: 12/18/97

Milton Kent

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