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The Rammellzee - The Bi-Conicals of the Rammellzee

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Artist: The Rammellzee

Album: The Bi-Conicals of the Rammellzee

Label: Gomma

Review date: Apr. 19, 2004

Let's say that rap, or hip-hop, started in ‘81. ([Long] note: I prefer the word, “rap”, because in junior-high America circa ‘87 that is what we called music by Boogie Down Productions, Geto Boys, LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Run-D.M.C., Schoolly D, Too Short, N.W.A., etc. At that point in the game, I do not recall much pontificating about hip-hop street culture or street cred or old school roots or respect for this-n-that, etc. Rap was a loud, nasty, disRESPECTful, form-shattering and intensely hot medium. Rap=rock/punk. Hip-hop=Tin Pan Alley. And before you dissent, citing the true and accurate etymological roots of the phrase “hip-hop”, please follow my Joe Carducci-inspired metaphor all the way through.) Thus, rap, I mean hip-hop, as a music genre is roughly 23 years old. When rock, or rock-n-roll (‘55=birth), turned 23 the year was roughly ‘78 and we all know what was going on then.

Has rap, I mean hip-hop, ever experienced an aesthetic rupture similar to punk? If so then I missed it. Was the rupture possibly Kool Keith and his myriad aliases? The quirky Brooklyn-based Wordsound imprint? O.D.B’s debut? RZA’s Ghostdog score? A small handful of Neptune-produced club hits? Andre Nickatina’s obscure gem, Cocaine Raps Volume 2? Dizzee Rascal? (Who the hell is this kid?) These classics do not appear to occupy much space on hip-hop’s collective hard drive these days, and that is not to say the aforementioned are neglected masterpieces; it just means that none of them have aged too well. In fact, most hip-hop releases -- even the real top-shelf brands -- spoil rather quickly. This is a quality intrinsic to hip-hop (but, remember, not rap).

“I know it’s been a while since you heard me rap but I had to bring it back since the shit got whack,” raps Rammellzee on his new full-length, Bi-Conicals of The Rammellzee. For those retaining little street-cred (like me), Rammellzee is a big-time street-culture legend. He was a god of graffiti. He is an accomplished visual artist. He is an outrageous urban philosopher who dresses like Voltron. And he is a respected old school rapper who, like some near-mythical Delta blues singer with a single scratched-to-all-hell 78 and a million tall tales for a legacy, has actually recorded very little including, but not limited to, the classic "Beat Bop" 12”, with Jean-Michel Basquiat and K-Rob, and his wicked-sweet performance with Shockdell on the Wild Style soundtrack. And, yes, he is an actor, too, appearing in Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise. So, obviously, Rammellzee knows his rap, I mean hip-hop; he helped create it. When he states that “the shit got whack” in recent years then the rap, I mean hip-hop, nation better listen up.

Bi-Conicals does indeed deserve serious attention. Over 11 dense tracks, Rammellzee unloads a litany of his abstruse philosophies, oddball characters, chains of -isms, stray-dog growls and back-alley madman mutterings. These are accompanied by a pristinely woven background of new wave synths, guitars, ticky tack snares and cymbals, drum-n-bass tainted rhythms, electro vocoder and other anonymous electronic sounds. Bi-Conicals is an immaculately twisted production and the most engaging rap, I mean hip-hop, record in quite some time. In fact, it creates quite a psychedelic in Technicolor head-trip when played at club levels. (Sorry neighbors) But Bi-Conicals of The Rammellzee is hip-hop, not rap. I’ll explain.

Let's now modify my initial argument wherein rap and hip-hop were treated as the same music genre spanning time. Instead, consider rap a separate genre of music that actually died years back and was fundamentally organized around heavy rhythm-- all instruments being percussive. In its short life, rap destroyed the traditional pop song format and dissolved, or maybe ignored, said form’s melody/harmony and narrator/accompaniment dichotomies. Rap was un-taxonomized human action and thought so intensely hot and immediate (In-the-now, or is it, in-the-then?), burning straight through any and all pre-established classifications for human thought/action. It did not belong to the context surrounding linear-thinking man selling linear-constructed commodities. One listen at maximum volume to so-called classic old school shit -- anything from Wild Style to even the Geto Boys -- makes all these points painfully self-evident. I even get a bit winded and dizzy after digging just a few minutes of the so-called classic old school shit because my meat-based hard-drive, which runs software simulating serial processing, is incapable of finding solid ground (linearity) in a music based on parallel processing and that is exactly the reason why it still sounds so good, forceful and fresh. It induces symptoms akin to vertigo just like Chuck Berry’s “Maybellene” did and like the Hot Fives did.

Hip-hop, on the other hand, is a simulation (a zombified version!) of rap. It is a linear-constructed commodity that is based upon the Tin Pan Alley mode of pop music production. Since the Tin Pan Alley process is decidedly not performance-based (no such thing as a good hip-hop concert), it denies the possibility of sweat and grime disrupting the coolly flowing logic of street-kultur kapital as best represented by the now omnipresent snow-white Hummer limo. Hip-hop never physically breaks sound-form; it merely pushes the envelope conceptually and only very briefly to garner a little fame and recognition such as the Neptunes ripping off 20-year-old dancehall riddims for about three identically sounding smash hits.

I refuse to believe Rammellzee is looking for cheap fame and fortune. He is way too cool and freaky. But I do wish Rammellzee made a hard RAP album not a pop-oriented hip-hop record. I wish his voice was percussion. I wish it was a vicious animal with razor sharp teeth. I wish this record was a document of some late-night sweat-stained recording session when Rammellzee’s voice ricocheted off walls, huge kicking beats made guts rumble and screeching vinyl raced up spines. I wish Rammellzee smashed the actual hip-hop jukebox instead of adding just another selection to the damn machine. Dig? And if that recipe sounds too retro just remember truly new sound-form is born from the chaos and chance endemic to incessant jamming. I will dig what the legendary Rammellzee created but just for a few weeks, like all authentic hip-hop.

By Justin F. Farrar

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