Sunday, May 14, 2006

(Not) Anyone Can Play Guitar

EPMD - Get Off The Bandwagon

I am musically talentless. That is a fact. I can’t play any instruments, with the exception of three chords badly on the guitar and a monotonous ditty called ‘Busy Bee’ on the recorder. I can tap out rhythms on my leg or a table with a couple of pens. I like to sing along, but am rarely in tune. That’s it. This is probably why I really enjoy working and hanging out with people who can and writing about music for this blog. It’s my outlet; my way of connecting with something that I love so much.

However, back in the late 80s when I was a hip hop obsessed teenager I was briefly in a band. Well, it was more of a crew. We were called DTP – Dorchester Town Posse. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t play any instruments or sing in tune – none of us could. What we did have though was a talented scratch DJ, Trevor aka T-Basz and a shit hot rapper, Chris aka Bod aka MC Power. We only had one deck and a ghetto blaster with a built-in mic. Trev would set the beat going (more often than not it was Funky Drummer by James Brown, which he’d cut up as we went along), Bod would freestyle, and on cue, I would interject with my shrill, piss poor imitation of Flavor Flav (my balls hadn’t dropped), letting everyone know who we were, what was going on and what was about to happen. I have tapes. It’s all good until I come in – J. Rok. Ahem. I’m embarrassed for me. DTP weren’t bad – they became (minus me) South Coast Rhyme and demoed for London Records.

Anyway, my humiliation aside, the point is that it seemed so simple to make hip hop that even someone of my miniscule talents thought they could do it. But like most things in life, the easier in principle it appears, the harder it is to do and do well. Check this track, ‘Get Off the Bandwagon’, taken from the 1988 LP ‘Strictly Business’ by EPMD. You’ve got a drum beat, a synth riff that doubles as a bass line and two MCs. OK, so it’s not just any MC’s, it’s Erick Sermon, whose style is so laidback he sounds like he’s rapping from a hammock after a skunk transfusion, and his slightly more animated and equally talented spar Parrish Smith. The way their lyrics flow like lapping waves over the sparse backing track, adds soul and depth and takes something minimal into another dimension. It may not be their best track, but it amply demonstrates what I’m saying. Simplicity is genius..

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