When drum and bass first washed up on these shores from London in the mid-Nineties, there was rampant talk that it would rejuvenate hip-hop. Drawing on the same Jamaican traditions of toasting MCs, cut-up DJ moves, and the manic street-level sensibility that sparked the first rap parties in the South Bronx, drum and bass seemed like the obvious next step in hip-hop's evolution. It also portended a welcome dose of freshness to a genre that was becoming increasingly stale. Ireland's DJ Dara shared drum and bass's initial missionary fervor; the spirit drew him to settle in New York City and open Breakbeat Science, an influential drum and bass-only record store.
But the revolution never happened. "Drum and bass was supposed to to replace hip-hop," Dara explains with a laugh, "but nobody ever asked the hip-hop kids if they wanted something new. They like their culture just the way it is." After several forced collaborations (such as junglist Goldie and legendary rapper KRS-One) that sounded just that -- forced -- much of drum and bass has spun off in darker, less rhythmic directions. You're apt to find more adherents on Madison Avenue (the music's clattering beats back everything from Volkswagen commercials to opening sound beds for nightly network news programs) than among B-boys. The potential for a true aesthetic melding is still there (check the last twenty seconds of the Roots' "You Got Me" for a hint of what could be), but so far remains untapped.
Still Dara keeps the faith, and fans of his jump-up, hip-hop flavored-style will be in heaven on Saturday, June 5, when he spins at the ever-so-imaginatively named Orgee. Call 305-940-2220 for the party location. Also on the bill with a set of crowd-pleasing breaks and electro is local fave Merlyn. You can catch Merlyn during daylight hours working at the latest addition to the dance-music retail scene, Grooveman Music (1543 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 305-535-6257). The just-opened shop is still waiting for much of its stock to arrive, but a quick browse turned up the latest twelve-inch from Miami's Push Button Objects. Released on British experimentalist Autechre's Skam label, "A Day in the Life" gleefully weaves floppy weeble-wobble-ish beats with a wink to the old school.
You'll get a sense of sheer delight listening to Spectrum, the new CD from the Quannum collective that gathers the hip-hop crew revolving around the Bay Area's turntablist pioneer DJ Shadow, and including the criminally underrated duo of rappers Lyrics Born and Lateef, as well as Blackalicious. More than just an assemblage of talent, however, Quannum showcases an adventurous spirit that first found fertile ground at the University of California at Davis's radio station, where Shadow and his pals DJ-ed, providing outlets for music and ideas glaringly lacking on commercial "urban" radio. Spectrum is a reminder of those radio daze (as well as an example of what radio could be), as Lyrics Born playfully pretends the entire affair is being broadcast from his own pirate station out into the night.
Imagine a pirate station that acted as if the music really mattered, that aired all the sounds (freestyling hip-hop, beat collages, and declaiming poets) unheard on the rigidly formatted confines of commercial black radio. Well, that's what Miami got -- and how. In the summer 1997 issue of his zine Scam, Miami's foremost punk scribe Iggy Scam told of discovering one of the city's first pirates.
He wrote: "You could only tune it in up on the Northside, so we'd listen to it while we drove down 79th Street.... You could tell it was pirate radio because of the number of times the DJs would say 'motherfucker' in every sentence and because of the rad, crazy shit they played -- poorly recorded local rap, like this one song, 'Too many suckas, not enough stretchas,' where this guy raps, 'Living in the M, the I, A-M-I, sometimes I gotta ask myself why?' or they'd play Tupac and then every couple of beats, the DJs would just cut in over and scream, howl, or just go 'Uh!'... It was loud, chaotic, and fun."
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More than two years later, the chaos and the fun are gone. We now have at least a half-dozen of these rap pirates, boiling radio anarchy down to a depressing lowest common denominator. FCC raids have scared off the more creative stations, leaving behind the Opa-Locka brain trust to play the same generic records over and over, pausing only to endlessly plug their lucrative parties, where they continue to spin the same records. It's enough to make a listener flip the dial back to WEDR-FM (99.1). The subtext (delivering up consumers to advertisers) may be the same, but at least you get to hear an interesting song once in a while, and all the way through. Will the real radio anarchists please stand up?
(Scam #3 is available for two cash dollars from Vermiform, PO Box 603050, Providence, RI 02906. Also available from that address for the same price is Error #103, with another swell Iggy story.)
-- Brett Sokol
Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org