|April 27, 1999
Concetta "Princess" Kirschner, Andrew Clevenger, and Kay Olsen
"A Prince Among Thieves"
simply: Prince Paul is the motherfuckin' man. Never mind the
fact that yours truly was in the midst of writing her own hip-hopera
(No shit!), but I can't front; this is super-delicious innovative
stuff. And mine will just have to wait.
At first, I was scared. I saw that "Prince Among Thieves"
featured some of my all-time favesDe La Soul, Big Daddy
Kane, Kool Keith, Biz Markieand thought it was gonna
be like one of those movies with a million stars that wind
up just sucking (think a bad Robert Altman film). But Paul
has the skill of a genius director: He is able to figure out
who is good at what and perfectly exploitor even parodytheir
talents. For example, Kool Keith, who is absolutely out of
his mind, is the Weapons Specialist who was dismissed from
the military for "sexual misconduct with a deadly weapon."
(In my hip-hopera, Keith was gonna battle Morris Day
in a real-life celebrity deathmatch at Madison Square GardenKeith's
weapon is a female's giant ass cheeks, and Morris' weapon
is a deadly cash machine that spits razor-sharp $100 bills.
But that is another story.)
And, oh boy, the music on Paul's recordand
the man himself played the percussion and all the guitars.
Remember the first time you heard "One for All" by Brand Nubian
or "Ain't no Half Steppin'" by Big Daddy Kane? "A Prince Among
Thieves" is full of those sick beats that are very missing
every time I turn on Hot 97 now. In today's hip hop, it's
about cash, hoes, and the Formula. One hip-hop manager, with
a straight face, once told me that, when songwriting, I had
to stick to the acronyms "KISS," which stands for "Keep It
Simple Stupid," and "GTCQ," which is for "Get to the Chorus
Quick." Prince Paul shoves those acronyms right up that fucker's
ass. He is breathing new life into hip hop, people! This kid
is taking risks! Who else is doing this? Puh-leeze, Jigga,
just thank Prince Paul!
There is one good thing about turn-of-the-century hip hop: The rhyming itself is getting more complex and interesting rhythmically, even if the subject matter hasn't progressed for shit. On "A Prince Among Thieves," you have the best of both worlds: deep, intelligent rhyming and grooving mid-school (as opposed to old-school) beats. Breeze, who plays the lead character, Tariq, is a sick MC who has the sweetness of Q-Tip and the flow of Guru. (Breeze, my number is (212) 560-2456. I love you.)
I thought that the skits between the songs would bother me, like they usually do, but here the transitions are consistently ingenious. For example, in order to get to Keith's "Weapon World" song, he has to enter his "voice activation code"which is the song itself. "The Other Line" is a phone conversation as a seamless rhyme between Breeze and his girl, played by Heroine, complete with other line click-overs that are dead on the beat. This is really hard to record and beautifully executed.
The sad part is that "A Prince Among Thieves" will never make Paul the mad cash he deserves, because it is too innovative. But he knows that, and even says in the liner notes: "I made this album to encourage art, creativity, and sincerity, which is now at an all-time low…this is why my choice of artists on my albums are not necessarily Billboard's top 10 but the world's top 10: Not a popular marketing plan for a record label, but Prince Paul's marketing plan for life." Let's just hope that one day the rest of the world will catch up to this guy.Concetta "Princess" Kirschner
British songwriter Beth Orton has a small but fiercely devoted
following, and I get the feeling that's it's growing steadily.
While I was listening to her new album, "Central Reservation,"
at my favorite watering hole with my bartender friend, Jane,
three different customers came up and asked what was playing.
When Jane told them that it was Beth Orton, they smiled and
nodded appreciatively, and I was left with the impression that
"Central Reservation" would find its way into their baskets
during their next trip to the record store.
Orton's vocalswhich somehow combine the coloration
of Toni Childs with Natalie Merchant's phrasingare arresting
and beautiful, and "Central Reservation" provides an ideal
setting. The tunes are lush, seductive, and atmospheric, leaving
enough space for her understated singing to say more with
less. Her roots as a folkie are evident throughout, but thankfully,
she steers away from the Jewel-esque girl-with-an-acoustic-guitar
thing by incorporating elements from various genres into the
mix: a trip-hop beat here, a jazz bassline there, and Latin
percussion popping up occasionally. Despite the sonic varietyand
the presence of five different producersthe songs on
"Central Reservation" unite into an extended meditation on
love as the center of the human condition.
For Orton, love is a complicated thing. "Stolen Car," the album's first single (which boasts a ferociously slinky guitar solo by guest Ben Harper), finds her facing up to love's moral ambiguities: "While every lie speaks the language of love/It never held the meaning I was thinking of." As a songwriter, Orton is not dependent on verbiage or overly ornate metaphor; it is often her simplest lyrics that strike home with the ring of truth. "Some of the worst wrongs get righted on three chords," she sings on "Love Like Laughter," "like a promise, or a kiss goodbye." The
acid test for any songwriter is how his or her songs survive different interpretations, and the album includes two versions of "Central Reservation," one a dreamy folk ballad, the other a hip-hop, synth-bass remix by Ben Watt of Everything But the Girl. It is a testament to Orton's considerable talents that both sound fresh and authentic. But as good as the songs areand there's not a clunker in the bunchit is Orton's voice that will win listeners over to her substantial charms.Andrew Clevenger
The Gunga Din
"Introducing...the Gunga Din"
I first saw the Gunga Din a year ago at Arlene's Grocery and, since then, I've been haunted. Finally their music has been exorcised out of my head and propelled into my CD player with the release of "Introducing…the Gunga Din."
Gunga Din is fueled by sometimes ethereal/sometimes harsh
vocals, eerie organs, and driving drums. The emphasis on percussion
had to be a nice little perk for the album's producer, Jim
Sclavunos, percussionist for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (as
well as a frequent drum dabbler with Sonic Youth). Frontwoman
Siobhan Duffy possesses a dreamy, raw voice and powerful drumming
skills. Though Sclavunos has since become the band's new drummert,
this album has Duffy holding court behind the kitr, a position
she initiated and is clearly quite at home with, judging by
the relentless pulse she creates for each song. And then there
are her vocals: hypnotic at times, such as in the lulling
"Bathing in the Moonlight" and the gut-wrenching "Sang Her
Every Song," then flying to a lilting pitch in "Deadbeat Daddy."
The combination of her voice with the strong vocal range of
guitarist Bill Bronson, is sometimes reminiscent of early
X. Chris Pravdica adds to the mix by practicing the perfect
amount of bass restraint. But the queen of this sideshow would
have to be Maria Zastrow and her oh-so-moody organ, who offers
invaluable aid in creating the haunted technicolor circus
that the Gunga Din have become.Kay Olsen
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