Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Various Artists | Le Hip Hop

Listen to Lady Laistee's "Un peu de respect"

Get the whole thing here.

If artists--and by "artists" I mean innovators, people who invent shit, not people who simply "make art" for a living--had the same rights as corporations, there would have been no global hip-hop movement. In fact, most popular music around the world simply wouldn't exist. And, to add insult to injury, I'd have sued your ass for that flarf experiment your teacher forced you to do last semester in Creative Writing 101 (assuming Tristan Tzara's descendants didn't beat me to it).

So, there you'd be, broke from my (or Tzara's descendants) having sued you for every last dime you'd ever earned, and you'd have, like, nothing to listen to but, I dunno, some ancient recording by whoever was able to win the lawsuit over the invention of the blues. I mean, assuming Bach's descendants didn't sue him or her over the use of the I, IV, V, I chord progression. Which is an insane assumption not to make, because of course they'd have sued. So, actually, you'd be broke and listening to Bach.

Where am I going with this? Well, if you listened to the sample above, you can probably guess, right? I mean, she may be a lady and all, but just what is Laistee really giving us here? And why is it "le" hip hop and not just straight-up hip hop? Or, for that matter, how is this anything but some French chick karaoke-rapping over the single most identifiable moment in American R&B history: Aretha Franklin completely laying claim to Otis Redding's "Respect."

Okay, but wait. Listen to it again, and then I'll tell you what I really, really, really, really love about that track. First of all, how many of you think "Otis Redding" when you think of the song "Respect"? Raise your hands. No, come on, put your hands down and stop bullshitting me. You think Aretha. We all do. I personally have heard the Otis Redding version hundreds of times (he was a superhero to me for several years in the 1980s), maybe even more times than Aretha's version, and I still think Aretha.

Why? What did she add to Otis Redding's version, anyway? An extremely expressive voice? Is Otis any less expressive? No. What Aretha added was (a) "R-e-s-p-e-c-t, find out what it means to me" and (b) "sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me ..."--in other words, a level of playground-level taunt and faddish slang that the original didn't have. (When I hear "sock it to me," I think of the single most dated comedy show to have ever run on American television: "Laugh-In.")  And yet ... it totally rawqs, even today. 

What does Lady Laistee bring to the R-e-s-p-e-c-Table? (Sorry, it was there.) Born Aline in 1972 in Guadaloupe, an Island in the Caribbean that is legally still France, Lady Laistee, also known as The Tarantula, grew up in  France métropolitaine, France's fancypants way of saying "the mainland." Her first album, Black Mama, which included a song in tribute to her murdered brother and the Paris suburbs, was released in 1999; her second, Hip Hop Therapy, which includes a slightly rougher version of "Respect," came out in 2002. The next year--when she was just 31 years old--she had a stroke and spent the next year or so rehabilitating. She released a third album, Second Souffle (Second Wind) in 2005. 

But none of that really has to do with why I love Laistee's track--although it does help me to, uh, respect her. Why do I love this track so much? Well, for one thing, every song--and I mean every single song ever written and recorded--has a shelf life. I don't mean a cultural shelf life, although that's also the case, sure. I mean with any particular listener. You know what I mean? Maybe you can spin The Beatles' "Hey Jude" like 1,273 times before you just can't hear it again. And James Brown's "Hot Pants" 987 times. And those numbers differ depending on the song and the listener. Right?

So, "Respect" has, like--it's got to have, for most listeners, one of the longest spin-lives of any song ever recorded. I couldn't even ballpark the number of times I've heard it. But, yeah, there was a point there that I reached when, like, both the Otis and the Aretha versions--I couldn't hear them anymore. I could be in a room with them playing, but I wasn't listening. I couldn't listen. Not that it was painful or I hated it now or something. I literally physically couldn't listen to it. That part of me didn't work anymore. Because, whatever it is that pop music does to our bodies (something akin to what the alien in "Alien" does, but far less destructive, if no less invasive), it's like the threads are being worn or stripped down with use. And at some point, if you listen to something that one time too many, the grooves have completely vanished.

And that, my friend, is where I was at with "Respect," before I heard Lady Laistee's version, which opens this 2004 French rap compilation I found at a Russian or Ukrainian CD store on 108 Street in Corona late last summer. 

And that, too, is why artists should never, ever behave like corporations, should never keep someone from ripping off their shit. Because, I don't care what it is that they're ripping off--a guitar lick, an idea for an art movement, a particular film-editing grammar, a genre of music--it's only through someone else's use of it that it continues, in any real way, to stay alive. 


berry van boekel said...

Great text. Thank you for putting concepts that we all intuit in such straightforward language.

Henk Madrotter said...

I second that!!!!