Trill Shit: Cacophonies Part 2


The RZA’s execution of taking a rap and spectralizing it, plucking it from the mic and launching it into the musical stratosphere is astounding. He acts as God; sacrificing his vocal sons for a greater metaphysical presence within the track-universe. In many tracks a vocal is ripped from its precarious position of dominance and plunged into the production, the vocal becomes the production and is immortalized in a spectral resonance. An utterance is plucked from the rap, looped, reverb is layered, echoes bounce, it travels, the rap becomes Siren as it falls away from the sonic front and into the infinitely expansive black hole of auditory space conjured by the sono-matics of the track. We hear the Doppler effect of a human rap falling from the mic into the metaphysical fantasy the sonic-scape(2). We hear the cold icy semantic voice melt and morph into a sublime music. The effect is that of the sublime: striking, unnerving, uncanny weird and delightful. A surreal sonic world is available to the bedroom eavesdropper, to hear such fantastic transformations of the voice is an experience; as TM Wolf comments:

“As I listened, I found that The RZA and his producer protégés (The Wu-Elements) had more weapons than unquantized drums and kung fu snippets. They had vocal samples, audio snatches of human voices that they looped and layered into their beats. While the rappers would rap, the vocals would cycle and spiral, sometimes chopping up the flow, sometimes synching with it. RZA and The Wu-Elements didn’t pioneer this sampling technique, but they probably trademarked it. The list of Wu songs with vocal samples is long (and dope): GZA and Method Man’s “Shadowboxin’”; Raekwon, Ghostface and Cappadonna’s “Ice Water”; Ghost and Rae’s “Motherless Child”; The Clan’s “Cash Still Rules/Scary Hours” and “Hollow Bones”; Bobby Digitals “Can’t Lose”… to name a few. These songs dynamited something in my mind. For all the talk of rappers as musicians who use their voices as instruments, RZA and co found a way to take human voices and put them into instruments, turning vocals into loops that bubbled and tumbled.” (TM Wolf, 2012, The Wire 342, pp. 90)


The phenomena of RZA’s sacrificial vocal, or Dr Dre’s pyrrhic attempts to maintain raps dominance over music (resulting in cacophony) should not be seen as anything new, in fact it is due to the synthetically established asymmetry of voice and music that such production phenomena sounded ‘new’. The voice has always been music, the rap has always been music – it’s just harboured a dark occularcentric bias to set itself apart from the realm of sound. Admittedly the raps of Dr Dre and RZA are heavily semantic monotone soliloquies; a cappella versions do not ooze rhythm and unique timbres in the same manner as other closely related rappers. Recall Method Man’s caramel glottis’d verses, or the frenetic yelps and bizarre croons of Old Dirty Bastard – RZA’s lisping word play feels stale in comparison. The same difference burdens Dr Dre, whose raps (especially in his later works) are constantly juxtaposed with his vocal/musical superior, in song, dexterity, delivery and humour: namely Snoop Dogg and/or Nate Dog. Of all the Wu-Tang Clan or Dr Dre LP’s the raps that birth earworms are not those stoic and monotonous monotone monologues of RZA or Dr Dre but the skillfully delivered songs of more musical vocals (ODB or Method Man for RZA or Nate Dog or Snoop Dog for Dr Dre). To be heard you need to play and sing your rap.


The power of voice turned instrument, of a voice played, of a rap played, is also heard by Wolf(3): “I didn’t tap into Raekwon’s reality-paralleling narratives, Ghost’s stream of consciousness raps or Method Man’s singsong snarling. I looked to RZA’s vocal samples”. It is not surprising that for me and Wolf the excitement of the vocal lies in the moments it is played, when the vocal becomes music, no doubt RZA and Dr Dre also understood this, their job was to layer, polish and twist a vocal until it manifested it’s most powerful sonic state – this would always lead to instrumentalizing the voice. For the mic is not an instrument, it is merely micro-phone. Here we may understand that for the rapper and the producer the sonic vocal, the timbral rap, is where the energy can be found. If you want to be heard you better sound good.

1 comment:

  1. Some interesting stuff in this!

    wrote a response here:
    http://ralphdorey.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/on-why-bass-line-marries-beat.html

    ReplyDelete