Monday, December 1, 2008

How Prepared Are You To Accept Listening To Music As a Primarily Intellectual Exercise?

...Your answer to that question is should determine whether you might be interested in checking for The Scribe's music.

The Scribe may be best known for his loose association with Anticon Records - he wrote the liner notes for their earliest releases (a practice I'm disappointed they abandoned). [Go ahead and click right to enlarge his write-up on the back of Deep Puddle Dynamics' debut 12"] But back when Anticon was still 45 Below Records, The Scribe was also putting out his own music on Maelstrom Music.

His first release was the single "Fuck the GOP" ("Art Direction and Graphic Design" are credited to both The Scribe and Freakazoid, so I'm not sure who actually drew the infamous cover picture there). If you weren't certain it was meant to be a play on the similarly-titled NWA classic, it begins with the line, "fuck the GOP - comin' straight from the underground." But while NWA's was a passionate reaction police injustice, The Scribe aims higher up the ivory tower at The Grand Ol' Party: "this is a nation under Republican rule... A nation ruled by white, Christian males." The Scribe's rhymes, with his simple, clearly enunciated flow, may be a cooler-headed - and less immediately gripping - stance to take. But the loftiness is relaxed (in both a good and a bad way) when it takes a possibly unintentional dip into self-parody ("time to catch a body, Republican party"). He does the same thing on the b-side, "Save the Humans," going from lines like, "Senatorial bribes and government assisted homicides, rappers revoltin' until the rhythm dies," to "and at the end of the masquerade, I serenade with a hand grenade." It's more of a spoken word piece, so it mainly just plays as an interesting curiosity-piece in support of the lead track. Both instrumentals are fairly simple but engaging; "Save the Humans" uses just a nice acapella vocal sample for the hook. "Fuck the GOP" features clean, dirty, and instrumental versions, while "Save the Humans" features dirty and acapella versions.

He then went West with Anticon in 1998 and released his 4-track cassette album debut, Marxist Catharsis. Complex flow influenced by Freestyle Fellowship (and other Blowdians) and his Anticon compatriots. His flow on almost all of the 14 tracks (he does slow it down substantially for one song) is fast and largely indecipherable, where you can only pick out snippets and phrases at a time (it can get a bit silly, and this is clearly the album that inspired The Pedestrian's amusing mp3-only parody, "Shoot the Turkey"). You'll probably need to listen to this in a dark room with headphones and your finger on the rewind button to derive much value from the content. He rocks over some interesting loops, though (including an ill Goblin sample); and his lyrics have enough intelligence and substance that it's worth picking out whatever you can.

He followed that up in 2000 with Purgatory. He's improved his flow here, taking it back somewhat to the style of his first tape. It's slightly more nuanced, but understandable and engaging. The production seems a little more complex and layered, too (though track #7 sounds a little too familiar, and, of course, he acknowledges in his liner notes that track #20 is lifted right off of Super Duck Breaks). And some of his lyrics are just flat-out great on this album, like: "I benefit from the constant threat of gynocide held over the collective head of womankind. I am man, hear me growl; feel my fist. I got a special coat hanger and a big dick. Although I've never raped anyone, the unspoken possibility remains - an ever-present tool for intimidation. Whether I'm aware of my complicity or not, I'm guilty of myriad crimes... I've seen so much porn, I'm misogynistic by association. I ought to be castrated as a preventive measure." And "Resurrected at the Smurf Cemetary[sic.]" is a bugged-out highlight, a duet with the only guest artist on any of his releases, the equally divisive and oft-hated Circus - it's a good match.

In 2002, he released his third album, Extended Play. Like its title suggests, it's an EP (it's nine tracks deep, yes, but several of those are skits or just unusally short songs). Everything is self-produced again, except in a few cases where he continues what's become a tradition of rhyming over other jacked beats on a song or two. DJ RPM (a.k.a. Mat Young, who put out a couple 7"'s on Bully and stuff) also provides a track ("Bittersweet") and one song is credited to someone named Andrew Stephens, whoever that is. Amongst others, this features his anti-Christmas carol rap, "Hark the Herald Gluttons Sing," and a play on Boogie Down Production's (replete with their instrumental) "South Bronx," about his own hometown of Standish. He also continues to put out the most intelligent (to say that political rap has a tendency to oversimplify would be a heck of an understatement), political rhymes you're apt to ever come across:

"The only part of this madness that surprises me
Is the widespread shock that it happened;
As if the US were innocuous or
No one were ever murdered in Manhattan.
...
Donald Rumsfeld announces, 'this is what happens when you fuck with us,'
As starving homeless civilians get cancer from beryllium lead and uranium dust.
Behind the headlines, the US government is the planet's worst terrorist group;
The mass media attempt to differentiate by labeling these imperialist murderers as national-defense troops.
Leaving Asian children without homes or parents is okay if it's a capitalist state
responsible. The Pentagon's claims of humanitarian aid are disgustingly fake.
These authoritarian political leaders possess highly flexible morals,
Willing to support large-scale slaughter of innocents over petty business quarrels.
...
And the military-industrial complex covets
Justification for its annual billions from taxes. And the suppressed fact is
That surveillance of the populace is a widespread governmental practice.
Hence any claim that the FBI, CIA, NSA and NRO were all somehow kept
ignorant of an impending assault of such orchestration I suspect
Is a lie. Comparisons to Pearl Harbor may be apt: Roosevelt received many warnings before the attack,
But wanted an excuse to join the war; and Bush is an even more sinister autocrat."


Like most political rappers, The Scribe may lean a bit heavily towards the paranoid side of conspiracy theory; but just that tiny sample of the lyrics to one of the tracks ("The Eisenhower Doctrine") shows that - while I can understand those who've chosen to - you're definitely missing something when you dismiss all of his music offhandedly.

Finally, before moving back to Maine in 2004, he released his last album (to date), 2003's The Agitprop-Emorap Shuffle, this time as Zachary the Scribe. Again, it's largely self-produced, with three tracks by DJ RPM, two by somebody named Crankhead, and one taken from The 45 King. Oh, and credit for "Shoplifting for Beats" should probably really go to the original artists he jacked the beats from. He takes beats from artists like Eminem, Buck 65 and Themselves; and changes his flow to emulate (sometimes parody) the artists who originally rapped on those beats. It's kind of a mess; but most of the album holds together a lot better, and it certainly serves to illustrate this album's theme: variety. The subject matter, production style, and sometimes even his voice is different from song to song. He takes a lot of risks and the results vary... "Anarchy In the USA" is a sort of rock/rap hybrid, using a bunch of grinding heavy-metal guitar riffs. It often works, but the instrumental almost changes too much. His sense of humor has been a highlight in past efforts, but here things get a little too jokey (The Scribe = not political enough? ZOMG!). But a lot works, too. DJ RPM's tracks really mesh well with The Scribe's flow on "Psychosis Absent" & "Weird Scenes Inside the Pineal Gland" - they should seriously consider pairing up longterm. Meanwhile, "Open Letter" is a stand-out moment in his own production, and "Asshole's Theme" may be a simple concept (he's an asshole, see?) over a stolen beat, but it sure works. He cast a wider net with this album, for sure; too bad more people didn't hear it... even I totally missed this release and only got a copy recently.

Now it was fun looking back, but tracking down his early releases at this point would probably be a pretty serious challenge best left to the hardcore fans; but I'd suggest that you heads with a more casual interest check out his myspace, where he has his new Obama-critical song "The Mendacity of Hype" up on his player. The instrumental, he explains, features another producer's "beats that I have rescued from disuse and tweaked for my own purposes... the Obama song has material from a Dilla instrumental album." I think he may have some copies left of his last album, too, if you contact him (worked for me, anyway!). He also wrote and published his first book last year: Underground and Independent Rap, which you can order from Lulu or Amazon.

3 comments:

  1. Is that the CD cover of Purgatory? I just want to confirm for a database I'm adding The Scribes stuff to.

    ReplyDelete