Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Wrong Love Song

There were of course rap songs about girls, relationships and love songs before LL Cool J's "I Need Love," but that song definitely triggered an explosion of copycats for years to come. It introduced the token love rap, usually slowed down with sappy non-hip-hop instrumentation and spoken word flows that had to be hiding on every rapper's album somewhere. This one here, however, I'm not sure if LL is responsible for or not. It came out the same year, 1987, but it doesn't fit the style of the token love rap I described at all. It has traditional, B-boy style flows, with distinction efforts to show off intelligent lyrical skills (by 1987 standards), over a pretty fresh, stripped down beat. They do sing on the hook, but you have to expect that from a (Full) Force Organization, love song or not; and if you pay attention to the lyrics, or even just the title, the traditional love song sentiments are amusingly reversed. It's not "oh baby, I so softly and warmly need to be by your side," it's "Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me." It might actually be UTFO's sardonic, antithetical response to Cool Jame's "I Need Love."

These days, "wrong" love songs are almost the norm in hip-hop. With the glorification of pimps, to the the way rappers like Ja Rule consistently devolve into lines like, "Bitch, you know better; we live M.O.B.: money over bitches, murder I.N.C. I got two or three hoes for every V, and I keep 'em drugged up off that ecstasy" in what are ostensibly their love songs with Ashanti. Romance and juvenile, hyper-masculine posturing tend to conflict. But I dare say, back in 1987, especially in the middle of the "I Need Love" shockwaves, a "wrong" love song - that is, a song that at first glance appears to be a straight-forward, sentimental, but then turned out to be expressing just the opposite emotions, playfully mocking our trite expectations - might have still been a little surprising.

Right from the chorus, it sounds sweet and romantic, with, "hey girl, you wanna be with me? Because I need someone to be with, someone to talk to;" but immediately reverses that by presumptuously telling the girl she wants to be with them. Imagine your marriage vows written from that point of view: you're hot for me, babe; and frankly, you're lucky to get me. And that's practically how The Educated Rapper starts his first full verse: "she wants to be with me, and I know this for sure/ I can tell as soon as she walks through the door/ swings and sways and shakes her stuff like Jell-O/ waiting for EMD to say hello." It's the extra confidence of hip-hop injected into the songs of the previous generation.

But then UTFO run way further with it, going completely off the rails. Beyond simply turning the tables on the old cliches, they fly off in their own directions. First they get overtly sexual (and remember, this is 1987, well long before 2 Live Crew and the like started pushing the envelope), with Kangol wryly saying, "well I'm definitely a lover/ Hard when I'm undercover/ I'll do kinky things to you if you swear not to tell your mother." And EMD immediately raises the stakes even further, "I want a girl with action/ Control like Janet Jackson/ I hate the dark; I want the light so I can see reaction/ Against all relaxin', prepare for steady waxin'/ When you leave, you must pay E. For what? Satisfaction." Again, gangster rap may have taken the outrageous edge off a line like that, but you've gotta imagine a more innocent rap age.

But I don't mean to say the song was shocking. All of this is well post-Blowfly, after all. It's more... playfully subversive. Parents would just see their kids watching a nice video of the fellas doing synchronized dance moves on the waterfront talking about being "in search of love." Meanwhile, we'd be memorizing lines like, "she only talks the talk, never walks the walk/ She must be the most hard up in all New York." Unfortunately, I think a lot of heads have dismissed this as just another run-of-the-mill rap love song, but how can you not get a kick out of Doctor Ice saying his heart desperately longs for someone "like Chi Chi Williams on The Eyewitness News?" Hell, at one point he even admits, "I feel like punchin' her dead in the grill, but that's ill; so Doc just chills." What? Even Ja Rule wouldn't say that! Plus, the way they introduce old school harmonizing into their rhymes or let the DJ have a hardcore breakdown at the end? It's really what UTFO did best: applying their personalities to make an ordinary song a little unique and a lot more fun.

And trust these guys to sneak a little extra fun onto the 12". You've got the main vocal version, a radio edit and another cut from their Lethal album, "Diss," as the B-side. And there's the Rare Dub: a stripped down version of the main song, with a lot of the vocals almost acapella, recited only over the sparse drums and the rest of the instrumentation cutting in and out. It's kind of a cool alternative if you've played out the main version. But don't lift the needle yet, because there's a short, uncredited hidden track at the very end. It's a lyrical remix, with Mixmaster Ice grabbing the mic and going for self. He's right on message with the rest of the guys, asking girls if they "wanna live with me, or live off of me," throwing in a reference to his Zodiac sign and saying how, like the true DJ he is, "there's been many a day that I've been wantin' to date you/ put you on my Technic and rotate you."

This song isn't for everybody; but for a few of us, it's a shared secret that can still make us smile nearly 30 years later.

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