Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Marine Rap

In the mid 80s, when Melle Mel and Grandmaster Flash were splitting The Furious Five and everything was up in the air, Scorpio put out a couple solo 12"s: "Black Shades," his Air Jordans song and this weird collaborative 12" with a new wave rock band called Mondo Boffo. I vaguely remember this song from back in '86 (I was awfully young), but I didn't realize it was an actual record, as opposed to a recruitment commercial. It's simply called "Marine," and yeah it's about wanting to join the marines. The band sing the "I wanna me a marine!" chorus and play all the instruments, while Scorpio provides all the substantive lyrics by way of his rap verses.

If you're a fan of 80s nostalgia, hoo boy, will this be right up your alley. It's damn catchy and kind of a weird hodge-podge of period styles. Electric guitars, funky percussion, old school rap and a chorus that songs like it could be an alternate theme song for the GI Joe cartoon. I can naturally see a lot of heads avoiding this - I was pretty wary myself - because it's a cheesy rock band rather than a proper hip-hop production. And I certainly wouldn't stand it up against the classic breakbeats. But for 86, it's as good as a lot of stuff MCs were rhyming over. These are at least talented musicians.

But, while the music is quite catchy like I said, the real reason to pay attention to it is the lyrics. It's not immediately obvious whether this is pro- or anti-military; it's fairly subversive. Until you pay attention to the raps, it sounds like pure propaganda. But then it gets muddier and realer. He actually comes off really nice on here - dare I say on par with "The Message?" Maybe not, but you can tell some of the same talent is behind the writing of both. At one point he raps,

"Lookin' in the mirror and I'm thinking real hard
About the situation, and about my job.

Puttin' on my uniform, doin' my part,
And helpin' out the brothers in Lebanon.
I wanna be the best that I can,
And get Reagan's guns out of Iran,
Libya and Afghanistan.

I wanna show the world that I am the man!"

But then he follows that up with,

"Come on, now, they make it look like fun:
When you're swinging from a tree, shootin' off your gun.

You won't get hurt; you're not the one;
You're just another dead American!
It only makes me wonder why
Our boys sign up to fight and die.
I have the make of a good GI;
I have to live my life before I die!"

It's kind of a good expression of the duality of everyone who considers joining up for the military, whether they do or don't. Sometimes he seems to be clearly warning listeners away, but other parts of the song seem like fun moments left in intentionally for marine audiences, like when the chorus joking switches out to "I wanna use the latrine!" for one bar. Indeed, any of the sentiment that suggests maybe it's not the ideal lifestyle seems like it's best appreciated by actual marines.
Here's a little more history that only serves to confuse things further. This song comes from the soundtrack to an 80s Italian (but shot in Florida) horror film written by the controversial Umberto Lenzi called Primal Rage. It's featured pretty prominently, for a good couple minutes, in the bar scene where a double date turns into violence when the reporter who's been infected by a chemically altered baboon's blood crushes a fellow student's wrist. Is there an intentional use of irony in this scene of inappropriate, bubbling violence in the youth of the film and the content of the song? Or did the producer just like how it sounded for their student characters to dance to?

As you can see, this 12" comes in a colorful picture cover. It's an image from the song's music video, where the abstract graffiti is animated and created on-screen. There's a B-side version, called the Rock version (the A-side is specifically labelled the Rap one), without Scorpio. Instead, one of the rock guys half sings/ half raps Scorpio's verses. Obviously, he's not nearly as good, but the instrumental is entirely different, too, with some unique horns, totally different guitar tracks and even different drums. There's even a hint of kazoo, which ties it in to some other Furious Five cuts. It sounds like an entirely distinct, separate song, actually, until you realize all the lyrics are the same. So it's at least interesting.

The whole record is at least interesting. I'm not saying you should replace your copies of "Eric B Is President" or "Spoonin Rap" with it. It's obviously a pop rock song with rapping more than a proper hip-hop song; and to modern audiences, I'm sure it's especially corny. But it's still worth checking out, and maybe throwing it into your crates for cheap.

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