Sunday, August 13, 2017

Did You Know Urban Dance Squad Recorded a Tribute To Scott La Rock?

Hey, did you guys know the Urban Dance Squad recorded a tribute to Scott La Rock?  I sure didn't; I just found it now.  That's largely because I never really listened to them.  The only real impression they made on me was back in 1990, when their video for "Deeper Shade Of Soul" used to play on Yo! MTV Raps constantly.  Lots of skateboarding in a swimming pool, the guitarist mugging to the camera, and a DJ shown doing scratches you didn't actually hear in the music.  That's what I remember.  It was a catchy sample, and they made major use of it; but I never liked the rapping even as a kid, so I never bought their album.

For me and most of us in the US, they were a little one hit wonder act that released one album on Arista and then disappeared.  But they're actually a Dutch band (they popped up on Cheez Steez vol. 1), and they apparently they were big over there, releasing six or seven major label albums on Virgin Records throughout the 90s.  Rudeboy's the MC, and the other guys are drummer Magic Stick, DJ DNA, and guitarists Silly Sil & Tres Manos.  The only other memory I have of them was back when I was working at The Source, and we were making an online database of every Hip-Hop artist.  Dave Mays sent a memo saying he looked at it and three artists on the list weren't actually Hip-Hop and should be taken off: Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch, 7L & Esoteric and the Urban Dance Squad.  I replied that if we're just taking off artists because they're wack then we'd have to remove the Made Men, too, and I never heard back about it and all the artists stayed.  ...The only other time I got a memo from Mays was when he sent one to correct me that "Super Rappin'" wasn't a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five song, so I had to fax him a scan of the record label showing him that it was.

Anyway, the point is, I'd never listened to their one album that really sold here in the US, Mental Floss for the Mind.  That title's another thing that put me off it.  ...Never listened to it until this week.  And it's mostly what I expected.  Hip-Hop mixed with live rock music, which isn't bad, though all the live drums and guitars feels a little sloppy for a guy used to loops.  It definitely has a rock and roll vibe to it that doesn't appeal to me, and I still don't like the rapper.  There are some cool samples, like, the first song heavily uses the instrumental from "Strong Island," which sounds good, but guess what?  The JVC Force song is still a ton better, so why bother with this one?  That's kind of the album in a nutshell, and most of the best bits are front-loaded to the beginning of the album, so it gets weaker as it goes on.  But apparently they later really embraced the 90s rap/ rock thing on their later albums, and Mental Floss at least has a funkier vibe to it.

Anyway anyway, near the end of the tape, I was surprised to hear them suddenly rapping about Scott La Rock.  And there's no question that they mean the Scott La Rock.  They specifically go out of their way to sample "South Bronx" right after they say his name for the first time.

The song's called "Famous When You're Dead," and the whole thing isn't really about him.  They start out rapping about themselves, "our aim: we entertain to gain a place, maybe, in a hall of fame.  And If we don't reach this, the world's to blame."  And they slowly get to the overall concept of the song: tragically, a lot of great artists don't become famous until they're dead, "the people and the critics in the biz are impressed 'till my death, so make an album: 'The Best of Rudeboy's Raps.'  Yeah, twice as much money behind my back, now that's lame; too late to get, yeah, you're famous when you're dead. ... Now they fake it, when they try to weep.  Like a family scene, they all just wish it: to bury your body; they won't miss it. like a wife who is wicked.  She inherit, then you know her real spirit."  So there you go; if Rudeboy turns up dead, the police know who to look at.

But then the rest of the song suddenly becomes about Scott La Rock, starting out, "9 AM again, I wake up.  A cold shower, breakfast, time for pop.  Then I be in the mood for some lyrical rock.  I pop in a tape in my deck: Scott La Rock."  Because that's what Scott La Rock's known for... his lyrical rock.  I guess "rap" wouldn't have rhymed as well with "Rock" as "rock" does.  And yeah, he did actually rap at least once or twice in his career, but wouldn't it make more sense to reference his cuts or production rather than his lyrics?

He continues, "superstar status he never lacked, but the words of mouth were final on wax.  The extravagant life came to an end, a nine millimeter and a glock went bang."  Get it?  Because BDP had a song called "9mm Goes Bang," so they're imagining that the gun that shot him was a 9mm.  I'm not sure that's in such great taste.  And again, more about his "words" on wax.  I know they're not from New York, but they had to know Krs-One was the vocalist, right?  It's kinda weird.  The whole song's kinda weird.  Rudeboy keeps mispronouncing words, which makes his verses hard to decipher (he turns "recognition" into a six or seven syllable word); I'm guessing English was not his first language.  And instrumentally, they loop a sample of Biz Markie beat-boxing then pack it with electric guitars.  In fact, the first thirty or so seconds is just a guitar and drum warm-up/ noise jam before the song starts proper.  Then they end it with an electric guitar riffing the famous opening notes to Chopin's "Piano Sonata No. 2" funeral march.

Plus, I'm not sure how much the song's premise even applies to Scott.  Like, his records were big when he was alive; "The Bridge Is Over" was a monster when it dropped.  And since his passing, Hip-Hop purists have been keeping his name alive, none more so than Krs himself.  But it's not like anything he did went on to become a mainstream, crossover success after he died.  Teenage girls around the globe didn't flock to "P Is Free" once they about him on the news.

So, I don't know.  I'm not really knocking it; it's a good thing that they're honoring Scott.  In fact, for me, it's kind of the best moment on the second half of the album.  And when he says, "some act like they were his best friends. those hypocrites, they make me mad!"  That sounds like a real sentiment; that's a good song-writing moment.  It's just an interesting little discovery I thought I'd share, because I'd bet a lot of heads had no idea this was a moment in our history.

2 comments:

  1. That is so weird to say that 7L & Esoteric aren't hip hop. What the hell is hip hop then?

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  2. They basically birthed Rage Against the Machine.

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