“The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Skits list” from Complex Magazine is a good read and helps shine a light on the (mercifully) dying art of the hip-hop skit.
Wikipedia defines a hip-hop skit (ed. I seriously LOVE that’s there’s an entry for this) as “a form of sketch comedy that appears on a hip hop album or mixtape, and is usually written and performed by the artists themselves. Skits can appear on albums or mixtapes as individual tracks, or at the beginning or end of a song. Some skits are part of concept albums and contribute to an album’s concept. Skits also occasionally appear on albums of other genres. The hip-hop skit was more or less pioneered by De La Soul and their producer Prince Paul who incorporated many skits on their 1989 debut album 3 Feet High and Rising.”
A fair definition but clearly not every hip-hop skit was trying to be “funny ha ha”. Some were sending a harsh message (i.e. N.W.A. sings “Message to BA”). Others were semi-scary glimpses into domestic violence and violence violence (i.e. the Notorious B.I.G. sings “Intro”). Others still spawn catchphrases that would go on to dominate UrbanDictionnary.com (i.e. Dr. Dre sings “Deeez Nuuuts” ).
As the popularity of the full-length album has largely died, the prevalence of hip-hop skits in the culture is likewise on life support. If you need further proof, check out this BBM conversation between me and my friend Ryan on the topic.
This is some #realtalk right here!
So since “the hip-hop skit” era is a thing of the past (more proof from The Onion A/V Club), here is a companion piece of sorts to the Complex Top 50. Except instead of hip-hop, this is indie rock and instead of 50, it’s five. Since middle-class college kids apparently like to make the odd skit too.
Honourable mention: Bright Eyes and Godspeed You! Black Emperor who often incorporate bits of spoken word into their songs w/o getting too skit-y.
1. The Pixies sing “You Fuckin’ Die…!”
A bit confusing since it’s only a standalone (track 11) on certain CD pressings of Surfer Rosa, “YFD” is nevertheless a landmark track in the annals of indie rock skits. I guess. It’s not overly clear what Black Francis is getting at with his f-bomb assaults but it appears it’s an imitation of Kim Deal and how she reacts when “somebody touches her stuff”. Yup, seems like a healthy band dynamic! Between this skit, the topless lady on the album cover and the weird lyrics about UFOs and physical harm, it’s no wonder the Pixies found an audience amongst those who like some guts and macabre served alongside their poppy hard rock.
2. Sonic Youth sings “Providence”
I suppose this technically could be considered a song because a spooky Jandek-ish piano track that is present through out. However, the core of this “skit” is Mike Watt’s voice mail for Thurston Moore, admonishing him for (I think) drugs and how forgetful he becomes while on drugs. There’s an interesting father-son dynamic here, which is double-interesting since Watt’s only about half a year older than Moore. A throwaway of sorts but given it’s placement within the track list of the epic Daydream Nation full-length, “Providence” does serve as a reminder of the more experimental (vague?) side that Sonic Youth had started shedding by the late 1980s.
This is probably the least surprising artist on the list since Beck took many early cues from hip-hop. And folk. And “power electronics” (not really). And television. And fast food. Flipside was primarily a fanzine but also released some music, including the “soooooo random” 1994’s Beck effort Stereopathetic Soulmanure. The album predated his commercial breakthrough Mellow Gold by a week and a bit, and contains a whopping 25 tracks. Some of these were music and some of these were not. In terms of the “nots”, you have some noise bursts, live weirdness and wonky vocal recordings. “11.6.45” is my personal favourite and features a sped-up voice mail talking about playing Pac-Man in 1945 and a Sasquatch eating a burrito. Heavy commentary on the Clinton regime, no doubt.
4. The Bourbon Tabernacle Choir sings “Happy Earth Day, Tortoise”
Tortoise was a dude friend of the under-remembered Toronto indie/funk/R&B outfit the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir. He played on a few recordings and we can assume, was a roommate of band member “not that Chris Brown”. This track features Mama Brown calling up a house at 50 Palmerston Gardens, briefly performing a Weird Al-ish tune “Happy Earth Day to You” and asking Tortoise about what time the band would be playing at Toronto City Hall for Earth Day. Tortoise sounds out of it and Mama Brown sounds frustrated. Turns out the band was playing at 3:00pm. The track can been found on the Bourbon’s out-of-print 1985-1995 collection, which pops up on eBay at times.
5. Built to Spill sings “Preview”
“Preview” goes with a fake infomercial motif and closes out BTS’s sophomore There’s Nothing Wrong with Love effort. I think I’m not alone in having always wanted to hear the full versions of the five fake (real?) songs featured on this fake Built to Spill album. Wikipedia called the skit “satirical” although it’s a bit unclear what this is supposed to be a satire of. Maybe a K-tel commercial? This Amazon review says it “pokes a little fun at the mainstream punk scene and modern rock radio”. This Amazon review says it is “hilarious”. I’m not sure it’s either but it’s strangely not out-of-place either.