Ignored 35: When skits went indie


“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.

3. Beck sings “11.6.45”

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.


Ignored 14: What diss?


Twitter kinda freaked today with the release of “Control”. This choppy, droning Big Sean original is most notable for its Kendrick Lamar check-in that calls out 11 of hip-hop’s top “young lions” with K-Dot suggesting that he’d REALLY like to murder them. Metaphorically speaking.

Time will tell but “Control” may very well have fuelled the largest reaction to a(n alleged) diss track since Nas’ “Ether” and yet when examined more carefully, is “Control” REALLY a diss track at all?

It doesn’t appear so.

Kendrick’s words are HEAVILY quantified in the following manner…

1. After he spews out his bulleted list of targets (and with all due respect… Meek Mill?… really?!?), he quickly states that “I’ve got love for you all…”. It’s a nice moment.

2. A few verses earlier, he namedrops Jay-Z and some other older dudes, essentially stating that he identifies more with the “old school” than the “new school”. We kind of already knew this. I mean, “Compton”?? This was not new information.

3. He finishes by commenting that he is “tryna raise the bar high” and then goes into a difficult airplane analogy that wraps with the suggestion of using a latex condom as a parachute, which I doubt would work so not sure what he’s getting it here. It’s wordplay of some sort.

So to paraphrase…

1. “Hello. I have much respect for all my recent contemporaries in hip-hop circles.”

2. “In general, I tend to identify more with some of the artists that came before me.”

3. “I am always trying to improve and please be advised, this is one of my primary ambitions in the music business. A key goal would be to set a new performance standard for my fellow (ahem) ‘ballers’.”

No doubt, “Control” is full of swagger and is fairly ballsy but to suggest it belongs in the same breathe as “Ether”, “No Vaseline” or even “Range Life” is wrong and maybe ridiculous.

What “Control” is is a marketing tool. Big Sean’s Hall of Fame full-length drops on August 27th. K.Dot may very well be the biggest MC in the game by year’s end. ETC.

Good timing. But yeah. We’ve seen this “hey, let’s start a fake fight” approach used a million times before. Why do consumers keep falling for this and more importantly, why do we even WANT our favourite rappers feuding? Seriously. Did “We’re All in the Same Gang” not teach us a damn thing?!?

At most, “Control” is a good-natured tickle on the tummy to K.Dot’s contemporaries and essentially a call-toiarms to collectively raise the bar.

It’s a lyrical reality check.

It’s a pep rally.

Just don’t try to position this as a warning shot. It’s clearly not.

Ignored 6: No midlife cri$i$


Bold statement: Old school rappers have caught up with 1960s relics on the casino circuit. It makes sense and so it should.

Tone Lōc recently had a seizure on-stage in Des Moines.

This was notable not just for medical reasons but because:
– A bulk of the public probably wasn’t aware that Tone Lōc still toured
– He was playing on a bridge during the collapse.

Smash cut to the message boards and you’ll see various cheap shots imploring him to lay off the “Funky Cold Medina” and such.


So anyway… YES, Tone Lōc still tours in Iowa and elsewhere.  During his big bridge gig, he was joined by Shock G (he of “The Humpty Dance“) and Rob Base (he of “It Takes Two” and “Joy and Pain”). The trio unleashed their collectively garbled flow aboard the Court Avenue Bridge, which is certainly not Madison Square Gardens but is functional and was renovated in 1982 according to Wikipedia.

It seems like a decent bridge overall.

Hip-hop is young enough that an old timers’ circuit is still a relatively new concept. The shelf life of hip-hop is typically far shorter than other genres, which makes even a contemporary track like DJ Khaled’s “All I Do is Win” seems quasi-retro due to its abundance of 1990s and 2000s vintage MCs.

This is veering into dog years territory.

Nostalgia being what it is, we are seeing the first generation of middle-aged people raised on hip-hop who are waxing about their N.W.A. and Slick Rick records in a similar fashion to how yuppies in the 1980s must’ve felt about the Beatles. Check the math. It’s later than you think.

Accordingly, there are no shortage of hip-hop acts playing “alternative” venues (like bridges) around the world. Here are a few recent examples:
Biz Markie and Coolio playing after a Miami Marlins baseball game
Naughty by Nature playing the Miami Zoo
Public Enemy, Ice Cube and friends playing a casino in nowhere Michigan
Run-DMC (or a variation thereof) playing an Atlantic City casino
Salt-N-Pepa playing the Toronto Festival of Beer

I also have it on authority that the aforementioned Rob Base (alongside dear, dear friend DJ E-Z Rock) recently played an Xmas party for a leading multinational accounting firm in Toronto. C+C Music Factory may or may not have also made an appearance. Actually, I guess it’s public domain.

Reunions as pay cheques are typically frowned upon by music purists and the casino circuit catch-all is effectively a retirement home for one’s credibility.

However, old school ballers rehashing hits at zoos and on bridges is, in general, far more consistent with original M.O.s than geezers like Crosby, Stills and Nash singing about “getting ourselves back to the garden” four decades after the “Summer of Love”.

A majority of hip-hop is about starting parties, getting paid, macking on ladies (or fellas… not that there’s anything wrong with that) and throwing your hands in the air, eventually waving them all around like you just don’t care. Again, in general terms, the agenda of the genre seems consistent with extending the shelf life and having fun.

The one problematic band is Public Enemy who’s militancy has been completely compromised by Flavor Flav’s reality TV antics of the past decade. Otherwise, the casino circuit seems like a legit means of getting paid in full for everyone else and a logical spot for Tone Lōc et all to grind out their midlife.

End point. I guess.