Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Outsider Hip-Hop

Although I have grown weary of the tired and trampled memes of hip-hop, now and again a track or an act comes along that catches my attention. Frequently, almost exclusively, these come from sources outside of the corporate machine. Crossover and the wide, global appropriation of the form is nothing new-- one of the first successful efforts, to my memory, is Blondie's Rapture, and we're all painfully aware of many unsuccessful and downright awful ones. However, there are some remarkable gems in the remainder.

I go through loads of videos in my work here, I have a bookmark folder full of them. Here are a few of them that I would consider "outsider" hip-hop. This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive or representative sampling, it's just a few nuggets that I've found, stashed and now present to you. Connoisseurs of obscure hip-hop might find these a bit pedestrian, but many of you might find something new and interesting here.

As I've watched these videos and listened to all the music I have over the years, I am struck by how mutable and universal hip-hop music and culture has become. Love it or hate it, it is undeniably a new medium that has touched the entire planet. These people, for the most part, aren't taking the piss-- they're enthusiastically embracing this form of expression and many are producing some great work.

As with most internet videos, volumes vary, so mind your speakers.

It's no surprise or secret that the Japanese have embraced hip-hop. One of my favorites is m-flo's Expo Expo. I understand they're quite popular in Japan and a lot of their stuff I find a bit eh, but this track is a classic. It features Towa Tei, Bahamadia and Chops. The production on this is top-drawer stuff.


Up from the kitchens of New York's Chinatown, come strong the Notorius MSG. Their comic approach plays on old-school vibes and new-school Asian stereotypes. You can find out more on their YouTube channel. There a couple of clips that will give you an idea of what they're about, one NSFW and the other, more mainstream. It was hard for me to pick one, so we'll start with their first music video, Straight Out of Canton (somewhat NSFW) and if you want, you can explore the rest.


The white-boy rapper trope is just about as tired as hip-hop itself, but I like Buck 65. I believe he found a bit of acclaim in alternative circles in the past few years. Originally from Nova Scotia, his music has a dirty roots sort of feel to it and his lyrics are witty and waver, coexist and fuse somewhere between the sardonic and the uplifting. Wicked and Weird was always my favorite. He now hosts Radio 2 Drive on CBC Radio 2.


Usually, I avoid this kind of thing, but Russian opera and pop star, Nikolay Baskov and the comedy/parody group Мурзилки International perform Albinoni's Adagio much to my satisfaction. At first, I was seriously cringing, but by the end they had won me over. The Russian language and the poetic sensibility both seem to work well with hip-hop. This is probably pretty high on the popularity scale in Russia, but it's still outsider. There does seem to be a thriving scene there. (video link) (ht)


From out in leftfield comes experimental/alternative/abstract hip-hop dons cCLOUDDEAD. I love their music. They disbanded in 2004 and left behind a strange and impressive body of work. Although they are well known in college radio circles, they are certainly qualify as outsider. This is one I like, from their album Ten, Pop Song. You can find out more about this branch of the hip-hop tree at anticon. records, although I would say that they have branched out all over the place these days.


Plastilina Mosh are from Mexico, where I understand they have a strong following. They inhabit the boundaries between pop, rock, hip hop and trip hop. Their 1999 album Aquamosh is the shit. The rest, I don't know, I'm hit and miss with it. I liked this video, though. From 2006, this is Millionaire.


And finally, back in 2002, the Melbourne, Australia based outfit, The Avalanches achieved a degree of fame in the U.S. with their singles Frontier Psychiatrist and Since I Left You (great video, btw). And then they disappeared. I understand they are due for a new album, which I look forward to, as I thought that their 2000 album Since I Left You is a masterpiece from beginning to end. Although their roots are planted largely in punk and hip-hop, their later work is a synergetic blend of all sorts of styles. They're sort of a DJ-Culture jam-band. Here's an older, more Beastie Boys-esque version of The Avalanches from the Australian TV show, Recovery, from sometime in the late 1990's. The tune is Run DNA.



Guy said...

Awesome list! Also, since I left you was an awesome vid.

John M. said...

Thanks, Guy.

I had a lot of fun putting it together.

That indeed was a great video. I enjoyed watching it again.