I was asked on Quora to give a list of my favorite hip-hop songs, because what better source is there than a forty-year-old white dad? (I am literally a mountain climber who plays the electric guitar.) I did grow up in New York City in the 80s, and I do love the music. But ultimately, I’m a tourist in this culture. For a more definitive survey, ask Questlove or someone. These are just songs that I like.
The first time I heard Manu Dibango’s “Soul Makossa” was courtesy of Motorcycle Guy, a prominent Brooklyn eccentric who drives around on a tricked-out motorcycle bedecked with lights and equipped with a powerful sound system. I encounter him every so often and he’s always bumping some good funk, soul or R&B. One night, he was playing what I thought was an extreme remix of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” by Michael Jackson, with the end chant slowed down and pitch-shifted radically. As it turns out, I got the chronology reversed. Here’s Manu Dibango’s song:
We were on our way to Grand Central, on the first leg of our trip north for Thanksgiving. A girl sitting near us on the 4 train had her headphones cranked to where I could recognize the beat as the one from “A Milli” by Lil Wayne. I could also make out that there was a female vocalist singing on top. It sounded pretty cool. I put it out to Twitter to see if anyone knew what it was. Rafi Kam hipped me to Joya Bravo’s freestyle in the back of a dollar van. It’s not the one I was looking for but it’s much better, you do not want to miss it.
Turntablists use record players to play records in ways they weren’t meant to be played. By speeding up, slowing down and reversing the record under the needle, a whole universe of new sounds becomes possible. The record player as musical instrument is still in its early stages of development. DJs already invented the instrumental sound of hip-hop. I wonder what else they have coming.