AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock We Salute You” LP was one of my earliest encounters with rock music, and if it weren’t for rap, I probably would have extended my relationship with hard rock and heavy metal, if only because where I grew up the guys listening to sharp riffs and hard drums were the bad boys you would look up to as a kid. But no, it had to be hip-hop, a choice that caused me to miss out on a lot of good music. Nowadays, I lighten up everytime I see a metal fan, because they turned out to be the friendliest people on the planet, the total opposite of these hip-hop kids with their collective attitude problem.
To my defense, although it marked my initiation into hip-hop, it wasn’t just the incorporation of rock elements that made Run-D.M.C.’s “Raising Hell” album so appealing to me. It was an extraordinary piece of music that sounded exactly like I wanted music to sound, at least once I realized music could sound like that. Since then my problem has always been that I lacked the means to inform myself sufficiently about music genres other than hip-hop. I’ve tried just about everything, but never managed to obtain more than just a superficial knowledge of jazz, blues, folk, pop or rock. So while I couldn’t think of a better re-introduction to rock for an aging b-boy like me than “For Those About to Rock,” there is no question that I’m not exactly qualified to make too many conclusive statements about it.
Billed to Deaf in the Family, “For Those About to Rock” is a collaboration between Brooklyn production team The Resource (consisting of producer/engineer DJ Sae One and guitarist/producer Adam Podrat), who laid down tracks for The Last Emperor and Saigon, as well as Nike, Pepsi and Apple advertising campaigns, and a pack of underground rappers lead by Scavone. In the past, rock and rap have teamed up for some of the corniest shit ever, and hearing Deaf in the Family do almost everything right is quite a revelation. Sample clearing issuses aside, many hip-hoppers probably think that rock music has nothing more to offer than the odd breakbeat and soaring guitar riffs. Most producers still rely on soul and funk when they’re looking to obtain a certain mood or sound. Meanwhile, the Deaf In The Fam folks decides to fully embrace rock music, appropriating ’70s and ’60s songs for a thorough hip-hop makeover.
“For Those About to Rock” is off to an excellent start with “One of These Nights,” originally by The Eagles. A live take announces it as “one of the funkiest songs in America,” but in Deaf In The Fam’s hands “One of These Nights” turns into an introspective joint where MC’s Scavone, Baron of Red Clay and Ill Tarzan have to deal with inner demons and depression:
“In between the dark and the light is where I’m livin’
tryin’ to juggle every drug in my life, stay out of prison
And I’m searchin’ for a angel in white to come and save me
but the wicked wind whispers and moans callin’ me baby
The fever is high, my demons is callin’ out
I’m losin my breath, I feel like I’m fallin’ out
My engine is on but it’s always stallin’ out
My brain is a cloud, it’s smoky with thoughts of doubt
Loneliness’ll blind you, it’ll keep you guessin’
It’s difficult to find out any worthy lesson
when you’re swimmin’ in a pool of alcohol aggression
and you goin’ to the school of managin’ depression
with a fist full of pills and a brown paper bag
Everything that you want’s everything you don’t have”
Incorporating original lyrics, Scavone makes sure not to just drown in self-indulgent sorrow, but to contribute to a structured song. This pattern repeats itself throughout “For Those About to Rock,” the rappers favoring relevant verses over arbitrary bars. On “One of These Nights,” this is further marked by the bassline distinctly differing between the verses and the hook. All the while, the pumping flow is completely kept.
A Manhattan native and Brooklyn resident, Scavone is a natural, his sarcastic tone of voice putting up resistance while his precise flow smoothens things out. It’s a particularly dark day in the life of Scavone on “Mr. Blue Sky,” his grumpiness constrasting beautifully with ELO’s harmonizing vocals asking, “Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why you had to hide away for so long?” This mash-up is followed by the more likely pairing of an anti-police theme with The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton.” Maintaining Joe Strummer and company’s reggae rhythm (even extending it in a Jamaican break), The Resource stick closely to the original script, sampling Paul Simonon, whose “When they kick at your front door, how you gonna come / with your hands on your head or on the trigger of your gun” lyrics echo Scavone’s NYPD blues.
Scavone also hosts “Andy Warhol,” the added strings and the dry, sparse drums making it sound more like a typical contemporary hip-hop track than a rap remake of a David Bowie tune. But it’s clearly Jimi Hendrix playing the guitar on “Little Wing.” Scavone and singer Big Brooklyn Red disregard the mother tribute Hendrix intended and create a completely new song, serenading a sweet soulmate they hope will save them from their mysery: “On your doorbell I ring, on your telephone I’m callin’ / I might sound kinda strange, I might tell you I’m fallin’ / So please don’t be shy, just reply with a giggle / You could save me from Hades, if only for a little / I’m captured by your spirit, I can hear it when you smile / the light you radiate could penetrate a million miles.”
While he could easily hold the 40 minutes down on his own, Scavone is supported by a cast of underground talent. Using The Who’s “Who Are You” to introduce themselves, him, Bad Seed and Pumpkinhead ride a beat that goes through constant changes and could easily survive without rap vocals. Psychedelia rears its strange head – if only momentarily – on “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” (not the Klaatu, the Carpenters version) while the MC’s engage in next level NY rap. Transcending local confines is the funky pimp strut of “Peaches,” as recorded by The Stranglers and as remixed by The Resource. Substantial makes a welcome appearance, but it’s Doujah Raze, admiring “the peach fuzz on the beach buns,” who reigns as champion of the double entendre:
“When I get a peach I like to slice it open
I leave dry lips soaken, I leave tight lips smokin’
with these mics I’m pokin’, every night I’m strokin’
Nectar keeps me breathin’
I be walkin’ on the beaches lookin’ for a peach that’s ripe for eatin’
It’s quite deceitin’ when you bite and squeeze ’em
and find they rotten to the core when on the outside they look nice and pleasin'”
The project returns to a more serious tone with Houston’s Bavu Blakes’ rendition of Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” Here, the interplay between rock and rap lyrics is particularly compelling:
“And they still do lynchin’
But really that’s unconventional
What it is penny-pinchin’
Paper, power, principle
System’s invincible, where anything’s possible
Ask your grandmama, though, this is how the gospel go:
(Southern man, better keep your head
Don’t forget what your good book said
Southern change gonna come at last
Now your crosses are burnin’ fast)
He got this, he watch us, cameras on every avenue
The slave never knew what’s happenin’, but the master do
We just passin’ through in this world, or be bypassed
Just be glad you ain’t known the master as long as I do
It’s easy to write fast, cause it’s a old story
Curse of Cain, the Babel tower, the old glory
And they wonder why the red man get drunk
and they wonder why a south nigga get crunk”
Rounding off the Resource Experience is a short finale involving Black Sabbath’s “The Wizard,” Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham and BK’s Turntable Anihilists. A download-only promotional project, “For Those About to Rock” is an infinitely more elaborate piece of work than many commercially released recordings. There’s nothing nerdy about it, the producers and the rhymers always maintaining that hip-hop edge while honestly paying tribute to the originals. Each track goes far beyond the simple loop structure and tries to offer individual backdrops for the rappers. Frankly, in hip-hop, it’s hard to think of anybody who is currently doing what The Resource does here, and that has nothing to do with rock music, but everything with dedicated beatmaking.