Tha Pumpsta is no stranger to bad press, and not necessarily for the music that he makes. Neither for the music that he spins as a DJ, but rather for how he chose to present it. Three years ago, he was prominently featured in a Washington Post piece on a party series in Williamsburg, Brooklyn called Kill Whitie! As the article made the rounds, people were bewildered to learn about a scene where reportedly 'large groups of white hipsters' let themselves go to 'danceable hip-hop records that are low on lyrical depth and high on raunchiness' while trying to '"kill the whiteness inside."'
Some Kill Whitie! party goers insisted that the crowd there was much more diverse than portrayed. They pointed out the variety in skin color and sexual orientation and the obvious absurdity of the theme. In 2008, the parties apparently being history, Tha Pumpsta, co-founder and DJ of the series, tells his side of the story. Or at least that's what his attempts would amount to if he was a model rap artist. Not surprisingly, he is anything but. He takes the same inscrutable approach as a musician as he did as a party promoter. Press notes state that "Bass Black Treble White" 'tackles the paradox of the seven sins ('treble white') and seven virtues ('bass black').' It's doubtful that anybody who listens to the 14 tracks is able to confirm that. If there's one thing clear conceptually, it's that Tha Pumpsta means for his music to address people of every color since the album title refers to a phrasing that Martin Luther King used in his speeches. For instance at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on July 4th 1965: "Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God's keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man."
Given that premise, there's no point in criticizing that Tha Pumpsta does black music in a rather white manner. If you want to change the world, you have to start somewhere. If you want your art to have a universal appeal, a little bit of looking beyond your own cultural conditioning probably doesn't hurt. It would be problematic if we were to find out that Tha Pumpsta and his Kill Whitie! accomplices were ridiculing rap music, or even black culture in general. Everybody always has the best of intentions when it comes to these things, yet awkward situations like these continue to be created. The party scene has never been known to be awfully conscious about the images it might project to outsiders - apart from wanting badly to give onlookers the feeling that they're missing out on something.
Since practically day one rap has been promoting "the place to be" - the party you simply have to be at. In some circles, to attend the right party defines one's social status, whether it's the largest event in town or the most exclusive. It's shallow, immature, and it wouldn't be a party if it were any different. According to the aforementioned article, Tha Pumpsta first got hip to bass music 'when he wandered into Freaknik, the annual spring break blowout for thousands of African American students.' That's right, a party. Some non-black rap/hip-hop fans should be able to relate at this point, as many of us might have initially walked into this culture feeling both slightly out of place and right at home at the same time. Few would have gone as far as wanting to "kill the whiteness inside," but some of us have learned that 'the whiteness' (or non-blackness, to make the argument universal) can occasionally get in the way of making an immediate connection with rap and hip-hop, facing resistance from both within ourselves and from outside.
For better or for worse Tha Pumpsta took a liking to the uptempo, call-and-response genre that used to anger authorities and moralists, and originating from Georgia he claims a probably legitimate relationship with the crunk lifestyle. He seems sincere in his admiration, even remaking Tag Team's platinum hit "Whoomp! There It Is" ("Whoop Revisited"). Ultimately he makes something completely different out of the bass music blueprint, but the flair is there in many of the album's tracks as they exhibit popular patterns of Southern uptempo rap music. The opening "1987" is a cross between bass music on speed and OutKast put through the electronica wringer. Pumpsta barking his fast raps somewhat in the background is reminiscent of a DJ shouting catch phrases and chants from the booth. It's noisy, it's experimental, but it deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The following "Move It" isn't that bad either, the tempo coming down a notch. The female back-up sexes the track perhaps unnecessarily up as Pumpsta retraces the underdeveloped conscious side of bass music (indicated by phrases like "The world's insane" and "Educate the minds"), but the general feeling one gets is that this is fun music that even allows for a little bit of message here and there. Like how paying back loans is a mutha ("Sallie Mae"). That is, if things don't get too weird. "Temple" is an esoteric, erratic bhangra-tinged track where Pumpsta goes from mumbling indecipherable obscenities to shouting like an asylum patient. "Don Juan" namedrops Oscar Wilde while declaring, "It's Pumpsta's sound and I'm booty-bound."
Where "Breath" is melancholic, "Spesh" is aggressive, Pumpsta adjusting his vocal performance accordingly. Especially noteworthy is "Freeky," a longer track informed by Funkadelic that displays musical wits. But it also contains mysogynistic segments such as "Not no mo', not no mo' / leave my house, you dirty hoe." Now we may live in a world where young women are calling each other bitch with the most loving sentiment, but to hear a white guy use these terms in a rap is still somewhat baffling. But hey, "even Jesus made a hoe his best friend," says one song (which happens to be... "Kill Whitie!"). The confusion is complete when you treat yourself to the bottom-heavy "Octopus Armed." He does his best impression of a raunchy rapper (even dropping a "Nuthin' But a 'G' Thang" reference), but closes with "Pumpsta make the gay girls want to come out to play." What we have here might very well be a gay guy talking dirty to lesbians. Moreso than white people appropriating hip-hop inappropriately, the Kill Whitie! episode could be about homosexuals finding ways to make rap music work for themselves.
Or not. That's how much of a mystery "Bass Black Treble White" is. Tha Pumpsta can be commended for trying to take bass/booty music to a different place, but that place is too peculiar and often downright shabby. Whatever talent Tha Pumpsta possesses, it doesn't translate particularly well to this album. As for the Kill Whitie! debacle, the following message board commentary from three years ago sums up this reviewer's feelings best: Sadly, the Pumpsta people see it as a guilty pleasure, something most people around here got over years ago. So they call it irony and brush off detractors who just don't get the joke. Understandably, "Get it? We're white and we're into Trick Daddy" makes no sense to those people who don't hate themselves for listening to rap. What's distasteful about it, I think, is that when people invoke irony in this situation, they are effectively suggesting that they're above it - that they can only appreciate it as a cultural artifact. While there are jerks who think that way, I feel like most of those claiming ironic detachment are just as into it as any out-of-the-closet hip hop fan.
Music Vibes: 2 of 10 Lyric Vibes: n/a of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 2 of 10
Originally posted: November 11, 2008