THE ROOTS / “Din Da Da”
The Roots' version of George Kranz' "Din Daa Daa" proves that a cover can be completely faithful and yet a radical departure. In fact, if you haven't heard the original in a while, you'll be forgiven for mistaking the Roots "Din Da Da" (they drop the extra 'A's...dunno why) for the original. Initially, at least.
Kranz' original hurtles forward at steam-driven 122BPM, pulling you out of your seat and towards the dance floor, it's appeal heightened by the unlikely combination of the Euro/Afro chanting and straight-out-of-the-Eighties synth drums. Kranz' mix practically demands to be danced to. It's hard to keep still when it's on. But the Roots' remake shakes up your head as much as it shakes up your ass. Meaning, you can listen from your seat without feeling ridiculous.
The original is as clean, tight and streamlined as a pair of Lycra-suede Pumas with the laces tucked in. Even if Kranz didn't create "Din Daa Daa" specifically for NYC b-boys and b-girls (and I'm not saying he didn't), it sure sounds like he did. Back in 1983, Black and Puerto Rican kids spent entire Bronx summers circling linoleum rectangles taped to the concrete sidewalks or to rec room floors, creating styles that still have a futurist look and feel almost twenty-five years after the fact. Records like "Din Daa Daa" were their soundtrack. For them, the sound wasn't just funky, it was functional.
The Roots' version (on Homegrown!...Volume Two) eschews Kranz' slightly clinical feel for something more soulful, something warmer and softer, though not necessarily easier. There's a lot going on in both versions, but while Kranz' original is at heart an unlikely but inspired electro-mashup, the Roots ups the musical ante significantly. I can imagine other artists remaking "Din Daa Daa," I can't see them doing the same with "Din Da Da." The Roots have one of the highest musical IQs of any band in popular music, hip-hop or otherwise, and what they do with "Din Da Da" proves it. Their keyboards, drums and vocals mesh in a way that Kranz' collage never does. Although in fairness to the original, Kranz probably got exactly the sound he was going for. Which is one of the reasons why the Roots have never broken through to mainstream. The truth is, they're sometimes too smart for their own good. Though not here.
—Mtume ya Salaam
Mtume, two quick responses.
1. To my organic-sensitive ears, The Roots’ version easily trumps the original, which as you noted sounds manufactured next to the natural funk of The Roots trading verbal scats with drum riffs. There is something wonderful about the human voice and real-time responses, which is not to say that I don’t dig electronic music, but hey, when it’s created live, there’s nothing else like it, because live is live, and manufactured is, by its nature, not-live.
Clearly, from my praise of Goldie and drum ‘n bass, I am not opposed to the manufactured, but still I have a preference, and in this case, I much, much prefer live to manufactured.
2. The other response is “Mr. Brown” by Zap Mama. I don’t feel any need to say anything else. As soon as I heard the Roots I thought of Zap Mama and their James Brown piece, which, of course, fits right into this “Din Da Da” groove. Voice and percussion. The foundation of hip-hop, and in this case also the root because rather than the mechanically-looped beat what we get is a breathing, live response on the one. Oh joy. Literally. Get up, get down! Yeah.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
P.S. What did you mean by The Roots are “sometimes too smart for their own good”?
Yes, I did imply that "Din Daa Daa" (the original) sounds manufactured, but I didn't mean it as a negative. I happen to like 'manufactured' music. I don't differentiate between the types, as in 'organic is good' / 'manufactured is not as good.' The only thing I was doing was making a comparison between the two—trying to define the distinction between two records that have almost identical arrangments, yet completely different 'feels.' When I'm not listening to them back-to-back, when it's just the original, "Din Daa Daa" sounds like what it is: a certified b-boy classic. The clean lines, the snapping drums with the fast decays, the machine-perfect repetition. To hip-hop ears, that's not a shortcoming, it's a thing of beauty. Think about it like this: if the Roots version was the original, I would still like it, but I'm not sure the b-boys would've. The Roots don't give the track that combustible, unstoppable feel that made the Kranz version so well-loved in the first place. ... Which is exactly the problem with Zap Mama's "Mr. Brown." I like it, don't get me wrong. But it ain't funk. It's too 'groovy.' Too laid back. As a tribute to James Brown, it just isn't hard enough. I do like the voice doing the hi-hat thing—that works. The rest of it is far too mellow for funk. But, like I say, as long as you aren't thinking funk, it's a good piece.
What I mean by The Roots are sometimes too smart for their own good is they've been consecutively numbering their songs since the first album. Their second album isn't named Do You Want More or even Do You Want More? No, it's named Do You Want More?!!!??! (I think I got that right.) And, the whole 'hidden' song thing is so over but they just won't quit it. Etc., etc., etc. That same 'intellectual witticism' thing that they bring to their song and album titles sometimes infects (meaning, badly) their musical output. Sometimes. The point is, there's a fine line between witty and annoying. Every once in a while, Questlove and the boys trample that line. Um, I mean, ?uestlove and the boys. (See what I mean?!!!??!)
—Mtume ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Saturday, April 15th, 2006 at 11:56 pm and is filed under Cover. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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