THE BEATHUNTERS / “Angie’s Summer Night”
I remember when I was learning to ‘hear’ jazz. I was used to hearing nothing but hip-hop, so I had to actually learn what ‘real’ instruments sounded like. I learned that a tenor saxophone has a thick, honeyed tone which differentiates it from the light, bittersweet taste of the alto. But then I found that the fluidity and grace of the alto is easily confused with the similar style of the clarinet, except that the clarinet is rarely used in post-Fifties jazz. Besides, while the clarinet may remind me of birds, only the alto makes me feel like I’m flying. The point is, without knowing the difference between an alto saxophone and a tenor saxophone, or the difference between a clarinet and a trumpet, you can enjoy jazz, but you can’t consider yourself a knowledgeable fan of the music. And that’s only the beginning.
Modern music, on the other hand, is a whole different trip. Forget recognizing instruments. To fully understand and enjoy modern music, you have to learn to recognize the sonic fingerprint of entire songs. And not just songs as in four or five minute collections of rhythm, harmony and melody. If you’d like to consider yourself a knowledgeable fan of modern music, you’ll have to learn to recognize bits, snippets, fragments and pieces of songs. You’ll have to retune your ears so that you can pick out tiny slices of one song spliced into another. You’ll have to develop the ability to recognize a drum pattern even after it’s been slowed down or sped up; a string melody that’s been replayed on a keyboard than sampled and placed over or under something else; sounds stretched into words; words taken out of context; contexts shifted, so that the singer or rapper says things they never intended. You’ll have to develop the patience to track down this sample or that one, playing detective for nothing more than the fun of hearing a sound you’ve grown accustomed to coming from a place you never imagined it.
For almost a year, I’ve been listening to a track called “Angie’s Summer Night.” It’s an improbable mashup (which is sort of like saying a repetitious repetition…mashups tend to be improbable almost by definition) of at least four songs. The two main elements of the mashup are an acapella version of Angie Stone’s hit record “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” along with the drums and strings—make that ‘drums’ and ‘strings’—from “Les Nuits” by Nightmares On Wax, the recording pseudonym of the Britian’s George ‘DJ EASE’ Evelyn. Those two tracks alone would’ve made a decent enough mashup, but then we get snippets of Quincy Jones’ version of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City” and a few choice lifts from the ending of Björk’s “Hyperballad.” It’s as if the track was cooked up in a kitchen instead of performed in a studio. Angie and Nightmares are the main ingredients. Quincy and Björk are spice. We’re listening to gumbo.
“Angie’s Summer Night” was put together by The Beathunters, who as far as I can tell, is Philippe Neumager, a French graphic designer and illustrator, not a musician or DJ. And that’s the way it goes with modern music: musicians aren’t even musicians anymore. Every time I hear Phillipe’s mashup, I wonder, “What would Angie think?” Is she flattered? Amused? Pissed? Indifferent? Has she even heard it? And what about Nightmares On Wax? Does he care one way or another? But then I remember that “Les Nuits” is itself a take-off on “Summer In The City” and that the original version of “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” is based on a sample from the O’Jays’ 1972 classic “Backstabbers.” So how pissed can you actually be when someone uses pieces of your song to make a song given that your song uses pieces of someone else’s song too? Welcome to the future.
- “Angie’s Summer Night” by The Beathunters. Promo only.
- “Wish I Didn’t Miss You” by Angie Stone. From Mahogany Soul (J Records, 2001).
- “Backstabbers” by The O’Jays. From Back Stabbers (Philly Intl, 1972).
- “Les Nuits” by Nightmares On Wax. From Carboot Soul (Warp, 1999).
- “Summer In The City” by Quincy Jones. From You’ve Got It Bad Girl (A&M, 1973). Reissued on I Heard That! (A&M, 1976). Both albums are out of print.
—Mtume ya Salaam
George Clinton predicted this development. The good doctor undoubtedly giggles at this mélange in the music room. So what part is the song?
Hearing all the elements laid out like this makes you wonder. This is a smorgasbord of sounds, like a Sunday buffet at the ghetto Chinese restaurant. You taste a little of this, a little of that and fill up on whatever you like.
I like Angie’s “I Wish I Didn’t Miss You” but I probably like it even more after hearing all the other ingredients and mash-ups that Mtume lays out. (And, oh yeah, y'all do know that P-Funk is second only to James Brown as a sample source for hip-hop, right? Hey, Mtume, I smell the P-Funk week getting closer and closer.)
But meanwhile back to Angie Stone. Sister-lady is a reigning R&B diva, stronger/better (as a singer) than Mary J.; much more musically agile than the plethora of posers, pretenders and imposters whose pulchritude easily outshines their feeble (and too often, ugly) singing abilities. What all of this “new” music requires is a distinctive voice to carry the package. Angie is the ace of spades as far as being a distinctive voice.
Ahhh, but then we have the big black woman blues coming around the bend of ample curves wider than a double-wide mack truck. Oh Lord, how does the mainstream get away with defining a matchstick as fine? Some of these gals could wear the left leg of Angie’s panty hose as a tube dress and still have room for the breast implants. For sure, Angie don’t rhyme with anorexia. And Ms. Hudson’s turn as Effie in Dreamgirls just underscores the whole "she can sing but she ain’t the right size to take Beyonce’s place" syndrome. Next!
In the long run, the human element is necessary to make the music fully satisfying. The computer can mask a lot of deficiencies but in the final analysis you need a voice like an Angie Stone to make the difference, especially if you want to be more than a one-hit wonder. All of which is to say, thanks Mtume. This was a totally enjoyable dissection of modern music.
—Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Sunday, January 7th, 2007 at 1:05 am and is filed under Contemporary. 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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