LIL’ RASCALS BRASS BAND / “Knock With Me – Rock With Me”
Ten years from now Where will I be? Will I be shining like a star Bright as the eye can see? Or will I can be kicking the breeze Hanging on St. Phillip street? —Glen David Andrews in 2001, from the Lil’ Rascals Brass Band’s “Knock With Me – Rock With Me” “What the fuck you writing, man? I live in a trailer.” —Glen David Andrews in 2008, talking to an NPR reporter who was attempting to do a story about Glen’s cousin, Troy ‘Trombone Shorty’ AndrewsThe Lil’ Rascals Brass Band’s “Knock With Me – Rock With Me”—better known by New Orleanians as simply “Roll With Me”—might be the greatest example of New Orleans street music ever committed to tape. It’s not just the almost unbelievable funkiness of the rhythm section. It’s not just the exuberance and vibrancy of the horn players. It’s not just the soulfulness of the half-sung, half-rapped vocals. What makes this record so great is the way all of those musical elements come together. Put that with lyrics that somehow manage to perfectly capture both the numerous blessings and numerous curses of my beguiling, fucked-up home town, and you have a perfect recipe for New Orleans brass band heaven. I can’t take you on a personal tour of New Orleans, but let me do the next best thing and take you on a tour through the Lil’ Rascals’ “Roll With Me.” So much of what I love and so much of what I can’t stand about New Orleans is right there in the record. “One / Two / One, two, three, go!” If you’re going to call something the best New Orleans street record ever, it had better be good from starting gate to finish line. Tell you what. Listen to the first thirty seconds of this record and then try to lie and tell me these boys ain’t playing with fire. The horns, the drums. So loud, so dirty, so funky. This is how it’s done. “What, what, what, what, what, what, what, what, WHAT?!” In New Orleans, ‘What?’ is not a question. Remember “A Fool” by my man Young Bleed? “Hanh? Nigga, what? / Hanh? Give a fuck / Nigga, what?” Technically, Bleed is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That’s eighty miles up the I-10 from New Orleans. But still, like I said, in New Orleans, ‘What’ is not a question. So what does ‘what’ mean? It depends on the context, but what it means here is: the next six minutes is going to be some hot shit and you don’t have to tell us about it or even agree with us because we already know this. What? “I say now, Rebirth, they tried to get me.” All through this record, Glen David talks about different bands, people, wards and neighborhoods that are either “rolling with me” or “trying to get me.” He means something a little different each time depending on who he’s talking about and how he says it. Sometimes he’s just talking about musical competition. Other times, it’s not so innocent. One thing’s for sure: when he talks about somebody killing ‘D-Boy’ and then says, ‘we gotta get him, gotta get him,’ he’s definitely NOT talking about music. “Wipe your weary eyes / Mama don't cry / Living in the Sixth, living do or die.” I won’t spend too much time on this one. Most of the Sixth Ward, like most parts of inner-city New Orleans, has its problems. I’d be surprised if the average life-expectancy for a black male baby born in the Sixth Ward is more than thirty-five to forty years. Throw in jail and drugs and well…. No wonder Mama’s crying eyes are weary. “They say they’re certain there’s no cure for AIDS / That’s a lie!” You can’t have a complete tour of a major black metropolitan area without throwing in some conspiracy theory stuff. This is the sort of thing that got Obama (via Rev. Wright) in trouble with some of his liberal white supporters and almost all of the ‘Reagan Democrat’ fence-leaners. I have a (white) neighbor who had one of those iconic 3’ x 5’ Obama posters hanging in his front window. After Rev. Wright goddamned America, that poster came down. All you can do is laugh. Look, it’s always touchy to try to mix politics and religion. We had a Presidential candidate whose faith used to argue that black people had tails and another one who actively campaigned for the endorsement of one guy who thinks Hitler was part of the divine plan and Catholicism is a ‘whore religion’ and another guy who calls Islam a ‘false religion’ and thinks Christians should go to war against Muslims. What are you going to do? Religious whackos are whacko. I don’t care what their specific faith or denomination happens to be. Anyway, it’s really this simple: white people have their urban myths and black people have their conspiracy theories. You have to look at the purpose these things serve. If you’re poor and black and you or a loved one catches AIDS, you’re probably done. Half of sub-Saharan Africa has been wiped out by epidemic. But then you turn on the TV and look at Magic Johnson and he looks healthy as a horse. So you ask yourself, is there really no cure for AIDS? Sure looks like somebody’s doing fine. See what I’m saying? I know the reality is that there are expensive drug cocktails that don’t cure AIDS, but do curtail it enough that folks can live a relatively normal life with the disease. But really, when you’re dying, what difference does it make? All you know is, rich people are doing fine with AIDS and your mother/sister/brother/cousin is dying from it. Is it really such a stretch to think that rich people have a cure that they aren’t sharing with the rest of us? I think not. “Ten years from now, where will I be?” Coincidentally, I just read an article in San Diego’s Union-Tribune entitled “Health issues being linked to post-Katrina FEMA housing.” Doctors are talking about a “public health catastrophe” that they say is being caused by people having lived for years now in trailers meant for weekend getaways. Some of the trailers, the article says, contain formaldehyde levels so high that they violate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended 15-minute exposure limit for workers. (Fifteen minutes?! Are you kidding? People are LIVING in these things.) So what happens after that limit is surpassed? Oh, nothing serious. Just that “acute health symptoms begin to appear” including “unusual sickness; breathing problems; burning eyes, noses and throats; even deaths.” On “Roll With Me,” Glen David asks where will he be in ten years. Well, it’s only been seven years so far, but where he is is living in one of those piece-of-shit FEMA trailers. And it’s not even his. It’s his uncle’s. Does that answer the question? Here’s another question for you. What does FEMA have to say about the unsafe living conditions of the trailers? The Tribune article quotes one R. David Paulison, the person who became the acting FEMA administrator just after Katrina hit back in August of ’05. Paulison says, with great sensitivity, “We're taking all the darn heat. … You would think that I ordered them with extra formaldehyde so they didn't rot or something.” That’s hilarious. I know the guy has to be frustrated, but damn. Just come out and say what you mean next time, know what I’m saying? Why bite your tongue? In fairness to FEMA, what were they supposed to do? With that many people suddenly homeless, and knowing that it would be a long, long time before the people would be able to find any other permanent housing, FEMA tried to do the next best and quickest thing – they bought whatever trailers they could find that were both affordable and available. But let me tell you: I’ve been in a couple of those trailers. You wouldn’t want to live in those damn things for two weeks, let alone two years, nine months and counting. I’m trying my best not to go into a rant—and maybe it’s already too late—but let me just add this: the upper bunk of your average FEMA trailer is so close to the ceiling that your child had better not sit up too quickly when they wake up in the morning or they’ll knock themselves out cold. “Who that shot D-Boy, y’all? / Gotta get him, gotta get him!” This is one of the reasons that the average life-expectancy of a black male baby born in New Orleans is about the same as a baby born in an active war zone. One dude gets killed and it creates a spiral of retribution that goes on…I don’t know, maybe forever. Darnell ‘D-Boy’ Andrews is, or was, a cousin of Glen David Andrews and a musician himself. I don’t know how he was killed or what the circumstances were, but whatever the actual story is, I’m sure it’s one that will sound awfully familiar to anyone who’s ever heard any story of a young black male dying on the streets of some urban area. It’s sad and it’s real and I’m moving on with the tour. “Dip, baby, dip / Slide, baby, move your hip.” This part is about the dancers. In New Orleans street music, the dancers are as important as the musicians. The better the dancers dance, the better the musicians play. And then, the better the musicians play, the better the dancers dance. It’s a circle that keeps itself going. When people dance to Second Line music, they look like a contradiction. (Like a lot of other things in New Orleans. It’s a very self-contradictory place.) The music doesn’t follow the twos and fours like most popular dance music. The rhythms aren’t there just to frame out the melodies and harmonies. In a way, the rhythms are the whole thing. The rhythm does what it wants. The sudden twists and shifts of the music cause the dancers to do sudden twists and shifts of their own. The best dancers have a way of merging jerking with gliding. They sometimes seem to be floating down the street, legs and arms all curves, no angles. Then suddenly, they seize up like they’ve been hit by live wire, or they drop to the ground so fast you think something’s wrong. But then another moment later and they’re back just floating again like nothing even happened. Other good dancers seem oblivious to everything around them. They don’t look ‘good’ or ‘stylish’ or even particularly talented. But there’s a connection they feel between themselves and the groove. They get out there on the asphalt and shake it, bend it and ride it as if they were at home in their living room instead of outside in the broad daylight with people standing all around watching. They completely lose themselves in the rhythm; you can tell the last thing they’re thinking about is who’s watching or what anybody thinks of them. Have you ever seen a grown women dressed in her Sunday best do a full split right in the middle of the street, then bend over backwards into a crab position and then jump up to her feet and start ‘riding the stick,’ and all of that while wearing high heels that match her pantsuit and hat? Click here. Now you have. We can’t all dance like that lady, so most of the people are out there dancing just to have a good time. They aren’t about to get in the middle of the circle and walk on their heels but they’re still clapping or stomping and slapping their leg or beating the side of a Coke bottle with a pop sickle stick or something. Whatever you do, you just do it. The more people who are there to join in, the better the Second Line gets. You don’t have to have any talent or skill and you don’t have to ask permission. Just join in and try to stay on the beat. If you can’t dance at all, bring adult beverages and stay out of the way. And then there’s me, standing on my brother’s front porch, just watching. Even for the people like me who usually stay up on the porch (which is also New Orleans slang for staying out of other people’s business or for being to afraid to do something), we’re still part of the Second Line because the Second Line feeds off of the energy of everything and everyone around it. If you see the Second Line pass and you do nothing but smile and wave, you’re still part of it. “They got rocks, they got coke and they got dope.” If you’ve ever wondered why exactly all these young black males are killing each other, it’s all about the drug trade. In other words, it’s all about money. Again, I’m going to keep this part brief, but if a male dies of a gunshot in the city of New Orleans, you can bet dollars to donuts that the death was in some way drug-related. The exceptions are few and far in between. “I don't know what you been told / But I love them project ho’s / She got dookie braids, big ol’ thighs and contact lenses with fake brown eyes.” OK. Here’s the most controversial part of this record. (For me, anyway.) I remember hearing these quotes and feeling both proud and embarrassed. I was proud because my man was proclaiming his love for real black women of New Orleans – for “around the way girls,” as LL Cool J once put it. I was embarrassed though, because Glen David refers to them as ‘ho’s’ and describes them a little too accurately. Truthfully, you will see lots and lots of women in New Orleans who fit the description to a ‘T.’ At the same time, do we really need an iconic New Orleans song boasting about young ladies wearing contact lenses to make their eyes look lighter? Yes, we do! You know why? Because it’s real. That’s what this entire song is all about and that—aside from it’s undeniable gut-level funkiness—is why people love this song so much. Because it is 100% real about the city, the people and about itself. Like I said earlier, this song is a snapshot of the highs and lows of the city. It’s not judging the negatives and it’s not trying to put a pretty face on anything. It’s not polishing the silver because company is coming over and it’s not dressing up for the party. Like they say, you can’t put lipstick on a pig. You can spray all the perfume you want on pile of shit, it’s still a pile of shit. I’m not saying New Orleans is a pile of shit city. I’m saying New Orleans has its beauty and New Orleans has its ugliness. New Orleans even has what you might call ugly beauty. “Roll With Me” is all about that ugly beauty. Just calling it like it is. Telling the truth. “Roll With Me” isn’t a black tie and evening dress thing. It’s strictly a paper plate and plastic spoon, ‘come as you are’ affair. It you’re looking sharp because you went to church this morning, cool. If you’re looking tore down because you were out too late last night and you just woke up, cool. And if you’re looking average and non-descript because you’re an average and non-descript type of individual, cool. Like the song ways, just roll with it. The other reason I stopped being embarrassed about this part of the song is because New Orleans women aren’t embarrassed about this part of the song. In fact, I recall a family get-together during which “Roll With Me” came on the radio. Everyone sang along and joked and laughed through the whole song, but when Glen David got to the part about ‘project ho’s’ and their ‘dookie braids’ and ‘big ol’ thighs,’ the people singing loudest were the women. I think it’s because Glen David’s words may be phrased in a very street and politically incorrect manner, but what he’s expressing is his love (or something like it…if you know what I’m saying) for his own. He’s saying he doesn’t want some sophisticated skinny girl from out of town somewhere. No, he wants a project sister from right around the way where he grew up. And look, if it’s good enough for my big sister (who will tell you to this day that “Roll With Me” is one of her all-time favorite songs) then it’s good enough for me. “Gimme a dime / I only got eight!” Before I bought the CD, I used to think the name of this song was “Gimme A Dime” or maybe “I Only Got Eight.” When brass bands play “Roll With Me” live, you’ll hear these lines repeated over and over and over. Much more than in the studio version you’re hearing here. Honestly, I’m not even sure what it means. I assume it’s someone trying to buy ten dollars worth of weed or something else to get high on except that they only have eight dollars of cash. I could be wrong. Whatever it actually means, it just sounds good.
THE classic.Lil’ Rascals Brass Band - “How You Gonna Tell Me” – From Buck It Like A Horse (Mardi Gras, 2001).
I wanted to include this one because “Roll With Me” is actually not the norm for New Orleans brass band music. “How You Gonna Tell Me” is better at showing the ability of the Rascals to sustain the level of excitement through an entire instrumental piece. The thing you have to know about New Orleans street music is, it MOVES. That’s not a metaphor – the bands literally move. Except when they’re doing club gigs, the brass bands usually walk around while they’re playing. They’re usually not in one place, or playing to one audience, long enough for extended vocal pieces to make sense. That’s actually one of the reasons “Roll With Me” is unusual: the vocals are basically central to the record. But while “Roll With Me” is the classic, “How You Gonna Tell Me” is more representative of what our street music sounds like when it’s actually played live in the streets.New Birth Brass Band – “D-Boy” – From D-Boy (N.Y. – N.O., 1997) New Birth’s tribute to Glen David Andrews’ cousin, Darnell Andrews. New Orleans brass bands are very competitive with each other but they’re also very intertwined in terms of membership and family relationships. I don’t have either the time or the knowledge to unravel the many connections between New Birth, Lil’ Rascals and The Hot 8 (another brass band I’ve heard playing “Roll With Me”), but there’s a lot of overlapping.
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