Monday, November 15, 2004

watch ya step, kid

bite my style
I'll bite your motherfuckin ass

For MCs the balance of ‘persona’ and ‘artist’ is always key to long-term success and will be the main factor in judging them posthumously. Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s persona fell somewhere in the realm of the clown princes of rap such as Biz Markie, Flavor Flav and Kool Keith but also verged into the ‘heart on my sleeve’ / ‘fire in my blood’ plot that DMX staked out.
There was a time when rappers couldn’t act crazier; scowling and growling and claiming insanity. Onyx produced some great records but the over-the-top cartoonish ‘nature’ got in the way of their legit ‘nurtured’ anger. Eminem signaled the end of that style as he made the transition from ‘my punchline is more insane than yours’ to the more philosophical ‘what’s real? what’s fake?’ rhyming perspective.
The extreme characteristics of the MCs I mentioned in the first paragraph were so entwined with their rhyme style that there was never a doubt that they were all a little bit crazed (Biz, maybe the least).
Of the MCs that have passed away, I would have assumed I would be relating ODB to his fellow East Coasters, “The Bigs”: Pun, L and The Notorious. Surprisingly, I find myself relating him more to Pac. As strong as their music is, Pac and ODB will be remembered equally (if not more) for their personas, interviews, public character, headlines and rap sheet.
I remember the day after I heard ‘Proteck Ya Neck’ for the first time. A handful of phrases, words and sounds bounced around in my head as I tried to describe it to some friends who had not yet heard it. I thought the song was called ‘Watch ya step, kid’ and one guy said something about "Movin on your left" and another dude said something about climbing a mountain with an electric guitar. But the sound that cut through all of the kung-fu effects was some dude saying “Rollin” on a couple lines in this strange trembling tone that I could only relate to a deeper toned version of Snoop’s smoothe and weird delivery of the words “On an undercover cop!” (from Deep Cover).
ODB transformed words (such as ‘BROOKLYN ZOO!’) and well known phrases (such as KRS-One’s “That's the sound of the police!”) through his delivery. And for me, his brilliance will always be as a vocalist. Many times he misused his ‘master of ceremony’ title when he dominated the stage with rants rather than rhymes. But his voice and delivery could always add an element of off-kilter energy even if the track was already verging on 'controlled chaos' (such as the tail end of the piano riff on ‘Shimmy Ya’ or the off beat chords of 'Brooklyn Zoo')
The Tofu Hut gives a great summary of ODBs career with extensive links to high- and low-lights.
Davey D has a nice account of his memories encountering the persona and art of Ol’ Dirty. One interview he recounts brought another memory to my mind. Davey recalls an interview with ODB in which he was asked what he planned to give back to the community. Davey recalls the tragicomic answer that the Dirt Dog gave: ”Nuttin’!”
I can’t recall if it was the same interview or a similar one afterwards but I vaguely remember him adding to that answer in a much more profound way. He said he gave his MUSIC back to the community.
And that, in my mind and his, should be enough.

UPDATE: Ol’ Dirty Bastard will be laid to rest November 18th at the Christian Cultural Centre in Brooklyn, New York.
(from AllHipHop News)