11/6/08

Jimmy Spicer

Jimmy Spicer
b. Planet Rhymeon, 19??.

1980: "Adventures of Super Rhyme" Single. 1982: "The Bubble Bunch" Single. 1983: "Money (Dollar Bill Y'all)" Single. 1985: "Beat the Clock/This Is It" Single. 1990?: "I Rock Boots" Single

Jimmy Spicer's decade or so of rap singles (he never made an album) are on the rapping tip, remarkably consistent. He spent the decade-plus rapping in a vampire voice or with a ridiculous accent and pronouncing shit like you'd just had the flu the week prior with only smart, subtle variation in voice and cadence. Spicer saw no reason for reinvention or a need to grow "hard" even as beats shifted away from rudimentary--or I should say "rudimentary"--funk loops ("Adventures of Super Rhyme") towards electro ("The Bubble Bunch" and "Money") and ultimately, on the Rick Rubin-produced "Beat the Clock/This Is It", those first glimpses of hard-as-fuck drums that'd dominate the next decade and a half of hip-hop.

"Adventures of Super Rhymes" is cut from the same cloth as every post-"Rapper's Delight" rap song and yes, it shares that song's awareness of audience and in-home consumption--the first step towards rap entering the pop realm--but it takes the goofy "chicken tastes like wood" lines of Sugarhill (or really, Cold Crush, but you know all about that) and extends that to thirteen or so minutes and it's just Jimmy, no rap crew (or gang) to play of off.

I've no idea Spicer's connection to "true" hip-hop, but he's beyond talented and therefore "real" where it matters, and seems to grasp better the existence and interaction of hip-hop culture's four elements and the way they must interact. Like the best graffitti writer or even the best breaker, Spicer's improvising even as he's focused, and he's grabbing from this or that to forge something entirely new. And so, "Super Rhyme" is an origin story in the tradition of proto-rap comedic toasting, proto-Space shit that don't make no sense (and just one more piece of a long-standing black tradition that finds hope and genesis in space), a series of childhood memories from pop-culture (Superman, "Old MacDonald", Dracula, Genies, etc.) turned into something else (much the same way graffers ingested cartoons and comic books into their work), playful sex talk, and just something that rocks a party. Think of Spicer's transitions from playful bouncing raps, to a Vampire voice, to a few moments of gutteral Oscar the Grouch groans, and back to the bounce.

"The Bubble Bunch", besides being a sort of great bridge between weird, conceptual funk of the 70s and hip-hop electro, is also a hilarious children's story in the style of a rap about a fat couple that go to a disco and also eat a lot of food, or something. It's a fun meaningless dance song I guess, but it's always to me, seemed to also be about disco trends and music appropriation and the inevitable mainstreaming of something to the point where fat, obnoxious assholes are digging it too. Some inscrutable politicism a lot like Spicer calling Howard Cosell "Coward" throughout "Super Rhymes".

And then there's "Money (Dollar Bill Y'all)", Spicer's masterpiece. Think of the way Black Sabbath named their palpably affecting song about depression "Paranoid" because calling it "Depression" would've been obvious and no fun. Spicer here does a similar trick, wrapping a serious analysis of the traps of capitalism around a memorably minimalist beat and still in that goofy, affected rapping voice of his. From money needed "to buy a tank" to the burden children put on your wallet, we're all caught up in it, everyman to the big scary military. Wu Tang were no doubt thinking of Spicer's capitalistic lament when they recorded "C.R.E.A.M" just as say, Kanye West was thinking of "Black Ice" when he made "Touch the Sky".

The Def Jam single of "This Is It" and "Beat the Clock" produced by Rick Rubin already shows a genre whose borders were growing less porous even though it coincides with the start of the ten or so years where rap's really great. On "This Is It", Rubin's thumps and skitters overwhelm Spicer's playfulness and he tries to respond with his best LL impression but it feels odd. "Beat the Clock" works a little better, the tick-tock audio invokes the melodies of "Bubble Bunch" and "Money" and feels more like the sound of rap in 1985 meeting Spicer halfway than the other way around.

Finally, (I think) there's the aforementioned "I Rock Boots" which is presumably from 1990--although Spicer could just be acting weird and Jimmy Spicer-like when he begins the song "It's 1990 a brand new decade"--and finds Spicer, over a twinkling soul-vamp beat, shifting his style up to sound more like Slick Rick or Dana Dane or any of the classic storytellers that, you know grabbed a whole lot of this or that from Spicer himself (the most appropriate Spicer homage is Busta Rhymes' "Do the Bus a Bus" which is every bit at out-there as Spicer's own work). This influencer becoming influencee is unfortunately, something that happens a lot in music: At just the moment where an innovator's style catches on, they hop on the very trend they create and try real hard to sound like their followers.

On "I Rock Boots", he's quieter, less confident, smoother which fits his style fine, but what's so cool about those earlier singles is how he attacks them and just keeps going, with little affection for the open space and pop-timing that even hard-ass hip-hop records employed when it got beyond just straight rhyming (for a really long time, about whatever you wanted, until the record side plays out) and got relatively pop.

3 comments:

morgana96 said...

Definately Classic Old School Hip-Hop.These are some of my favorite joints,they are fun and they tell a story.I'm an old school dj,and I still play Super Rhymes on a regular basis in my sets.

Mark said...

I never liked Jimmy Spicer's lyrics and honestly, I was indignant after I knew that his songs are being used in generic viagra advertisements in Angola!

Shacawgo said...

Great blurb on Jimmy Spicer. He's a true innovator and will always be searched out by true Hip-Hop Fans and Heads and just great music lovers period. "Money Can't Buy You Love" is my jam right now. Jimmy could have easily coalesced himself into the flow of rappers in the early 90's if he wanted to.