Disco D (David Aaron Shayman)
b. St. Louis, Missouri (1980-2007)
50 Cent's "Ski Mask Way" is a track that'll pop-up on college radio mix shows or in-between sets at a hip-hop show and it makes everyone just kinda feel weird. No one really knows whether to just stand still like "Okay" arms crossed because it's a track from 50 Cent or to nod their head approvingly or go nuts over it. I've seen hands swing up and then drop back down when an entire crowd didn't totally go wild for "Ski Mask Way". For most people, "Ski Mask Way" is producer Disco D's legacy and it isn't a bad one.
So clearly rooted in the the hyped-up soul production of the early 2000s--Kanye and Just Blaze grabbing from Pete Rock, but Puffy too--"Ski Mask Way" is still a stand-out of the micro-trend that ended up major. Especially notable is the embrace of empty space, the confidence to stop, start, roll back, and push forward the dusty, squeaky O Jays vocals over and over again. There's moments of this song where all the music stops, which is crazy. This is what happens though when you're some goofy white kid DJ responsible for developing "Ghettotech" (or however you choose to spell it), one of the many hundred high BPM, spastic strands of regional dance music. Those clipped vocals, the complete ripping-apart of the track, especially in the last minute or so, when it's just sort of this malfunctioning loop of keys, strings, and vocals, is the kind of production prowess honed mixing and cutting balls-out dance music.
That's to say, while it makes more sense for a Ghettotech kid to have made Trick Daddy's "I Pop" , "Ski Mask Way" is operating similarly when it comes to warm, wizened open-space. Even the execrable "Popozao", the first sneak-peek we got of Britney Spears ex Kevin Federline's music career was mind-bogglingly, subtly, weirdly catchy. And contains the very same comfort in absence.
Or just think of it this way: Disco D got 50 to quote Goodie Mob. That a wonderfully goofy white kid DJ made the gulliest--and most soulful--track on 50 Cent's otherwise hedge-betting The Massacre is an oft-noted irony, but it's not really an irony at all. Disco was responsible for "Ghettotech", as I already mentioned, and he was one of the many DJs of the early 2000s to get really into music from Brazil...but he briefly married some Brazilian Playboy model, which is some weird form of authenticity, right?
Committing suicide as your career's just warming up is a weird form of authenticity too though. For an overview of Disco's career and a piece of music journalism you'll print-out and pour over for years to come, check out Adam Matthew's "The Death of Disco" from the July 24, 2007 issue of The Village Voice. The producer/DJ/entrepreneur (like actually, not just a guy who jumped onto some weird trends, some of his business plans were prophetic) suffered from bipolar disorder and it ultimately led to his suicide in January of 2007. It's real easy to reduce people to symbols when they commit suicide, but Disco seems to represent so many troubled, trying-to-cope suburban but not really suburban white kids that are into hip-hop. "Authenticity" doesn't truly enter the picture ever in hip-hop, but there's a deep, hardened sense of dejection and tough-minded realism that makes so many kids gravitate towards hip-hop. Whether the stuff 50 Cent or much better rappers describe in their songs hits home directly, it's the carefree nihilism that only develops when you first, really, really care about like, everything, that bleeds through hip-hop and makes it "authentic". There's shit at-stake in hip-hop. Disco D knew this and he put it in those rap beats he made that are worth something.
Disco D hanged himself in his parents' home eight or nine days before my best friend shot himself in his apartment. Mike made beats too. A lot of them. But they never got fully completed. He'd always stop and move on once they were a skeleton, a fairly complex skeleton with crumbling vocals or some super crazy organ flourish he'd tossed-in but a skeleton nonetheless. A great Mike story is him getting an organ from some old couple advertising it in the paper and then kinda sorta intimidating them into giving it to him for cheaper when he got there. Every beat hovered around 60% finished and then he stopped altogether really. He was pretty hopeless about the beats being much more than "okay". You couldn't even tell him why they were good or oh-so-close to being really good. He'd already decided they weren't that good. Fucking asshole.