SWAG! SWAG! SWAG!
If it’s good it’s stolen. In a six part report from the frontline of music we bring you the hottest property around. Why are Led Zeppelin hip? Why did Chicago House take its revenge on Europe? And what the hell is Vivaldi doing here? STUART COSGROVE, SEAN O’HAGAN and JAMES BROWN report.
really heavy, but rap music is hard—not
just the beat, the attitude too—it has the same feeling as what we do.”
Charlie Benante, Anthrax
year ago you could have attributed that quote to any of the cocky
young, lean, black rap acts that were stalking out of New York
relying on their mouths as much as their music to gain them
attention. It would have been hip, quick, easy, and wrong. There’s
no possible way you could have considered it a comment from the
drummer with Anthrax, a band whose supercharged megaf**k metal guitar
playing never dropped below the speed of thrash and whose guitarist
Scot ‘Not’ Ian wore a field of stubble where his face should
When Rick Rubin’s dream of smashing rap with metal into the Walkmans and households of the West was realised with Run DMC, and Steve Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith in ‘Walk This Way’, all that was changed. It outraged the readers of Kerrang!, proved that everything big bad and brilliant was heading out of America, and fast, and in one mighty riff it chopped the barrier between two of the hardest, most conservative forms of music around — hip-hop and metal.
Verbal aggression about pride, sex, depression and having blood not smack in your veins were bouncing up and down and in and about the beefiest guitar riffs since Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and The Sex Pistols, and that’s because they were the riffs of Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and the Sex Pistols.
It happened so immediately and forcefully that Rick Rubin and his crossover ideas became a fact of life in the time it took to hear just one 7” single. And though it took the Captains of Brat the Beastie Boys, to really make the white British Indie and rock communities wake up and begin what the likes of the Three Wise Men had been doing for a year, metal and hip-hop became inexorably linked.
Metal and rap have both been fortified by the injection of the other. A prime example is the way The Cult, produced by Rubin, have exploded out of their dreary image to become accepted as serious hard rocking mothers. Likewise stolen metal riffs are now as much a part of hip-hop as a mouth and a mike. John Bonham is becoming the staple black dance beat, and The Stupids have taken to parodying Schoolly D.
STEAL AND STEAL AGAIN
Hip-hop’s mastery of the art of positive plunder has thrown up some obsessively reconstructed rhythms, stolen and remodelled again and again in the search for the perfect beat.
rap came overground in ‘79, it rode on the back of the last classic
disco groove, Chic’s ‘Good Times’. Disco’s epic swansong
became rap’s biggest staple
steal. Its taut bassline kickstarted the Sugarhill rhythm regime and
unleashed the fastest selling, biggest selling 12” debut in
history. The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ utilised the
‘Good Times’ riff for an elongated tale of “hotel,
motel, Holiday Inn”.
Then came the deluge: Spoonie Gee’s ‘Monster Jam’, Kurtis Blow’s ‘Christmas Rapping’ and The Sugarhill Gang’s ‘8th Wonder’. By 1980, Chic’s ripped-off riff was everywhere. In the crossover pop charts, Blondie joined the bandwagon with ‘Rapture’ and even old lags like Queen saw the mileage in a half-inched bassline. If ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ was-the ultimate cheek, then the ultimate Chic had to be 1981’s colossal ‘The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel’, a Sugarhill slice that plundered from all the previous ’Good Times’ takeaways. This was Ultra-Sonic Theft.
After ‘Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel’, there was nowhere else to go but further out: Chic’s sleek disco insistence gave way to the second great staple steal, the marathon minimalism of Kraftwerk’s Euro-electro. No one had estimated the popularity and importance of Kraftwerk on the New York club scene, where ‘Trans-Europe Express’ was a turntable favourite with followers of Flash and the ascendant Afrika Bambaataa. Then came ‘Planet Rock’ in ‘82, a Bambaataa/Arthur Baker collaboration that pushed the Tommy Boy label to the forefront of the electro scene. Kraftwerk’s preprogrammed pulsebeat was the perfect base for console trickery and, in the case of go-go, live experimentation. ‘Planet Rock’ stole from ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and ‘Numbers’; Trouble Funk’s startling ‘Trouble Funk Express’ mixed Kraftwerk with the crankin’ beat and effortlessly created electro-go-go. The Fearless Four’s ‘Rock In It’ rapped the odds over huge dismembered chunks of ‘Man Machine’. The first age of Computer Theft.
In ‘87, it’s back to basics. Side by side with the Rare Groove soul-funk scene, rappers have turned to the Godfather, finally finding the nerve to rip off the ruler, Mr James Brown. The biggest club hit of the summer is Eric B’s ‘I Know You Got Soul’, a hip-hop homage to Bobby Byrd’s original JB stomper of the same name. With a huge James Brown back catalogue to rifle, the current trend for crossing and recrossing the tracks should continue unabated. Is this what he meant by the ‘Rapp Payback’?
Chicago House music is divine retribution, a thief’s charter that takes revenge on disco, samples history ’til it screams-and redresses the balance-sheet of pop. Theft has had two great generations - then and now. In the ‘60s, when Britain first managed to impose its authority on pop; theft was the ace card in the entrepreneurial hand of London-based record companies.
‘60s would never have swung without a bit of burglary, the great
landmarks of the British beat boom were simply stolen from black
American sources, then ‘tidied up’ for mass consumption. The
Beatles recorded The Isley Brothers’ ‘Twist And Shout’. The
Rolling Stones sanitised The Valentinos’ ‘It’s All Over Now’.
Cilla Black blanded the heart out of Dionne Warwick’s ‘Anyone Who
Had A Heart’ and The Moody Blues did untold decorative damage to
Bessie Banks’ ‘Go Now’. Even the decade’s greatest pop song,
Lulu’s ‘Shout’, was stolen from the Isleys. SC
House has broken the mould forever. The first generation saw theft as exploitation, one-way cultural traffic in which the authentic voice of black America was taken and toned down. But that was then and this is now. In 1987, theft is emancipatory, the traffic flows in both directions, every tune is a victim and every musician has the ability to mug a passer-by.
The reverberating beat of Chicago House is drawn from the critically repugnant wealth of old disco. Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley’s ‘Jack Your Body’ is a steal from old Salsoul album tracks and Farley’s ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ is an updated version of Isaac Hayes’ ‘I Can’t Turn Around’. But neither could exist without Europe. Whole rhythm sections from some of Chicago’s most successful Jack Trax are ripped off from the most unlikely sources, from the critically repugnant wealth of Gary Numan, from Depeche Mode, from Blancmange, from The Art Of Noise, New Order, Cars and Yello. Chicago would never have happened if Munich hadn’t discovered Donna Summer and Frankfurt hadn’t perpetuated Euro-Disco. And today’s Chicago House dancers are lusting after European avant-dance releases by Belgium’s Front 242 and The Young Gods from Switzerland. House is the first black American sound that relies on European pop for its inspiration: and he who steals from the thief is blessed.
THE SUBLIMINAL STEAL
Or, spot the scratch. The other side of sonic overkill is a place where the seasoned turntable tea-leaf covers his tracks, leaving only buried clues or the merest suggestion of his sources.
every Def Jam metal overstatement nicked intact from an old Led Zep
or Aerosmith album, there’s a host of subliminal steals courtesy of
clever kleptomaniacs like Curtis Mantronik. Everyone
The Art of Noise to Canadian metal mutha, Billy Squiers, has been
hidden amidst the Matronik techno-tyranny. You may have spotted the
theme tune or snatches of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Johnny
the Fox’ in
his work but can you pinpoint the host of stolen signatures that make
up the mockingly titled ‘Who Is It?’ - subliminal theft at its
For sublime subliminal suggestion check out Schooly D’s ‘Saturday Night’ album where the hard one’s machismo is juxtaposed with DJ Code Money’s brutal minimalism. ‘We Get Ill’ nicks the short piano crescendo from the Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’. Nothing more. Or for the perfect tonic to the Age of Chance’s crass ‘Kiss’ overkill try General Kane’s ‘Crack Killed Applejack’ which has a split second freeze frame of the clipped Prince guitar riff. Here and gone, never repeated.
The MCs of RAP’s ‘Domination’ repeats the ‘Kiss’ motif in its opening bars, the barest hint of intent that misleads even as it intrigues.
the Ultra Magnetic MCs revisited and plundered garageland on
‘Travelling At The Speed Of Thought’, -
source was The Kingsmen’s
Louie’ but buried in there, between 80’s state of the art hip-hop
hardware and 60s’ primal punk energy was a nagging cowbell beat;
curt, clipped and dislocated - The Rolling Stone’s ‘Honky Tonk
Woman’. In itself a secondhand blues swagger, now pulled into the
80’s, stripped to the bare bones, almost beyond recognition.
For ‘Big Decision’ That Petrol Emotion hiked ‘Agitate, Educate, Organise’ from Brother D And Collective Effort’s ‘How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise’. A crowbar of a cut.
The subliminal steal is perhaps the most potent and provocative form of plunder, stealing from the past whilst almost erasing it. Ask not for whom the cowbell tolls…
‘Say Kids What Time Is It?’ is the best piece of sonic theft on the block and DJ Coldcut is a pure monster. No one really knows who he is but he embodies the spirit of ’87, snatching and scratching any sound that catches his eye. Don’t give me that magpie stuff, this DJ is a monster. Coldcut’s recycled 12” steals from every imaginable source, Kurtis Blow’s ‘Party Time’, Trouble Funk’s ‘Drop The Bomb’, the soundtrack of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and when Walt Disney wisnae looking, he even stole bits from Jungle Book. Coldcut is the king of the swingers, a hip-hop VIP.
a brazen dude. His first record snatches whole chunks from
Grandmaster Flash’s stolen masterpiece ‘Adventures On The Wheels
Of Steel’, you see in the world of the klepto and the cut creator,
DJs even steal from their best mates. Coldcut shows no remorse.
“Hip-hop places originality above everything else. The whole scene
is a fresh mutation of exciting sounds combined with new creativity.
Theft is no longer a crime or a disgrace.
It’s the norm.”
DJ Coldcut is the
prototype punk, a hip-hop mystery who made the most sought after
illegal club record on a domestic cassette recorder. Coldcut, king of
the pause button, likes to try the art trip on his followers. “Say
Kids is a musical collage very like the visual arts; like musical
Dadaism”. No-one believes him, the art talk doesn’t work, Van
Gogh had one ear, Coldcut has two, and he steals everything he
The snatch ‘n’ scratch style has led to the recent release of another 12”, ‘Beats And Pieces’ by Coldcut and Floormaster Squeeze, which is released this week on Ahead Of Our Times. It has the same Wizardry as Double Dee and Steinski, it’s already been played on legal stations like Capital Radio and is a staple sound on the Pirate networks. Coldcut’s new release assembles beats and pieces from James Brown’s ‘Make It Funky’ and adds stolen sounds from Schoolly D, Wild Magnolias, Full Force and, wait for it, Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’! Coldcut likes to think he’s a classical buff, the Yo Boy’s revenge on Rachmaninov. But more than that, he likes to think he’s the voice of democratic dipping, “I’m the people’s pickpocket, the thief you can dance to.”
ARMED ROBBERY WITH
Armed robbery with violence, Muncehead. You can get 25 years for it
and with Renegade Sound Wave, Age Of Chance, The Young Gods, and The
Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu currently tooling up with total pop
pilfering the end of the century will be distributed, danced, and
discarded as quickly as a Top Ten hit. When John Lydon’s barking
sneer first crush collided with Afrika Bambaataa’s raw funk beat in
‘World Destruction’ three years ago they undoubtedly planted the
seed that is today charging with such vigour and direction through
The Indie Charts have been pillaged, the Beastie Boys are currently the most influential group in Britain (every unimaginative band in the country now compare themselves to the Beasties in their press releases), and even the goths, the soot haired death faced embodiment of rock conservatism in the 1980s, are starting to follow the grebo guidance of Pop Will Eat Itself and Gaye Bykers On Acid and are now chicken wiggling to Cult club mixes.
Crush, crotch, crash collision; sonic architecture, and armed robbery, the descriptions are violently aggressive but then again so are the records. When you’ve weaned yourself on the noises of hard reggae sound systems (Renegade Sound Wave), Swiss Air Force runways (The Young Gods), Test Dept and The Four Tops (Age of Chance), and acid and heavy rock (Zodiac Mindwarp) and then suddenly get hit by a hurricane of dance awareness that every institution but the young want to ignore there’s no other way it could have sounded but customised and powerful.
Whereas the hippies wanted to give and the punks wanted to destroy, the pilots of kamikazi collision only exist to steal. Listen to ‘Don’t Take Five Take What You Want’ on The JAMMs LP or any Young Gods track and you’ll realise that whilst most trad rock and pop bands have been arguing the toss about politics, history, and religion, those intent on making confrontational dance music have been rifling and plundering from a stretch of popular music that begins with Mendelssohn and ends with Janet Jackson.
They have created and set about recording a channel of music which cuts straight through all previous style barriers and walls of sounds. It is flexible and imaginative, and throbs with the collective powers of pop, funk, soul, and punk. It’s an armed robbery with violence, put your hands in the air, and hit the deck.