Editor's note: Ahead of the four-year anniversary of beloved '90s party Debaser, we invited party DJs Jamie Jams and Stab Master Arson to make a mix of some of the songs we can expect to hear at Saturday's party. What follows is their mix and commentary.
By JAMIE GUZZI
Hip-hop historians note that Public Enemy's 1989 track "Fight the Power" wasn't merely a call to action, it was a critical opening shot of the '90s and the beginning of a continuing narrative of black empowerment in the public consciousness. For many people, hip-hop offered a critical first exposure to the realities of inner-city life, and helped start a dialogue in mainstream America about what this all might mean.
To celebrate Debaser's four-year anniversary, we put together a little companion piece to last year's Singles mixtape, this time structured around the plot of the 1991 film Boyz n the Hood. It's an effort to bring together not only some of the key musical moments in the public's conceptualization of life in the '90s, but also to highlight some of the serious political and moral themes brought to light in the film, as well as the hope, the tragedy, and, of course, the fun.
We hope you all enjoy the mix and pop by and join us at the Debaser four-year anniversary party Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Elbo Room. We're going to be showcasing the talents of our resident photographer and hip-hop impresario Chris Brennan, aka DJ Stab Master Arson, with an all-hip-hop and R&B set upstairs and an all-'90s alternative set downstairs. Before showing up, peep Stretch Arson on the cut and check out my commentary after the jump!
1. Ice Cube - "Check Yo Self (Radio Remix "The Message")"
"I make dough, but don't call me Doughboy." Ice Cube sagely points out in our opening track that "this ain't no kind of motion picture." This is all very much a part of hip-hop's emerging narrative of everyday life in the 'hood. As an emcee, a producer, and ultimately a movie star, Ice Cube is a central protagonist in this narrative, and his presence is felt both throughout this mix and the film. Even the title of the film, Boyz n the Hood, draws on earlier work by Cube, Dre, and Eazy as part of N.W.A.
2. Cypress Hill - "Hand on the Pump (Extended Mix)"
Am I the only one who seriously contemplated "how I could just kill a man" when this song came out? Things would have to be pretty rough. Cypress Hill's funny-voiced delivery seemed only to highlight the cartoonishness of the statement, but it's hard not to examine exactly how bad things would have to be. I also have to hand it to DJ Muggs on this track. The remix is exceptionally good in a nuanced way, and you'd be advised to check any Muggs-produced tracks you can find. Dude was pulling his weight.
3. Das EFX - "Jussummen (Pete Rock Remix)"
Speaking of cartoons, Das EFX was just funny. Striking up a similar pro-pot stance as Cypress Hill, their lyrics rolled off the dome piece like they had actually smoked all of those blunts previous to recording any of these tracks. We'd also be remiss not to point out that it was a feat of lyrical prowess to pull out the diggity-okie-dokie-type twists and turn in their rhymes in 1992, and Das EFX was the first. Legions of imitators would soon draw the ire of emcees like KRS One and A Tribe Called Quest, but Das EFX did it with creativity and class.
4. EPMD - "Crossover"
Speaking of Das EFX, they got their start after winning a talent show judged by EPMD, and the group's debut album, Dead Serious, owes a great debt to the guidance of EPMD. I recall EPMD as being somewhat of an arbiter of hip-hop cred at the time, no doubt in part to their ironically crossover-ish song, "Crossover." While its themes deal largely with selling out the black community for fame and fortune in mainstream pop, we felt like it made a good introduction to the leitmotif of the father character and the more overtly political themes in the next couple of tracks.
5. Public Enemy - "Can't Truss It (Almighty Raw 125th St. Bootleg Mix)"
Public Enemy was laying the groundwork for gangsta rap years before anyone else, with their revolutionary social politics, overtly political lyrics, and layered, chaotic soundscapes. By the time of the L.A. riots, Public Enemy was practically calling for a full-scale revolution in the streets. Do you know why Flavor Flav wears that huge clock? Because the hour is nearly midnight and it's time for a black power revolution! "Can't Truss It" is our theme song for the father character and his revolutionary politics. Stopping gentrification by collectively refusing to sell our homes? Nurturing a network of local, independent, black-owned, black-operated businesses? We like it!
6. Pete Rock - "Straighten It Out (Remix)"
Everything Pete Rock touches is gold. This song deals with some of the backlash around the landmark 1991 ruling in which Biz Markie was taken to court following his sampling of Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" for a track on his third album, I Need a Haircut. The ruling required that all future sampling be licensed and cleared ahead of time, thereby changing the face of hip-hop forever. Productions like the Dust Brothers' Paul's Boutique or the Bomb Squad's It Takes a Nation of Millions would never again be legally possible without great financial cost to the artists.
In "Straighten It Out," Pete Rock articulately represents the producer's side of the argument, with a thorough examination of what producers as artists bring to the equation of hip-hop, along with a thinly veiled threat to continue "Jackin' for Beats," as Ice Cube says, with a string of bootleg releases. The moment represents a turning point for early '90s hip-hop, and we thought the vibe was a great double entendre for the many social ills addressed in the film.
7. Grand Puba - "360 Degrees (What Goes Around)"
Originally a key player in Brand Nubian, Grand Puba made some excellent and underrated solo material. I'm not sure "360 Degrees" is about anything other than how Grand Puba wants to get next to you, but we thought it made a good transition to some of the lighter moments of the film, with Tre, Chris, and Doughboy hollering at all manner of hoochies at the barbecue.
8. Pharcyde - "I'm That Type of Nigga"
The Pharcyde apparently met as dancers on the L.A. underground club circuit and even served a stint as dancers on the hit comedy show In Living Color. The group rose to prominence on the strength of its eccentric debut album, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde, and successful supporting slots with De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and even a turn on the second stage at Lollapalooza in 1994.
As far as lightening things up, I'm not sure you could lighten things up more than the Pharcyde. We thought it was also a humorous leitmotif for Ice Cube's character, who is clearly in charge of both this particular altercation and the broader narrative of the film.
9. Coolio - "County Line"
Another flip side of the situation in the 'hood is, without a doubt, the people left behind, and Coolio takes the listener on a tour of the various down and outs he encounters while trying to collect food stamps. I myself still wonder why a dude with a hit record needs food stamps, but I guess that's the point of the song. Even Coolio needs some help in this situation. Guess even rap doesn't pay for some people.
10. The Hard Boys - "Groupies"
A lesser-known track than some of the others in the mix, the Hard Boys' "Groupies" stands out as evidence that gangsta rap had pervaded nearly every corner of the United States. Hailing from Atlanta, the Hard Boys took the West Coast sound and gave it a Southern flip. Independent producers were rocking this style everywhere (I'm still a little disappointed we didn't fit in MC Breed's "Ain't No Future in Your Frontin'"), but I think this stands as an excellent example of an underground hit that didn't quite hit everywhere. The lyrics are kind of silly, almost comically cliched, but the more I listen to it, the more I appreciate twists like "Riding around in hoopties, sneaking like Snoopy... Stay away from the groupies."
11. Naughty by Nature - "O.P.P. (Charming Radio Remix)"
Everybody knows "O.P.P.," but how may of you know this amazing remix? Naughty by Nature was known for dropping a string of hip-hop anthems while still maintaining their street cred among the rap faithful. Initially dubbed "The New Style," Naughty by Nature was performing at a string of local talent shows when they were discovered by Queen Latifah. She signed the group to her management company and helped them land a deal with Tommy Boy Records.
In 1991, "O.P.P." was a Top 10 runaway hit, making the group crossover stars and even helping Treach kick off an acting career. (He appeared in the 1992 film Juice.) We did some flips on the relationship dynamics in the film here, and honestly, the Jackson 5 breaks in this one are just exceptional.
12. Paperboy - "Ditty (New Hype Mix)"
I probably should've listened to this one more closely, because I always thought it was about sex, but apparently it's about writing a song, and all y'all dancing to it. Maybe that's good enough, and perhaps it's even the central point of the song. You can do the ditty if you want to, and then I can see if I want you!
Along with "Groupies," "O.P.P.," "Hot Sex," and "Ain't No Fun," the song follows the relationship travails in the film as the characters attempt to lose their virginity, and perhaps their innocence, while bickering humorously along the way. I think it's kind of funny that Tre fully creates a fake story about losing his virginity in the film. I'm still not sure he ever hit it with Brandy!
13. A Tribe Called Quest - "Hot Sex"
Another quick dip into the lighter side of the film, and a lesser-known track from A Tribe Called Quest. "Hot Sex" appeared on the soundtrack to the film Boomerang , and showcases Tip and Phife's dirty side, which apparently includes wearing gimp masks. Tip is way freakier than I thought!
14. Snoop Dogg - "Ain't No Fun (feat. Nate Dogg, Warren G, and Kurupt)"
I always thought this was just about the dirtiest song I've ever heard, at least as far as songs the whole audience will sing along to. While I don't think many people would dispute that Snoop was the king of the moment at that time, I'd like to give some respect to Nate Dogg and Warren G. (Okay, okay, and Kurupt.) And am I the only one who really enjoys the way Nate Dogg and Warren G sing all their rhymes? Try and watch someone do it at karaoke, it isn't easy! Fun fact: Nate Dogg was Snoop's cousin! Totally worth Googling all his songs. R.I.P. Nate Dogg.
15. Yo-Yo - "You Can't Play with My Yo-Yo feat. Ice Cube (Real Remix)"
Produced by Ice Cube, Yo-Yo was just about the best female emcee around at the time, and the beats here are really something as well. Sometimes I can't decide if I like Ice Cube better as a producer or an emcee. But Yo-Yo definitely pulls her own on this track and in fact, the whole album. Look it up! And start with "Pass It On."
We thought "You Can't Play with My Yo-Yo" was a humorous leitmotif for the Brandy character (whom Tre repeatedly fails to sleep with, despite their committed, long-term relationship). It's also an articulate response to the misogyny of the previous track. "Yo-Yo" proves the ladies can be hard, but you still got to respect their feelings and stuff.
16. Mary J. Blige - "Real Love feat. Biggie Smalls (Hip Hop Club Mix)"
I think all anyone is trying to find in this mix, or in life for that matter, is real love. Mary J. Blige is looking for it. Brandy is looking for it. Tre is looking for it. Even Biggie Smalls is looking for it!
We deliberately gave this mix kind of a West Coast feel, but we wanted to do a little shout to the East Coast, and I think Biggie and Mary J. Blige accomplish this. As I have noted in the past, this is also the first appearance of Biggie Smalls. Long live Biggie!
17. Arrested Development - "Tennessee (Dred and Funk Remix)"
All of this fussin' and fightin' can't help but inspire a little soul-searching, and the characters of Boyz n the Hood have that in spades. I'm continually impressed by the maturity Ice Cube's character displays in this film, and ultimately that's the character's central tragedy: He is really struggling to do the right thing, and by some measures he really is, it's just that no one seems to see it. Poor guy.
Arrested Development's "Tennessee" follows the theme of religion in the film, and the moral travails of Ice Cube's character as he struggles to protect the ones he loves in an otherwise cruel and heartless world. All that book learning he did in the brig doesn't seem to have hurt, either. The remix to this song is especially haunting. Listen with headphones!
18. Geto Boys - "Mind Playing Tricks on Me (Extended Club Mix)"
And now, we descend into the shadow of the valley of death. And indeed, the character of Doughboy is painfully aware of the threats that lurk around every corner as a result of his actions. The Geto Boys capture this feeling in excruciating detail on the A-list club version of this track, and DJ Stab Master Arson doesn't really hurt with some crazy tweaks. Another one for the headphones. Maybe while on drugs.
19. Dre Dre - "Nuthin' but a G Thang (Club Mix)"
This one's an anthem, and maybe you all think you know it, but you don't. This is the remix, and there are so many layers of detail to it, I don't even know. My favorite part is the intro, 'cause when Snoop lets out that hearty "Ha, ha!" at the beginning, I can't help but wonder if he's kidding or not.
Dre and Snoop seem to have really been on one when they made all the remixes from this album, because half of them stop for copious bong hits and laughter in the middle. But this one in particular sounds like you really need to be stoned to appreciate it.
20. Warren G - "Regulate (Remix Version)"
Chris always likes to point out the absurdity of the fact that this is a rap track about getting jumped. And I honestly never hear this song without thinking about the scene in Boyz n the Hood where Tre and Ricky finally get caught by the rival gangsters in the film. The one thing I always ask myself, though, is: "Why on Earth does Ricky stop to pee right in the middle of being chased down to his death by armed hoodlums?" I guess this speaks to the innocence of the characters in the film, like it's just another day where everyone plays hard and nothing comes of it.
The scene in the film is actually absolutely heart-wrenching, and while we were making this, we listened to it through a few times and were completely astonished at how deeply horrible it all was. In an effort to make this even listenable, we played with the timing a little bit while leaving the general narrative intact.
21. Ice Cube - "You Know How We Do It"
After the tragic death of Ricky, there has to be some retribution. And in a world where the police don't care and the TV news doesn't even notice you, that retribution can only come from one place: Ice Cube. He doesn't want to do it, but he can. And in some ways, he has to. This is the essential dilemma we face with Doughboy and Tre as we survey the traumatic aftermath of the fight scene in "Mind Playing Tricks on Me" and Ricky's untimely death in "Regulate." Will Tre and Doughboy go through with it? Will Tre get out of the car?
22. Coolio - "I Remember (Kendal's J Funk Remix)"
Obviously, things don't go down well for Chris, Tre, Doughboy, and their adversaries in the final moments of both the film and our mix -- the tragedy of the cycle of violence continues.
Not unlike the themes in "Mind Playing Tricks on Me," Doughboy struggles with his feelings of loss and the senselessness of it all. We find out Tre indeed has taken the other road, and has gotten out of the car. And Dough, bravely, tragically, accepts his fate as the violence continues. Coolio wraps this one up nicely. Man, remember. It used to all just be a game. And that's the tragedy of Boyz n the Hood.