I Never Sleep, ‘Cause Sleep is the Cousin of Death: The 52 State Pick-Up Mix, Part. 4
The 52 State Pick-Up mixtape, because of the nature of the constrictions, will probably be heavy on folk, roots, and country songs — twangy stuff — which is great, but it’s not wholly representative of the musical landscape and stories of the United States (and territories). We invented a few genres of here as well and I would feel remiss if they weren’t adequately represented, so I was thrilled to come up with five state songs to represent a genre that heavily shaped my own musical tastes: hip-hop. Given the number of songs about New York and California showing up for the competition, it feels appropriate to settle the beef this way. Love it or hate it, gangster stories are an integral piece of the genre, so needless to say, many songs are NSFW; but neither are movies like The Departed, GoodFellas, and other Oscar winners.
This is where it started, kids. Some talented folks at parks and parties in the Bronx got impatient waiting for the breakbeat of songs (aka the best part), so they extricated that sonic moment (aka sampling) then spliced it together to play continuously and seamlessly, creating a new sound to make you dance. Then people started to grab a microphone to talk and sing over it, and that’s how we got here. Jay-Z is arguably the more popular choice, but Empire State of Mind doesn’t count because a) while I love that he name-checked the state motto, it’s not “New York” and b) let’s be real, we love that song because of Alicia Keys. To honor the legacy of the birthplace, I pick Nas. NY State of Mind is a single off his first album, Illmatic, a 1994 album that helped usher in the second golden age of hip-hop, in no small part because of production by Large Professor and DJ Premier. This track samples two jazz songs, “Mind Rain” by Joe Chambers and “Flight Time” by Donald Byrd, so it gets bonus points for drawing off another genre invented in America. I have to thank Damon Brown for my education on Premier years back, to help me fully appreciate that the man sampled a plane landing. Yes, I know technically the song title is “N.Y.” and not “New York”, but this song is featured in a Norton Anthology, so it’s got academic AND street cred.
I had to go there for the Volunteer State, I don’t know what to say. Wait, yes I do: you know you know all the words and can’t help nodding and singing when it’s on. “A game of horseshoooooes!”
The same year Tennessee came out, in Virginia Beach, Clipse got together and started rapping. They were popular in Old Dominion (thumbs down on the motto, VA), but didn’t break through to national radio until 2001 with their song Grindin’, produced by the Neptunes. Remember when the Neptunes were producing 2/3 of the songs on the radio?? This song, off of that same first major label album, is dark and gritty, which is to say, it’s all about the drug game. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Virginians like to cook food, too, but he’s not really talking about supper.
The Grand Canyon State comes with its own song warning. I would say “remember this song?” but then Arizona passed those messed up “papers-please” immigration laws earlier this year and people started circulating the video from Public Enemy’s album Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black. The more things change, the more they stay the same, which is the point of DJ Spooky’s remix of the track. Sadly most people know Public Enemy because of reality television shows like Flavor of Love, but this song is from the time when they were seen as a little dangerous. Like Mississippi Goddamn, rage and frustration has a place in music, not just to keep us from personally exploding, but also to record stories for history and our generally poor collective memory.
The mix this week has been heavy, so I ending with a feel-good party song. Even if this wasn’t a mix about the states, this is a go-to track to get people on the dancefloor, including the one in my bedroom. There are so many reasons this track about the Golden State is banging. First of all, it features Joe Cocker’s Woman to Woman, a classic sample. Second, Roger Troutman singing! Third, it was produced by Dr. Dre, another name in the annals of classic albums. Fourth, if I made a hip-hop mix without representing the west coast, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Fifth, the video is delightfully cuckoo, as mentioned here before.
What other rapping about states did I miss?