Friday, September 23, 2005

Blue Eyes Meets Bed-Stuy

The Hip-Hop/Swing crossover phenomenon continues with Blue Eyes Meets Bed-Stuy, a bootleg "mash-up" from Djs Cappel & Smitty, which posthumously pairs Hoboken hardman Frank Sinatra and Bed-Stuy badass Biggie "Notorious B.I.G." Smalls. Sinatra and Smalls were, ostensibly, kindred spirits: tail-chasing, hard-living gangster wannabes. In truth they had almost nothing in common.

Sinatra was closely involved with wiseguys Sam "OG" Giancana, Frank Costello, Willie Moretti et alia but publicly denied any association whereas Biggie wore his ersatz gangsta credentials like a cheap suit. It may have been "Sinatra's world" but the mob didn't just live in it ~ they were the majority shareholders.

The mob bought into Sinatra but Biggie bought into the mob: his gangsta affectations were filtered through, and abstracted by, the distorting medium of popular culture. Biggie's gangsta persona was inspired by movie Mafiosi, Tony Montana and Frank White, rather than real deal Cosa Nostra.

Ironically the mafia's post-modernist potency ascended in inverse proportion to the organisation's decline. Times change: owning up to mafia associations, philandering and other nefarious activities would have been career death for Sinatra but for Smalls... beefing-up his criminal cv with ever more outrageous transgressions, real or imagined, was always a good career move.

The gangster mythos endemic within hip-hop "culture" is a crassly cannibalised, inanely synthesized and incestuously self-referential fiction. This neophyte culture is based on appropriation and imitation rather than innovation and its appetite for "authenticity" reveals its insecurity. The, seemingly related, killings of Tupac and Biggie could be interpreted as a calculated attempt to "legitimate" the duo's criminal credentials: their deaths sealed their transition from mere Thug Life Mortals to Gangsta Gods and, in the opinion of most uncritical critics, invested their work with ex post facto gravitas.

Blue-Eyes meets Bed-Stuy doesn't work for a number of reasons, but chiefly because Sinatra's stellar talent is subordinated to Biggie's barely-discernable gifts. BEMBS is a bunch of Biggie a capella raps laid over the top of unimaginative loops of, generally, downbeat, second-rate Sinatra tracks. It's clear where this project's "masterminds"' loyalties lie: Capel and Smitty even have the temerity to speed up Sinatra's vocal on Everyday Struggle/A Day In the Life of a Fool and for this crime alone they deserve to be dispatched to Quentin for the electric cure. Even when Old Blue Eyes' buddies, the Kennedys, welshed on the (alleged) deal to go easy on organised crime after the crooner persuaded the mafia to deliver Illinois, Sam Giancana would still have had way too much respect to make Sinatra sound like Edith Piaf. Capel and Smitty commit Egotistical DJ Mistake 101 by assuming everything they steal is malleable grist for their manipulative mill. Wrong: The Chairman of the Board ain't no dj's bitch.

Nevertheless, and despite his peripheral role in the fabric of these mixes, second-rate Sinatra is embarrassingly superior to first-rate Smalls. Sinatra's sepulchral vocals drift in and out of the mix like a sombre Ghost of Christmas Past as Biggy gravely intones lyrical gems such as "Hail Mary full of grace.. smack the bitch in the face." Smalls drones on and on about hip-hop's unholy, unimaginative trinity (Guns, Hos 'N' Money) in his inimitably indecipherable version of Brooklyn braggadocio. Despite occasional moments of inspiration, Biggie 's much-touted verbal dexterity is a myth. It's a savage indictment of the prevailing Climate of Inanity that such a limited talent should be accorded such a prestigious position within popular culture's Pantheon of Immortals.

Dead Wrong/In My Room is a song I wish I could unlisten to: a desire to spring-clean the synapses and disinfect the cerebral cortex seems like the only conceivable response to this litany of atrocities. For some mysterious reason hip-hop's aristocracy, from the Geto Boys to 50 Cent, continue to labour under the misapprehension that we're all itching to take a trip inside the mind of a serial killer. Count me out of your travel itinerary, guys: being trapped inside Ted Bundy's cranium, with only a flash-light and tour guide Biggie for company, makes my alternate holiday destination, the seventh circle of Hell, sound like Bora Bora. At least Capel and Smitty did one thing right: excising the scatalogical preamble to Nasty Boy/For Every Man There's a Woman was a rare editorial triumph.

Sinatra, despite his philandering, whoremongering, boozing, mafia-consorting, mean-spirited dark side, transcended his copious shortcomings and produced art which was, and is, capable of elevating the spirit. Biggie's raps, by contrast, embrace the gutter.


jasonC123 said...

Eugene Ionesco is a musical DWARF. If you for one second mistake Biggies uncanny ability to take inner-city scenarios and paint pictures with words then you my friend are a fool. Biggies classic delivery does nothing but bring flavor and substance to Sinatras classic tracks (and if you consider Sinatra's New York second rate then you my friend are a 3rd rate idiot!!!

eugene ionesco said...

"Eugene Ionesco is a musical DWARF."

How true: I had my heart set on the role of Tamino in Nicolas Hyntner's English National Opera production of The Magic Flute at The Coliseum in London but, tragically, I couldn't meet the minimum height requirement.

"If you for one second mistake Biggies uncanny ability to take inner-city scenarios and paint pictures with words then you my friend are a fool."

Replace "mistake" with "underestimate" and you're well on your way towards a comprehensible sentence.

"Biggies classic delivery does nothing but bring flavor and substance to Sinatras classic tracks.."

I'll concede that a line like "Money and blood don't mix like two dicks and no bitch" possesses a degree of rudimentary transgressive power, but if Biggie's epigrammatic conflation of homophobia and sexism brings anything to Sinatra's table it certainly isn't substance. I'm not sure what Biggie's mantra-like chant "Come on motherfuckers, come on!" brings to "My Way of Life" other than an unparalleled ability to induce a migraine.

"..and if you consider Sinatra's New York second rate then you my friend are a 3rd rate idiot!!!"

"New York, New York" (so good they named it twice) is the best Sinatra track deployed on this album, though hardly the best in his repertoire, but it's potency has been undermined by it's ubiquity. BEMBS's opening track "Juicy/New York New York" works far better than anything else on the album, but it's downhill all the way from then on.
Samples from second-rate Sinatra tracks are grafted onto Biggie's raps with little or no discernible purpose other than smuggle a scintilla of Sinatra's signature style into the mix and to apply a thin veneer of legitimacy to the project. BEMBS is no cathartic summit meeting of criminal minds and it's no Olympian Gangsta God get-together.

My favourite Biggy rap here, "Hypnotize", is coupled with an instrumental sample from that Sinatra "classic", "Little Green Apples", to characteristically little effect. As an aficionado of both hip-hop and swing music, I had high hopes for this project. Sadly, my expectations weren't fulfilled.

Still, at least I can console myself with the thought that it's better to be a 3rd rate idiot than a first rate one!

Anonymous said...

Who would you consider a better rapper than Biggie? In terms of lyrical dexterity I would argue that few are better. He didn't address many topics, but he rapped about what was around him and did a better job at it than anyone else I know.

eugene ionesco said...

"Who would you consider a better rapper than Biggie? In terms of lyrical dexterity I would argue that few are better."

I prefer Chuck D, Guru, Rakim, KRS-One, Chief Xcel, Gift of Gab, Lyrics Born, Immortal Technique... to name just a few.

Anonymous said...

hood god whoever worte this review is totally missng the point and has virtually no sense of hiphop culture or the undeniable beauty of a "mash up" project sone proper. Your allegiance to Sinatra is verging on homosexual, and kind of pathetic. I would argue that the samples and chops of sinatra are done with respect to his musical legacy since a lot of the sample cuts are obscured with other instrumentation by the producers. You are completely off base but HEY opinions are like assholes. everbodys got em'.

eugene ionesco said...

"Your allegiance to Sinatra is verging on homosexual, and kind of pathetic."

No, what's truly pathetic, my anonymous friend, is coming into my house, insulting me and not even having the cojones to show your face. Still, at least you exhibit one of the most egregious aspects of the "hip-hop culture" you clearly claim to hold a proprietorial interest in: homophobia. I know the term isn't an oxymoron, but people like you perpetuate the myth that it is.

Anonymous said...

biggie was black you know like the people everyone feels free to hate on. when your the footstool of america it kinda makes you gangsta even when you dont want to be . but i cant make you black i can only ask you to feel his unrelenting truths about life of a lyrical king kong (the white chick being lady liberty as in freedom) fight wit the empire(america). frank was good just like barry white but somtimes you get angry and another version of the truth might come out "they dont know about the stress filled day babby on the way mad bills to pay"
probably sounds like a nursery ryme to you but you would praise the complexity of nothing. all im saying is when your white friends arent around give a brother a chance. the life of fool is my favorite song because it shows how miseducation leads to sin which is just foolishness really .so when biggie says fuck the world sinatra says calmly and almost sadly "what a fool

Anonymous said...

"biggie was black you know like the people everyone feels free to hate on."

Wonderful, a totally off-topic lead in, superior diction, and perfect grammar; congratulations my well-educated and non-biased friend. No one makes you anything you don't choose to accept, plenty of poor, minority, and disadvantaged people have made great strides for themselves through seeking education and possessing gumption.

The greater issue presented here is the conflicting view of substance in light of talented delivery. You are missing the point, applicable metaphors or not, there is a tremendous difference in the level of subtley and ultimately, talent. No one is casting off Biggie's statements entirely, but simply comparing them to Sinatra's. I love how your attitude (as conveyed here) seems to be completely opposite your favorite song's message.

Anonymous said...

mr fontain

that was a very funny conversation.
i sing sinatra songs and dj hip hop. i like a couple of songs on the album. but to bring the argument of biggie being black into the convo is low, there are enough if not more quality black swing/jazz singers which have made it without jumping on the gangsta story. the problem with the album wasnt sinatra or biggie because they are both brilliant in there different ways the problem of the album is 2 hip hop dj's who dont understand swing/jazz. its like a rock producer producing a biggie track its not gna work.

Anonymous said...

Dear Eugene,

I am not one to post on blogs, or take interest in other peoples opinions on music. That being said, after reading your review and posts on your own article... I need to say that you are the biggest asshole i have come across on the internet. I dont think anyone thinks you are smart because you use big words. i dont believe anyone thinks you are funny. I think everyone who has seen your page must hate you more then they did before they saw you make a fool of yourself by pretending anyone gives a fuck what you think. Next time you think about posting, i suggest loading up a six shooter and playing russian roullete alone. We would all be happy with that outcome. So on behalf of everyone who has read your dumbass posts before they realized what they were doing,

stop being an asshole. No one wants to read what you have to say if you're just going to be a dick. I hate myself for having to post this, but it was important to let you know just how big of a tool you are being. I sure hope you let this message be on your prestigous board.

You truely are a bastard.

eugene ionesco said...

Thanks for those damning words, anonymous. I feel almost privileged to be the object of such incandescent, if unfocused and unattributed, ire. Hating yourself for hating me, however, stikes me as an unnecessarily indulgent embellishment.

Anonymous said...

Eugene Ionesco is a faggot ass bitch YES YOU ARE... FAG FUCKER NIGGER LOVER FUCK YO COUCH NIGGA