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.