Friday, July 28, 2006

The Ass-Ex: Devil Worship

I mentioned The Assimilated Exchange in the context of discussing the Eminettes and the everyone-can-rap-now pandemic. The idea was to point out that in the assimilation process, you win some, and you lose some. Hip hop culture has assimilated, and while there are jobs and commercial profit, you also have to tolerate silly looking weather-women making a mockery of the art-form you used to hold so dear. On the flip side, caucasians may get a kick out of the Chappelle Show, or getting to pop their collar. But they have to suck it up when Tiger takes over the golf course. Or Diddy forces another rock classic into a hip hop box that doesn't fit.

Point being there's an exchange, and not every exchange is even. That's the first thought. Then the next thought was while going through my itunes (i.e. the itune swatches that serve as a form of identification), I'm always thinking about here's a song caucasians jock, and it's hot, but negroes probably aren't up on it. And vice verse. Here's a hip hop song, that caucasians might be overlooking, because they don't quite understand the science behind it. Or how it might relate to their worldview. And perhaps, that's what TAN is all about. Translating worldviews.

So, I'm going to begin an official The Assimilated Exchange (Ass-Ex) feature, where I will post two songs, one representing for my caucasian peeps, one for the negro side. We'll do some sort of analysis compare/contrast. And I'll also try and include the mp3 link, so you can add these must-have songs to your collection.

We're going to start with perhaps the most official representatives for either side. The Rolling Stones for my c-peeps. And Jay-Z for my negroes. And I'm going to look at two songs that tackled the same subject/concept. Sympathy for the Devil, by the Stones. D'Evils, by Jigga.

I decided on these two cause I was just reading the XXL issue celebrating the 10th anniversary of Jay-Z's debut album Reasonable Doubt. And it was the third or fourth time I've seen Jay talking about how much the song D'Evils means to him. The songs themselves aren't on the same level. But it occurred to me that Jay might be the hip hop equivalent of The Rolling Stones. Not musically, of course, but in terms of status and importance to their respective genre of music. The Rolling Stones are touted as the greatest rock-and-roll band. Jay as the greatest hip hop artist.

Now, in a battle of the beats, Sympathy wins hands down. Granted it might be comparing apples and oranges, the Jay-Z song is a sample-based beat by Primo, basically a two-bar loop and vocal samples for the hook. The Stones song is a fully evolved musical composition with solos and all that. When you get people talking about hip hop music as lazy, repetitive, boring ... this compare and contrast really highlights that. Especially when you consider Premier is one of hip hop's classic producers.

Of course the caveat here is that Sympathy might be the Stones best song, and D'Evils is not likely to be on the top ten list for either Jay or Primo, aside from sentimental reasons. But if you look at them as song archetypes, you can see where there's just a lot more to build off of with the Stones song.

Moving on to the lyrics, I give the writing team of Mick Jagger/Keith Richards the nod over Hov on this as well. Again, it's a tough comparison, but I take it from the angle of what they tried to do with the devil concept. Jagger takes a first-person perspective, and sort of goes through history as the devil. Jigga goes third-person, and sort of translates the devil not as a person but as a connection to "The-Evils" in the world, particularly on the streets. Both are well executed lyrically. But since Jagger maintains a cohesive narrative flow, and Jay is three separate verses on the subject, it sort of feels like the difference between a good movie and a good documentary. The good movie, draws you in, and immerses you in a story. The documentary tells you about all these things more matter of factly. There's less magic. It's a classic case of the writer's mantra, "show, don't tell."

The comparison here also does a good job of showing how hip hop is still in its early years in terms of creatively expressing these universal themes. A song like D'Evils viewed solely in the context of hip hop's history is a lot more significant. There aren't a lot of songs that try and take on the subject of evil, or the devil, with this sort of twist. But in the context of all the genres of music, it's going to fall short. It's sort of basic. Certainly worth doing, but not a classic song that can resonate across the board. So it shows how hip hop's catalogue overall might still be a little shallow. D'Evils is a big fish in a small pond.

It's also a good demo of how emcees can lose a mainstream audience by being tricky with the wordplay, instead of just telling a good interesting story. Slick Rick was great because he just told the story, he didn't get stuck on maintaining an intricate rhyme scheme over eight bars, or tricky wordplay that has nothing to do with the theme of the song. If he would have dealt with heavier subjects, he might have written a Sympathy for the Devil. As is, Nas would probably be the best bet for a good narrative along those lines.

So to wrap this up. I think comparing these songs, and the stature of the artists shows a lot of what hip hop is lacking. Musicality and creative storytelling with universal themes. Sympathy is a classic song, while D'Evils is a classic hip hop song, limited by the boundaries of its genre at the time. If you're an A&R or producer or manager with a good hip hop artist, you might ask them to take a stab at doing something like Sympathy for the Devil. Get some hot production, and you might very well have a timeless hit on your hands.

Actually take Kanye on production. Add Nas. Tell them to do a hip hop take on Sympathy. That would be a classic.

Sympathy For The Devil - The Rolling Stones

MP3 File

D'Evils - Jay-Z

MP3 File


  1. Someone actually did release a Hiphop take on Sympathy for the Devil. I don't remember where it was released, but the Neptunes took the original masters and delivered a remix, flipping the drums on the original into more syncopated, rap ready rythms.

    I won't lie, I thought it'd be terrible on paper, but the results were pretty fresh. Pharell and co didn't over do it, keeping it tasteful and subtle for most of the song and then finally delivering a huge dramatic ending on the last verse with accoustic guitars and strings, giving it appropriate gravitas without robbing it of the song's original groove.

  2. Yeah. I forgot to include the sympathy for the devil wiki and there are a number of remixes listed. i thought the neptunes version was solid also.

    d'evils has no wiki. there you go.

  3. Anonymous7/28/2006

    Slick Rick is my absolute favorite. I still listen to "Children's Story" whenever I can.

  4. I think D'Evils belongs in Jay-Z's top 10 personally, the song blew me away the first time I ever heard it.

  5. My favorite part:

    "I kept feeding her money til shit started to make sense (cents)."

    So clever.

    And I don't think Nas could do any high concept justice. The guy has all the charisma and presence of a dirty chair.

  6. Anonymous7/28/2006

    Nas did the song about the gun, I gave you power. jay-z couldn't do a song like that. nas has no charisma in interviews and such, but as an emcee he's very creative and charismatic. hence his popularity, even though his catalog might not be on that level

  7. I like this idea TAN. You might want to create specific sections, i.e. lyrics, beat, artist significance. regiment the structure and this will be awesome as a regular feature.

  8. wow. I haven't seen anything like this. i thought this was great. I love sympathy for the devil, haven't heard the jay-z song. If you have more in the tank this is an awesome idea.

  9. moneda7/28/2006

    Though my support for Jay wanes more almost daily I have to admit your points of comparison between the two songs in question, TAN, are kind of.... off base? More opinion than fact at least. "The Stones song is a fully evolved musical composition with solos and all that." Truthfully I found it more than a bit boring, with guitar solos and "woo woo" thrown in to spice up what would otherwise put one to sleep. Also, to type out something like, "Slick Rick was great because he just told the story, he didn't get stuck on maintaining an intricate rhyme scheme over eight bars, or tricky wordplay that has nothing to do with the theme of the song," shows that you may not have a true understanding of Hip-Hop music that has eminated from New York, Brooklyn especially. The lyrical intricacies are part of the theme. I'll concede Hip-Hop music (though not the culture) is still very much more immature than the other genres it's pushed to the wayside on its way up the pop ladder, though. If that keeps at bay its further assimilation, however, I welcome its immaturity.

  10. Anonymous, Nas has no charisma in interviews OR raps. He just strings together a bunch of 5% Nation terminology together that sounds deep but ultimately means nothing. That gun song, "I Gave You Power" is dull from the monotone intro ("Like I'm a f...I'm a gun, shit, it's like I'm a mutheruckin gun...") to the sloppy metaphors peppered throughout the song.

    Jay can't do a song like that? Get real, he could easily do a song like that. He just won't, because it's boring, preachy and corny. That's why Jay sells and Nas doesn't.

  11. Jay sells because he panders to the pop audience.

  12. moneda - dig into the blog and you'll find out more about my NYC hip hop roots. needless to say I have a lot of experience with the culture in just about every capacity. My point wasn't to say "lyical intricacies" aren't part of the culture, that's why I bring it up in the first place. My point is in terms of the art of storytelling, Slick Rick is revered as on of hip hop's first great storytellers. And part of his prowess in that regard is due to avoiding excessive lyrical wordplay.

    this idea holds true in all mediums. film directors often muddy a good story by showing off and seeing how much they can pack into 90 minutes. artists across the board mess up good work by tryign to prove their intelligence instead of just telling the story and connecting. but i think this is particularly rampant in hip hop, because the "rules" of the genre are so rigid.

  13. and T is definitely selling nas short. but I can't tend to that now.

    Nas, you out there? chime in son.

  14. I like your stuff TAN, but every once in a while you lay down a great one, and this was one of them.

    Since I live with a woman named Lucifer, and she collects any and all songs dealing with the subject, she'd like to say thanks for the Jay-Z cut.


  15. eauhellzgnaw7/29/2006

    Fantastic post.

    “Sympathy for The Devil” is a great song, but it isn’t the pinnacle of rock like you’re making it out to be. Then again, I’ve never bought into the whole “Stones are the end all” hype (no, I’m not a Beatles groupie either).

    Your assessment of “D’Evils” doesn’t sit well with me. You come off like an outsider, someone reared on rock and new to rap, trying to make sense of rap through the lens of rock instead of on its own terms. This is all too common among rock critics, and though it is not malicious, it irks the hell out of me. It’s responsible for their Em and Shadow worship (aside from the obvious) in addition to their praise of “alternative” black rappers, regardless of quality. The weird thing is, from reading your blog, I know this isn’t your background.

    “D’Evils” is not only Jay’s best concept song (it’s much better than his more strictly metaphorical songs, “Dope Man,” and “Meet The Parents,” for instance, and I think that only “Girls Girls Girls” is as fully realized as a clever concept—too bad it went over the heads of his hardcore fans and his haters), it’s his best song…period. And the Primo beat is fantastic. Yes, it’s a 2 bar loop, but it’s a great one, perfect for the song.

    Slighting a rap song on the basis of a rock song is like comparing hard bop to the 12-bar blues. Different genres, different criteria. Shame on you, TAN.

    P.S. Nas is an idiot poet savant when he’s on, but he couldn’t have done a better “D’Evils.” He’s great at description, especially sensory details, and he is interesting as a narrator, but he has a serious problem with sustained narratives, and as some have mentioned, his 1st-person metaphors are not that special.

  16. Anonymous7/29/2006

    you're kind of a racist prick. you've actually lost a reader now.

  17. Anonymous7/29/2006

    this reeks of nonsense. lots of artists in the hiphop genre have touched on the subject. Ras Kass made a brilliant 8 minute long epic about conversations with God himself and the devil. Being that Ras Kass didn't fit into the industry mold, being that he didn't come from New York, whatever reason he flopped commercially, if you want to talk about a concept song in hip-hop about the Devil, talk about Ras Kass. Is it written off as backpack rap cause hes actually intelligent and repped the paradox of the black man much more articulately than Kanye could ever attempt? Cause dude has been in and out of jail if you feel his "wordiness" may make him too 'backpack". Nas can't tell stories? Undying Love, One Love? If the only hiphop star you are willing to take seriously as an artist is one who is multiplatinum, I think you're gonna have a hard time finding sincere musical theory implemented in the manner you deem "better", and if you are really dull enough to demand strong lyrics with profound issues being addresses, you might want to look past soundscan. If you want to compare The Stones to anything, and you seem intent on doing the race thing, compare it to black music of the time the stones were relevant.. what 1960 or 1970? I mean, you might as well compare Jay-z to whatever passes for Rock nowadays.shit i give up...this isnt even worth typing...

  18. Anonymous7/29/2006

    Thank you for mentioning the best Jay-Z album ever for those who had forgotten.

  19. I love both of these songs. Keep up the good work.


  20. your shit is so money, and you don't even know it.

  21. Big fan of the Ass-Ex. Next up: Some Bob Dylan smackdowns vs. battle rap classics?

  22. You got to include Jimi Hendrix in one of the Ass-Ex posts. But will he br for the negroes or the caucasians?

  23. Anonymous7/30/2006

    Great post! I hadn't heard Sympathy but now just gained some mad respect for the stones.

  24. This is a great cultural experiment and comparison. I can see what you mean...and ya know I love ya...but we will be well served to agree to disagree. There are cultural differences in music exposures for kids and these divides may be from many many things but it's bad science ultimately to think it's because of skin colour. I know I know, I have heard of people who think there is such a thing as the concept of "race"...but I thought they died out a long time ago. There is only one mother, one father, one race...the human race. Environmental adaptations manifesting superficially do not destine music or art tastes. class, environment and the split between farmers and hunter and gathers economies just may be the true divide between peoples in society.

    There are farmer economics. And there are hunter-gatherer economics. Period.

    The rest is superficial mindset governed by those two warring economics.

    But ya know I love ya...and I do like this social experiment...

    How is the heatwave in your part of the world? We are roasting over here....yikes!

  25. Anonymous7/31/2006

    I prefer comparing similarities, ala Joe Walsh's Ordinary, average guy vs. Skee-Lo's I wish I was a little bit taller. Both simple, classic songs that tell a story and can stick in your head for hours. I hate the concept of 'racial divides'.

  26. MizuWari7/31/2006

    Whaaat...always hip-hop and never no Detroit Techno love wit' me peoples! Juan Atkins, Carl Craig or Derrick May against AC/DC? The Pretenders? Cyndi Lauper? Ani DiFranco? Until you get some real grind to do vs. with, I'll be in the back row trying to cool off my summer sweat with a kiwi-melon saketini!

  27. Anonymous7/31/2006

    Fans of "I Gave You Power" should listen to Organized Konfusion's "Stray Bullet". The metaphor was done first and better by OK.

  28. Jay-Z has always been one of my favorite musical artists because he raps the way a white jewish girl would (prada blouse, gucci bra, filth mart jeans, girl take that off)...ahh the sweet sounds of a master

  29. Anonymous, I remember that song and group, they were great. I'm sure Nas heard it as well beforehand, he's always been a bandwagon jumper.

  30. Rewind, Blaze A 50, Fetus (Belly Button Window), Poppa Was a Playa, The Set Up, Shootouts, 2nd Childhood, Pussy Killz.... I can't understand anyone who says they don't think NaS is an amazing story teller. I'm going to have to disagree about "Stray Bullet" being a better song than "I Gave You Power" also. The beat was wack and the lyrics were trite and boring.

  31. Anonymous8/10/2006

    Is Jay Z really considered the greatest hip hop artist? Really? Are ya'll crazy?!


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