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Special Delivery

by Tunsi
Parana Records, Oakland CA USA, 2005
Audio CD, $9.98
Distributor’s website: http://www.paranarecords.net

Group Therapy

by Elephant Tribe, featuring Talman Greed
Total Spontan Productions/DRO Entertainment, Chicago IL USA, 2005
Format, Catalog number, price
Distributor’s website: http://www.hilltopstudios.net

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University, University Center MI 48710 USA


Novelty songwriter Jimm Juback, while listening to James Brown in 1972, predicted that black music would soon become entirely rhythm. The ensuing three-plus decades of hip hop rap music have not proven him wrong as to the primacy of a good beat. In affirming that, two CDs from 2005 also provoke thoughts on rap as text.

Text is often used as a visual motif by Chinese contemporary artists, and Michigan photographer Shaun Bangert has covered portraits of members of her family with text. Tunsi delivers dance beat as text, as telegraphy of the body, gestural movements. One is reminded of those pages of the faux-text––a sort or German blackletter and a linear electrocardiogram stutter––found in Rick Griffin's Man from Utopia 1971 comic book for acid heads.

Tunsi's Special Delivery makes use of a high banshee descant, comparable to the one enervating "Jump" by Irish-American crew Ace of Bass in 1991. Like a Jamaican dub version, Tunsi provides Special Delivery in an instrumental form as well. Juback's collaborator Gary Malvin once demonstrated a simple riff "Gordon and Bobby", whereas Juback exclaimed it was like the mnemonic the high school nerd would use to memorize an electronics formula. Tunsi's "Whoop De Do" fits that description too, using a smart/stoopid motif as a bed for motormouthed braggadocio, while "Shock Pain" is powered by another, similarly engaging riff. "Politics at Work" is a promising slice of critical dance music, a genre briefly explored in Britain a quarter-century ago like M's "Pop Music" or something by the Gang of Four. It's as if only bodies in movement on the dance floor can shake apart a glimpse of the inner workings of the Spectacle.

Whereas Oakland's Tunsi appears to be a one-man production, a studio mastermind along the lines of Prince, the Elephant Tribe of Chicago is a crew. Four faces appear on the cover, which are likely b-knucklez, israel, jay and drunken monkee, for they receive the most numerous songwriting credits on the 27-track CD. Other collaborators––sharing the humility of lowercase names––include demo, rusty, shake, bacardi, brando, turon, billie and phoenix. Illiana obviously wants her name capitalized, thank you.

The Elephant Tribe's Group Therapy CD is a "mix tape", purchased (possibly from one of the Elephant Tribe) at a table set up on Chicago's Michigan Avenue one afternoon last August, appropriately a couple blocks from both the Apple Computer store and Tower Records. It has a surprising variety of hip-hop approaches, and plenty of good tracks. The disc is marred though by the rambling spoken bits attributed to Talman Greed. Perhaps he's a neighborhood character that the crew finds funny or wise, or perhaps it’s just the kind of foolin'-around indulgence that mars homeboy productions like the movie "Straight Outta Compton."

Beyond the good beats for dancing and grooving, the storytelling, scene-setting and personal boasting, hip hop is also interesting here as that textual artifact, its rap an easily-visualized verbal typography, one that needs to be embodied to be appreciated. Moving body to beat, vertical movement of shoulders and arms like ascenders and descenders on a well-designed letter. As traveling child, this reviewer played a game of looking out train window and pretending a motorcycle rider was rolling over land, treetops, jumping rivers and highways, beside the Chicago-bound train. Elephant Tribe's wordplay serves as a contemporary soundtrack for that game, the train rolling through Chicago neighborhoods and their south side home. Their boisterous effusiveness sports a Hieronymus Bosch-like excess. Easy to criticize as intemperate until I recall my own college favorites, writers like William Burroughs, Hunter Thompson, and Lester Bangs, none of them circumspect or terse.

The listener contrasts the Chicago posse of MCs at the mic, with the Oakland guy who works as one man, one voice and one machine full of beat-making and recording software. M.K. Assante's essay in the San Francisco Chronicle "We Are the Post Hip-Hop Generation" spoke of how today's youth that hears this medium institutionalized on most TV commercials directed towards them. Yet both Elephant Tribe and Tunsi see their creativity still flourishing in the hip-hop camp.




Updated 1st July 2006

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