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October 20, 2004

Blue Eyed Soul

I have a DVD with about 3GB of music that I listen to. Everything I have rated 4 or 5 stars on my iTunes collection is on it. I've not heard anything from Suzanne Vega before nor since her hit 'Tom's Diner'. The significance of this is that Suzanne was the first white girl to put an unquestionably hiphop rhythm track on her pop song. Today it still sounds great. If the inscription on my MP3 is correct, this song broke in 1991. That's quite a gap after '79 when Debbie Harry did her 'Rapture' rap. Does this mean that rap is more fundamental than hiphop?

While I'm on the subject, I can't tell you how tickled I am whenever I hear The Gourds' version of Gin and Juice. It's a perfect cover. Also, if you haven't heard the Hallmark greeting cards version, you don't know what's up.

Posted by mbowen at October 20, 2004 04:30 PM

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OK, this is a bit of a picky comment, but I can't help myself.

When Suzanne Vega originally released Tom's Diner in 1987, it was actually an a capella track. The hit song that you refer to is actually a remix by DNA. So I wouldn't exactly say that she put a hip-hop beat in her song. I have no clue as to the ethnic makeup of DNA.

Tom's Diner was from her album Solitude Standing which featured the hit track Luka. The songs on this record would probably be described as folk or folk-pop.

If you are looking for more white girls singing over hip-hop tracks, check out Deee-Lite and Portishead if you haven't already.

Posted by: Matt at October 21, 2004 09:27 AM

Thank Matt,

I did about two seconds of research on that track and all I could find was the set of DNA remixes on an EP. I was originally trying to find the context also (if it was 91) of what others pop artists were doing. The problem was that I didn't pay enough attention to Mariah Carey, who is something of a different beast, to tie her in too. The only cut of her's that I really dug is when she did the one with ODB, but that was around 96 - way too late. But pop R&B (which is Mariah's bag, like Whitney at the time, and Sade) wasn't what I was aiming at - just more straight up hiphop by pop stars.

I also sort of wondered if Lauri Anderson ever did any hiphop influenced work. In the end, I'm thinking that it all kind of fell to the Beasties and nobody really went for it until Mary J Blige and Janet Jackson.

So now I guess I should raise the question that arises now that my brain is working better than when I wrote the post: Did white girl pop stars eyeball hiphop and never take the chance before Janet? I'm talking Janet 93, with the sepia album 'Janet'. 'That's the Way Love Goes' was the breakthrough. Even though Janet can still be thought of as R&B and Dance, (Which by the way is what I'm thinking of DeeLite, not that I listened to anything but 'Groove is in the Heart') she came closest to hiphop with that album.

I haven't followed Massive Attack closely enough to know which direction they're going. Everything I've heard by them that I like seems to be a remix. I will check out more Portishead, the two of them seem always to be in the same place. But I really wonder what happened to the Propellerheads...

Unquestionably, Rage Against the Machine has always been right there picking up the ball that Public Enemy dropped. And I *know* they paved the way for Offspring, Limp Biskit and Linkin Park. But with the ladies, we're still in the same place, or so it seems to me.

Posted by: Cobb at October 21, 2004 10:09 AM

Deee-Lite is certainly more dance oriented, but they have a strong Hip-Hop influence: DJs, samples, Hip-hop beats, some Blondie style rapping, cameo by Q-Tip on Groove is in the Heart, etc. Their first record was in 1990.

Portishead came a bit later, but I'm guessing that Janet wasn't a big influence. Their music typically gets categorized as Trip-Hop: Hip-Hop beats that a bit slower and darker. I'm not as familiar with Massive Attack, but I think that they are similar. Portishead's debut Dummy is great from start to finish. Highly recommended!

Posted by: Matt at October 21, 2004 11:53 AM

Sorry, Mike: neither of those takes of 'gin and juice' does much for me. I could appreciate the Hallmark version under some circumstances. I guess your taste is as eclectic as this blog??!!

Posted by: Ward Bell at October 22, 2004 07:49 PM

No!!! Don't call me eclectic! I'm not. I'm an implacable snob, but I am cool about it. So I sample a bit of everything just so I can render judgement. I never listen to either of those versions, but I've got to have 'em. Well, actually I think that the Gourds version is a perfect explanation of the wigger aesthetic. I find it equally repulsive and appropriate as Snoop's.

Now the more interesting question is whether I could see myself flossing a slammed 745i on 20s pumping the original version. The answer is yes, for 10 minutes of my entire life.

Posted by: Cobb at October 22, 2004 08:03 PM