Tuesday, October 20, 2009

HAIKU2K: Answers to the year 2000, and some thoughts


This is probably what much of the world thought the first few minutes after New Zealand began 2000 on midnight, January 1st. Throughout the next 24 hours, anyone with access to anything broadcast would be relieved to know that both a) the world didn't explode, and b) the people most worried about the world exploding didn't actually bring that on!

With Y2K worries out of the way, Prince finally had to kiss goodbye to future mass royalties from his near-decade long time piece "1999" (and to a much lesser degree, the same with Pulp and their hit "Disco 2000")

But what next? Nothing seemed wrong in the first world.

"futuristic hymn
first track played even today
yay, napster 2K?"

#1: Radiohead "Everything In Its Right Place"
(from Kid A)

Everything seemed right in the music world, almost. Napster, a software program created by a student in Boston, was now allowing anyone in the world who was just computer-familiar to share digital files, primarily music files, in a peer-to-peer fashion. Radiohead's Kid A was likely the catalyst for many people navigating to Napster -- first through recent concert bootlegs, then Kid A itself shortly before its release. In spite of all the free acquisitions of the album, Kid A still debuted at #1 in several countries. In fairness, Capitol (US) and Parlaphone (UK) had each employed a subtle computer-centric publicity scheme for the single-less album which certainly allowed the album to succeed -- and that campaign very likely did not involve Napster.

That said, Napster and Kid A together was a tremendous symbiosis -- one that arguably threw down the gauntlet to challenge the notion of the cost and access to mainstream music. Curiously, no one in a position to lose big from this event seemed concerned or was ready to attack it, yet.

"Everything In Its Right Place", the lead track from Kid A, is a hymn to the freedom discovered in the latter. It's possible those opening chords were the most heard first chords in a digital music leak ever.

To say all seemed fine with mainstream R&B and hip hop as well is an understatement...

blockbuster hit for jet li
and her, r.i.p."

#2: Aaliyah "Try Again"
(from the Romeo Must Die soundtrack)

Above and underground, innovation in hip hop was accelerating, and merging with and keeping pace with the same happening with mainstream R&B. Producers like Timbaland, Organized Noise, and The Neptunes were just a snapshot of the list of people responsible for firing the rockets of their peers, their clients, and themselves to stardom.

Aaliyah, at this time, was among the biggest stars of this renaissance. "Try Again", her hit from the Romeo Must Die soundtrack, was the first song to top Billboard 100 on airplay alone.

Independent/college rock seemed just fine as well. Artists and labels were obviously paying attention to this whole "mp3" explosion. Many artists would offer promotional or exclusive tracks on their respective dot coms.

"sparse sailing slow jams
san diego side project
web site download track"

#3: Pinback "Messenger"
(originally available for download from pinback.com, released "officially" in 2007 on compilation Nautical Antiques)

Sure, Pinback were one of a gazillion bands who released exclusive mp3-only tracks on their site, like "Messenger." As for their music, perhaps Pinback and their fans didn't realize it, but "indie rock" was showing signs, subconscious or not, of the mainstream R&B renaissance occurring around them. Their s/t debut album blew up with partial thanks to store play in Urban Outfitters. And though Pinback was mostly home recorded, that album shared enough similarities with the sparse slow jams of that time such that they could comfortably fit in a playlist dominated by mainstream pop songs.

Pinback were hardly the only band that could home record an album with such few degrees away from mainstream production. Technology was accelerating such that home recording as a permanent and affordable recording solution was showing a light at the end of that tunnel.

The fire for pop groups for girls was flaming out. The Spice Girls broke up. While Backstreet Boys and N'Sync were doing better than ever, their omnipresence was fueling one major demographic's ire: the hard rock fans.

Grunge had long become a joke already, but it had only been years since groups Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots were a big deal.

Not much was untouched by the late 90s hip hop monolith, including aspiring hard rock artists.

"blend rock, rap, despair
heat to screaming boil, serve hit
post 9/11"

#4: Linkin Park "In The End"
(from Hybrid Theory)

Although Linkin Park owed much to their synthesis of hard rock and "new wave" to their recent predecessors Korn, The Deftones and Smashing Pumpkins, Linkin Park were less shy putting their hip hop element in the spotlight. "In The End" was their most succinct song on their debut album Hybrid Theory, as it showcased best everything the band had to offer, especially the themes of despair in the lyrics.

They weren't the only hard rock band doing this at the time, and they weren't the most popular one at that. Still, there was a 10 year itch being felt in 2000 since funk-metal had been dominant a decade prior -- but this time, it was a pity party. What was going on?

"romeo birthed him
perhaps defined the decade
sampling sad but true"

#5: Kid Rock "American Bad Ass"
(then-new track from compilation The History of Rock)

Kid Rock spoke more directly to the hard rock fans. Perhaps with a few less dumb publicity comments than Ted Nugent, he was the closest thing to a rapping Ted Nugent the world was having. Making his commercial breakthrough only a couple of years prior (after releasing many albums since he was literally a kid), it was already time for a greatest hits album! Well, not exactly. The History Of Rock was a compilation of older material fortified with a few brand new ones, one of which was "American Bad Ass".

The success of "American Bad Ass", especially with the WWE's demographic (still called the WWF at the time), made people believe that rap metal would chug along into the following decade without lubrication.

Has it been mentioned that rap was huge by 2000?

"sucking helium
rumored digga's alias
face looks like Q*Bert"

#6: Quasimoto "Return Of The Loop Digga"
(from The Unseen)

The trajectory of hip hop in the 90s and into the 2000s is far too complex a story to even write a book about, much less a paragraph. So if the following thoughts are missing many crucial holes, that's for the sake of brevity (and sanity.)

Given hip hop's continual rise, much attention in the underground (via college radio, mix tapes, CD-Rs, and mp3s) was given to independent hip hop artists who were creating their music in ways other than mainstream producers at the time. Whereas mainstream hip hop was engaged and married to R&B in a predominantly electronic domain, there was a parallel rise of rawer production in a parallel universe of hip hop, stressing (and twisting) the "keepin' it real" credo while trying hard to exhibit "old school hip hop" timbres like scratchy vinyl and older drum machines. Again, this scenario is just a snapshot of the state of underground hip hop in 2000.

When Quasimoto's The Unseen was released, a lot of heads from all directions turned. Quasimoto (or Madlib to Quas's other lobe) defied a ton of standards in all known forms of hip hop at the time: his flow, his lyrical pitch, his actual pitch, and othe traits too numerous to mention. The Unseen was not a commercial success, but it was a critical success. The release was championed as the tip of the iceberg of underground hip hop's potential, perhaps unfairly at the expense of its own ingenuity.

"Return Of The Loop Digga" is a timeless piece for anyone who has been or has known a crate-digger. There are many inside jokes in the song, and they're given a delivery that's neither self conscious nor satirical-than-thou.

"raggapop smash hit
championed cheating, fibbing
the key was ducent"

#7: Shaggy "It Wasn't Me (feat. RikRok)"
(from Hot Shot)

Shaggy struck it big with "It Wasn't Me" released on 2000's Hot Shot. The song would become an international hit the following year. The song's popularity was seeded via its discovery by a Hawaiian DJ who grabbed the album from a file sharing application, deemed "It Wasn't Me" as the standout, and spun the track on the radio, allowing it to become an instant hit, and hence start its whirlwind.

In a particular pop tradition, Shaggy's guest on the track, Ricardo "RikRok" Lucent is put in the spotlight primarily in the chorus, which is also the case for the following 2000 hit.

"aided by chanteuse
song coined term through its title
described creepy fan"

#8: Eminem "Stan"
(from The Marshall Mathers LP)

One of the many reasons Eminem became huge was his penchant for being loudly, persistently, and uncomfortably cathartic. The combination of this along with an equally loud self awareness, highly talented flow, and a crack team of successful hip hop producers propelled Enimem to superstar status in just over a year. Of course, controversial lyrics helped too, surely. 2000's The Marshall Mathers LP is the fastest selling hip hop album in history (so far.)

"Stan" is the album's big novelty hit -- arguably Eminem's biggest hit, period. The song stamped not only a visceral narrative, but a term itself, at the expense of anyone who's named Stan.

"Stan" is an outstanding pop single, but calling it one of the greatest hip hop songs of all time is a bit of a stretch, strictly in the context of a genre accomplishment. The single should be discussed outside genre altogether, and should be lauded for redirecting the standard of pop into darker territory.

While Dido is listed as a guest on "Stan", and while she sings the chorus, her appearance is a sample -- as opposed to RikRok on "It Wasn't Me". "Thank You", the source of the Dido sample, became a subsequent hit for her because of "Stan"'s popularity.

"nervous, fast flowing
track inspired by headline
to long haunt U.S."

#9: OutKast "B.O.B."
(from Stankonia)

If it hasn't been made clear by now, 2000 apparently was a good year for hip hop. (WAU!)

Outkast's "B.O.B." ("Bombs Over Baghdad") is 2000's finest hip hop song. The virtuoso flow from André and Big Boi alone conveys how frickin' nervous they sound, never mind the million-thoughts-a-second lyrics, and a chorus possibly inspired by this act of violence on behalf of the U.S. The beats on this track are phenomenally nervous, and compete with anything that their peer set of "I.D.M." artistes could muster as danceable.

Speaking of politics, 2000 had plenty of it, given the Gore vs. Bush vs. Nader election. Yes, I'm very much including Ralph Nader, because had he not been involved, the results of the election would have likely been more, ur, "predictable." (Those double-quotes are not meant to be interpreted as daggers in Nader's direction.)

Americans, primarily younger ones, treated this election more as an experiment for creating a veritable third party, the Greens. Who could blame them? People outside America? Who were they? While the prosperity of the Clinton boom years was turning iffy, notably the dot coms, attitudes among people in the first world, especially America, were comparatively lackadaisical. And if Clinton could have run for a third term, he would have run, and he would have won handily. Term limits are a bitch.

No one could have predicted not only the constitutional crisis that would arise from the 2000 U.S. Presidental election, but the brash Supreme Court intervention that hastily handed the White House to George W. Bush. Adding insult to injury, Nader did not get the popular vote for the Green Party needed to secure them matching federal funds.

Still, attitudes to this were mainly "whatever, sigh." Outside some Democrats in Texas who experienced Bush as governor, many were not concerned, because all of the candidates were.. bland. Gore was unmotivated, and Bush was just a goshdarn down to earth guy, even if kinda empty. What could possibly have been different, had Gore won his home state, and hence handily win the presidency instead?

Because, you know, all it would take to make life worth living is some cramming on some HTML books, talking to some enterprising friends to secure an $80K/year a job, then just invest in stocks once the Dow rose to 20,000 by the year 2003! Ka-Ching! Politics may have sucked a little more, but life would still be damn good... of course.

"san diego rock
imperial county ode
to this stinking sea"

#10: Hot Snakes "Salton City"
(from Automatic Midnight)

The Salton Sea is a good, cynical metaphor for America before and perhaps long after 2000. What was yesterday's revolving guilt-free tourist attraction quickly may become an ecological and cultural wasteland. Many unexpected events could change this, but the longer a poisoned and stubborn institution waits to fix itself, the more unpredictable it could become, with dire consequences.

Hot Snakes were an independent rock band from San Diego that formed from the ashes of Drive Like Jehu, Tanner, and Delta 72. Their debut album Automatic Midnight remains the best of their three albums. There's plenty of poison in singer and guitarist Rick Froberg's lyrics. "Salton City", a popular set ender on their first set of shows, is a hard swinging dirge. Given the lyrics ostensibly naming events involving the murder of Israelis, the reference to Salton City, CA in the song title may be a metaphor for The Dead Sea. I stress "may."

Extrapolating the meaning of the combination of the two metaphors is too easy and painful.

Onward to the year of HAL.

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