Weirdify Playlist 7: Hip-Hoppish

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I once wrote in these virtual pages that there was “a severe shortage of truly weird hip-hop acts out there.” I’d like to now officially apologize for making such an ignorant and obviously untrue statement. I was listening to way too much formulaic Top 40 rap back then. I’ve broadened my horizons since then.

To illustrate, this week’s Weirdify playlist is all about the beats, rhymes and turntable wizardry. Shout out to Ian Frost and Army of Gay Unicorns for some helpful suggestions to round out the playlist. So fire up the ol’ Spotify and for God’s sake, make sure you’ve got a sound system with some decent bass. Even weird hip-hop needs to bump.

1. Die Antwoord, “Fok Julle Naaiers.” South Africa’s twisted “zef rap-rave” crew strikes again. Apparently the title is Afrikaans for “Fuck All Y’All.” I figured we oughta get the playlist off to a warm, fuzzy start.

2. TTC, “(pas la peine d’appeler je ne réponds pas au) TELEPHONE.” From South African rave-rappers to French rave-rappers. TTC are sort of France’s answer to the Beastie Boys, a bunch of smart-alecky white dudes who rap over everything from candy-colored electro (as on this track) to cheesy old-school disco. Je ne parle pas Français, but I hear the lyrics are hilarious.

3. Das Racist, “Happy Rappy.” Das Racist is a bunch of smart-alecky brown dudes (MC Heems and hype man Dapwell are of Indian decent, Kool A.D. is Afro-Cuban and Italian) from Brooklyn. Their big claim to fame is a novelty blog hit called “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell,” but they’re smarter than that. Mostly.

4. Birdy Nam Nam, “Engineer Fear.” Back to France again, this time to hear the crazy-quilt cut-and-paste sounds of a four-member DJ collective who can sample just about anything and make it sound funky, creepy and awesome.

5. Amon Tobin feat. MC Decimal R., “Verbal.” Tobin is another sample-based producer whose music is often only tangentially related to hip-hop. I just love the way he’s able to chop up this MC’s verses in a way that renders them completely unintelligible, but keeps their rhythm and attitude fully intact.

6. Goldie Lookin Chain, “Half Man Half Machine.” Imagine a bunch of Welsh lager louts putting their own sophomoric spin on the comedy rap of Flight of the Conchords and Lonely Island, and you’ve got Goldie Lookin Chain. It probably wouldn’t be half as funny if it weren’t for the drawling, gap-toothed accents. Apparently Wales is Great Britain’s answer to Mississippi.

7. Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip, “Thou Shalt Always Kill.” More British hip-hop, this time from a producer/rapper duo who sound like characters from a Charles Dickens novel, except for the state-of-the-art, blippy production and the sardonic torrent of hipster one-liners. Say it with us now: “Thou shalt not shake it like a Polaroid picture.”

8. Mission Man, “These Are the Moments.” Gary “Mission Man” Milholland is the only artist featured in each of our last two playlists (this one and Weirdify 6: When You’re Strange, our tribute to outsider music). Yes, he’s that amazing. That free-form guitar solo at the end of this track? Genius.

9. Buck 65, “Spread ‘Em.” Richard “Buck 65” Terfry is, to the best of my knowledge, the only successful hip-hop artist ever to come out of rural Nova Scotia. Apart from that, he’s not actually that weird—although the Deliverance-like pervy cop he channels on this track is pretty incredible.

10. MC Frontalot, “Charisma Potion.” The first and still-greatest nerdcore rapper, MC Frontalot fills his tracks with references to role-playing games, tech blogs and other über-nerd touchstones. And he still manages to sound cool doing it. Also, he debates the correct pronunciation and usage of “attribute.” As a writer, I cannot tell you how deeply I appreciate this.

11. Yea Big & Kid Static, “We’ve Built a Time Machine That Runs on Beats. We Shall Only Use It for Good.” More geeky sci-fi rap, this time courtesy of a cult duo from Chicago. Turns out there’s a lot of this stuff out there; we could have also included tracks from Dr. Octagon or MC Hawking, but we decided, in the interest of equal time, to include an Insane Clown Posse track instead.

12. Busdriver, “Unemployed Black Astronaut.” Yeah, Busta Rhymes is pretty great, but this L.A. rapper is the underground’s undisputed master of tongue-twisting, warp-speed wordplay. He’s got weirder tracks than this one, but none cooler.

13. Sage Francis, “Zero.” Francis is chubby, bald, white and from Providence, Rhode Island. And he can rhyme circles around just about any mainstream rapper in the biz. This is from his most recent album, Li(f)e, which featured collaborations with members of Death Cab for Cutie, Grandaddy, Calexico and the late Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse.

14. Techno Animal, “Cruise Mode 101.” No weird hip-hop mix would be complete without a little industrial hip-hop. This angry little number comes courtesy of British producers Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick’s Techno Animal project and features raps by a Chicago crew called Rubberoom. Angsty!

15. Insane Clown Posse, “Chicken Huntin’.” A funky little ditty about killing and eating hillbillies. Who’s hungry?

16. Brokencyde, “Goose Googlez.” I’m really sorry about including this one. I couldn’t resist. #Douchecore

17. The Notorious MSG, “Egg Rollin’.” Chinese comedy rap. It’s not racist if it’s being made by actual Asian guys, right? Actually, no, it’s still pretty racist.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix.

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Weirdify Playlist 6: When You’re Strange

The only thing weirder than a weird band is a weird loner armed with a guitar, ukulele or thrift store keyboard. This week’s playlist celebrates some of the best, greatest and (to use a clinical term) craziest of those loners, along with a few other slightly more socialized purveyors of what’s come to be known as outsider music.

What is outsider music? Usually (though not always) it’s music created by someone with no formal training and often rudimentary technical abilities. To the untrained ear, it nearly all sounds terrible, but if you listen to enough it, you start to find some diamonds in the rough.

For more on the subject of outsider music, I highly recommend seeking out a copy of Songs in the Key of Z, an authoritative book on the subject by the great Irwin Chusid. That book informed much of this playlist—and, to be honest, much of this entire blog. Chusid’s the guru, we are but his lowly disciples.

Ready to take a walk on the weird side? Fire up your Spotify and make sure your headphones aren’t strapped on too tight.

1. Daniel Johnston, “Walking the Cow.” Maybe the most famous outsider singer/songwriter of his generation, Johnston is a diagnosed schizophrenic from Texas who writes surprisingly beautiful, simple little pop songs and sings them in an achingly childlike voice. Throughout the ’80s, he gained a sizable cult following for his homemade cassette tape albums, all illustrated with his own bizarre cartoon creatures like the one we swiped for this playlist’s artwork. There’s a documentary about him called The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.

2. B.J. Snowden, “School Teacher.” Maybe the best way to describe this Massachusetts native is that she’s a female, less crazy version of Wesley Willis (see below). She claims to be a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and works as a music teacher, but her songs mostly feature very rudimentary piano playing and cheesy, pre-programmed keyboard backbeats, a la Willis. Still, her stuff undeniably brings to mind words like “jaunty.” Fred Schneider of the B-52’s is a big fan.

3. Tiny Tim, “People Are Strange.” You’re probably too young to remember this, but this totally untiny performer, with his ukulele and unmistakable warble of a voice, was once one of the most famous musicians in the world. Bizarre, but true. Tiny Tim’s version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” which he performed on Laugh-In in 1968, became a huge hit, making him a regular guest on that SNL precursor as well as The Tonight Show (he even got married on Johnny Carson’s set in late 1969, in what was at the time one of the most watched events in television history). As mind-blowingly ridiculous as his version of “Tulips” is, I thought this Doors cover was more apropos to this week’s theme.

4. Lucia Pamela, “Hap-Hap-Happy Heart.” Like many outsiders, the biographical details of this Missouri native are a bit hazy. She claims to have been crowned Miss St. Louis in 1926, which sounds plausible, and to have performed in the Ziegfeld Follies, which we’ll also buy—but then, she also claims to have been the first person on television, so who knows? What we can confirm is that, in her mid-sixties, she recorded an album in 1969 called Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela and it’s kind of amazing. She’s one of Irwin Chusid’s favorites.

5. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, “Someone Took the Yellow From My Egg.” A little a cappella interlude from Lubbock, Texas’ greatest proto-psychobilly lunatic.

6. Charles Manson, “People Say I’m No Good.” Yes, that Charles Manson. One of the world’s most notorious cult leaders and mass murderers is on Spotify. Yeah, we’re not sure how we feel about it, either.

7. Wesley Willis, “Mojo Nixon.” Chicago’s late, great purveyor of “Harmony Joy Music” (and our playlist’s second schizophrenic), Willis wrote bouncy tribute songs to everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Kurt Cobain. This, as far as I know, is the only song of his about another artist we’d already added to The Weird List.

8. Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, “I’m Gonna Dig Up Howlin’ Wolf.” And here he is, Mr. Mojo himself, singing about digging up famous dead bluesmen and affixing their skulls to his guitar. We’re sure he’s just speaking metaphorically.

9. Bob Log III, “I Want Your Shit on My Leg.” For 20 years, Bob Log III has been persuading sweet young things the world over to put their “shit” (read: ass) on his leg so he can bounce them around while playing kick drum and high-hat with his feet. Yes, he’s a one-man Delta blues wrecking crew. In an Evel Knieval jumpsuit, no less.

10. Roky Erickson, “Don’t Slander Me.” Our playlist’s third schizophrenic, Roky (pronounced “Rocky”) was a psych-rock pioneer with his ’60s band, the 13th Floor Elevators, before  a trip to the loony bin sidelined him in 1968. He’s since made something of a comeback and is now a celebrated cult hero of psychedelic rock and outsider music. This track isn’t his nuttiest by a long shot—it kinda sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival, which make sense given that he worked a lot with former CCR bassist Stu Cook in the late ’70s and early ’80s—but something about the sentiment makes it a perfect outsider anthem.

11. GG Allin, “I Live to Be Hated.” The original rock ‘n’ roll outsider—angry, obscene and unrepentant. This is actually one of his moodier, more introspective numbers.

12. The Mad Daddy, “Record Acid Test.” Just decided to throw in a wacky little transition from Cleveland’s Pete “Mad Daddy” Myers, one of the original lunatics of rock ‘n’ roll radio. Alan Freed may have “invented” rock DJing, but The Mad Daddy made it shake, rattle and roll, one wavy gravy platter at a time. (For more on Myers, this post is pretty excellent.)

13. Mission Man, “Gotta Work Hard.” If Mad Daddy had lived (sadly, he took his own life in 1968) to hear his fellow Ohioan Mission Man doing his stoned-Lou-Reed-rapping routine, we’re sure he would have approved. Or he might have said, “What the hell is this shit?” and put on another Elvis record.

14. Gonken, “Rockin’ Robots.” Another modern outsider for the electronic age, this time from Seattle. He’s making fun of pop music, sort of. But on another level, he’s just making so-bad-it’s-actually-kinda-good pop music.

15. Deerhoof, “My Pal Foot Foot.” One of our favorite current weird bands pays tribute to one of our favorite weird bands of yore, The Shaggs, by covering their immortal song about looking for a lost cat named Foot Foot. Magic ensues.

16. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, “Grown So Ugly.” In many ways, Don Van Vliet doesn’t actually fit the classic mold of the outsider musician. The dude could actually play, as could his band, all of whom had deep roots in blues, jazz and the psychedelic rock scene of the late ’60s. But somehow, they managed to never let those skills or influences get in the way of creating records so original they were sometimes kinda frightening.

17. Arcesia, “Butterfly Mind.” Another discovery courtesy of the bottomless fount of weirdness that is Songs in the Key of Z, Arcesia was actually the work of a veteran big band crooner from Rhode Island named Johnny Arcessi who moved to California and became an acid casualty in the late ’60s. In 1970, at the age of 52, he released his one and only album as Arcesia, Reachin’, and it’s an amazing relic of that strange time in American history, an acid folk freakout delivered by a guy who clearly had lost all interest in phrasing, pitch or lyrical comprehensibility. Needless to say, it’s now a highly prized collector’s item—the fact that it’s on Spotify is almost as mind-blowing as Arcessi’s adenoidal bray.

18. Syd Barrett, “No Good Trying.” No self-respecting mix of outsider music would be complete without an appearance from that most famous acid casualty of all, Uncle Syd. R.I.P., gentle sir.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix.

Mission Man

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Sometimes, being weird can be a lonely business. Take Gary Milholland, aka Mission Man, veteran creator of “hip-hop without ego.” For 15 years, Gary’s been toiling away in his home studio somewhere in the boonies of Ohio, cranking out album after album of his bizarre version of hip-hop, doing everything from producing and playing all the instruments to, as he proudly notes in his video bio, “booking, promotion, choreography, music video production and direction, web design, and anything else that goes into living the life of an independent musician.” Yep, when your music is as out there as Mission Man’s, you pretty much have to be a one-man operation.

The message behind Mission Man’s music—his mission, if you will—could best be summed up with the title of one of his songs: “Do What You Love.” Mission Man loves making music and he’s going to keep on making it, even if no one really “gets him.” And believe us, the subtext of the video to “Do What You Love” is clearly “nobody gets me”—it’s pretty much just an endless series of shots of Mission Man performing at various near-empty bars, probably mostly at open mics, which he travels to all over the Eastern U.S., chronicling his journeys in heartbreaking detail on his website. “I received almost no response whatsoever, though I could see one person making fun of me,” reads a typical entry. After the open mic, “I found a Wal-Mart parking lot to sleep in, instead of a rest area. It’s nice to mix things up a bit.”

Back home, Milholland supports his Mission Man habit by delivering pizzas for Papa John’s. He even wrote a song about it, called “Chillin’ at the Papa,” which is actually among his catchier numbers. If the folks at Papa John’s had any sense, they’d license the song and make Mission Man their new spokesperson. I mean, look what Jared did for Subway—and that guy can’t even rap.

Some would argue that Mission Man can’t really rap either, and it’s fair to say that his flow is, well, unconventional. His verses do actually rhyme, for the most part, but rhythmically, they’re all over the place, and Milholland delivers them in a droning, Lou Reed-like monotone. He backs this up with instrumentation—guitar, bass, keyboards and electronic drums—that’s even more unconventional than his vocal delivery. “I have never learned music theory, nor have I ever learned how to play any other musician’s music,” Milholland defiantly declares on his blog. “I just make music from my heart.”

Earlier this year, Mission Man released his latest album, liberty island. (The album and song titles are all in lowercase to “reflect the lack of ego in Mission Man’s music,” according to his press release.) Milholland says the new songs represent his growth as an instrumentalist: “I’ve been really listening to Prince and other artists I have always loved, and most of all I am more free when I’m playing.” He’s also promised to make a video for each of liberty island‘s 11 tracks. If they’re all as wackadoodle as this computer-generated clip he created for the song “wonder,” we can’t wait to see the rest of them.

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