A Rapping Neighbourhood

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If there is one thing that aging has bestowed me, it’s an increased tolerance and appreciation for things which were previously boring to me. Things like federal interest rate, politics and vintage wine discussions. Obviously, nobody read this blog for the aforementioned stuff (then again, perhaps nobody read this blog at all), so my focus will be on my increased reception of hip hop and rap.

During my formative years, rap didn’t really do much for me. Back then, gangsta rap ruled the roost. While there were some decent tunes, the whole gangsta rap thing was more famous for the East Coast/West Coast rivalry and the subsequent deaths of the major players of the time. So, in a way, it was intriguing, just not in the way that one would expect.

I would suppose the major turning point for me would be Aaliyah and DMX’s “Come Back in One Piece” in 2000. I have been fascinated with Aaliyah since her cover of the Isley Brothers’ “At Your Best (You Are Love)”. Her vocals are silky smooth and understated, in a time where divas piled on the vocal histrionics to stake their claim on the R&B throne. After her debut, Aaliyah could have faded into mediocrity like many of her peers, but instead she went on to produce some interesting collaborations with Timbaland and Missy Elliot before her unfortunate demise in 2001. I can write an entire article on Aaliyah alone, but I suppose all you need is to youtube recent “collaborations” with Drake and Chris Brown to understand her appeal.

In any case, it was probably not a coincidence my interest in hip hop was stoked at a time when my love for indie rock was waning. I will probably never disavow indie, but the sense of “been there, done that” with the new wave of indie rock icons probably don’t help. To me, Janelle Monae’s “Electric Lady” was one of the more innovative records of 2013. Monae’s rap can only be described as dynamic, forceful and infused with a dollop of passion. Just check out “Queen” – Monae’s collaboration with the very earthy Erykah Badu. Skip forward to the 5:00 minute mark for the rapping bit.

While gangsta rap has very much been co-opted into the mainstream back in the states, its influence lives on elsewhere – like, say, in Hong Kong. 24Herbs is a Hong Kong hip hop group that has cornered the gangsta rap market. With many of its songs featured in Hong Kong triad movies and games (Sleeping Dogs), 24Herbs may have inadvertently given life to what I coined triad hip-hop. Ha ha ha. 24Herbs songs often featured very bombastic intros, reminiscent of impending fights in HK triad movies.

Meanwhile, in Okinawa, Orange Range proposed an interesting hybrid of rap and rock, while retaining the laid-back feel of the Okinawan music community. Famous for their contributions to the Naruto and Bleach soundtracks, Orange Range is unique for its trio of MCs that tackle the low, mid and high vocals. While traditional hip hop and rap relied heavily on a bevy of samples and beats, Orange Range uses an interesting repertoire of guitar riffs, drums and the occasional sanshin to accentuate their raps.

Some of the mainstays in rap and hip hop are the relentless use of samples and the fearless reliance on crass lyrics. In which case, Taiwan’s MC Hotdog would have those in spades. Like Orange Range, MC Hotdog tends to be very laid back. Unlike Orange Range, MC Hotdog raps about picking up girls and emotes about the angst of love triangles. Then again, Orange Range recorded “Shanghai Honey”. In the following video, MC Hotdog fearlessly sampled a Teresa Teng evergreen and reworked the theme of hopeless devotion in a more modern context.

Anyway, what kind of Singaporean would I be if I don’t close this article with ShiGGa Shay’s “Limpeh”? ShiGGa Shay’s diction of Hokkien is not exactly the most accurate, but his recital of Singaporean tropes is hopelessly funny, although I suspect only true-blue Singaporeans would get it. If nothing else, by the end of the song, you will understand what “Limpeh” is.

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