The Damon Albarn Appreciation Society is a series of twenty focused observations, conversations, and thoughts about music. This is the seventeenth. It started as a simple post to make you go watch the new Spaceghostpurrp video, with a few things to watch for, but somehow turned into some lengthy remarks about Method Man’s horror phase and how that relates to 2012. You know how I do.
Minutes from previous meetings of the Society: The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby”, Tupac – Makaveli, Blur – 13 (with Graeme McMillan), Blur – Think Tank (with Graeme McMillan), Black Thought x Rakim: “Hip-Hop, you the love of my life”, Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), On why I buy vinyl sometimes, on songs about places, Mellowhype’s Blackendwhite, a general post on punk, a snapshot of what I’m listening to, on Black Thought blacking out on “75 Bars”, how I got into The Roots, on Betty Wright and strong songs, on screw music, on Goodie MOb’s “The Experience”
There’s this bit from Method Man & Mary J Blige’s “All I Need” video that’s stuck with me for years. No lie, ever since I was a kid. It’s a brief burst of strange horror in a video that’s set to a love song. If you start around 3:10, you’ll see it. Mef peeks up over a ledge. His eyes are whited out, the fronts in his mouth give his jaw a weird shape, and then he taps his fingers and disappears. There’s something alien about it. It didn’t scare me, but I recognized that it was scary, if that makes any type of sense. There’s a creepy, unsettling aspect to that specific image. It’s the beginnings of a horror movie.
Method Man’s Tical gave me the same feeling as that video. It’s an album that teeters on the edge of being uncomfortably dark. It definitely doesn’t sound like the other Wu joints from that first wave. It’s hazy, obviously, and the layered samples and ad-libs give it a haunting feel at times. The female vocalist on “Biscuits” isn’t harmonizing so much as wailing (which is different from a scream, mind you). His token love song has a deep, bass-y, and very un-love song sound, not to mention Streetlife salting Method Man’s game. It’s a down album, not quite as down as Pac’s Me Against the World, but it sounds and looks like it was recorded in a dungeon by an old black dude who used to be a slave and is wild upset about being in chains again.
Tical having such a horror influence is sorta funny, actually, because Method Man is by far the most fun-loving and charismatic member of the Wu. He was the crossover champion, the dude who rocked fly clothes because he could. He’s still classically handsome, even twenty years later. You can hear that charisma on “Release Yo’ Delf” more than anything else, I think. It’s strange that Tical was so dark, because if anything, Mef should’ve dropped a Ready to Die or like… I don’t even know, an “Ain’t No Nigga” (which “All I Need” eventually became once they drafted Mary J) instead of “Meth vs Chef.” Remember when he did “The Riddler” for that Batman Forever soundtrack? That’s no pop song. But: here we are. He should’ve been on songs with Blackstreet or whoever.
Meth doubled down on the dark image on Tical 2000, which I remember as being a lot of smoke and not enough fire. It’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older (everything from “Shaolin What” to “Spazzola” goes, and “Play IV Keeps” is no joke), but it’s still no Tical. But he made the subtle apocalyptic subtext of Tical into text, full stop. It was an interesting choice, and while how loyal he is to that sound meanders around (“Sweet Love” is out of place and off-tone, and the entire last quarter or so of the album are pop joints), it’s an album that puts the thought of the end of the world in your mind. I honestly haven’t gone back to listen if he’s Behold A Pale Horseing it, like a lot of rappers were doing around ’99. I don’t think so, for the record — I think he’s pulling from Mad Max, Cyborg (both of which are explicitly shouted out in the lyrics), and other pop-apocalyse films rather than conspiracy theories and secret societies. Secular apocalypse, rather than religious. The fall of man, and then the fall that comes after. Nuclear winters, poverty-stricken ghettos, whatever.
But Method Man’s steez around then (“around then” being like six years I guess) stuck with me, in part because precious few people were in the same lane of occasional horror rap (Company Flow is another highlight of this era, Bone Thugs was another, Three 6 Mafia of course, Geto Boys on occasion) and in part because it’s such a departure from his aboveground work. Somewhere out there lurks Method Man with the white eyes and the grill, waiting to pop out of a dark alley and hit you with a grin that chills the soul. In the meantime, we’ve got the laughing, cooldude stoner and family man.
The video for Spaceghost Purrp’s “The Black God” dropped the other day. It took me a minute to get into his sound for whatever reason, but Ray the Destroyer’s review over at Мишка got me pointed at the right project. I like God of Black volume 1 quite a bit, especially “The Black God.” Baow:
What’s crazy is how SGP reinvigorated and reinvented Meth’s ’90s lane. The grill and glasses, the Lee Bermejo-style skeleton, and a host of near-faceless black men in hoodies… it feels cultish, almost, like there’s a secret here and you’re not invited, even though that secret will definitely destroy your soul. “When you think of us, think of pyramids and pistols, and shimmering gold teeth that shine like crystals,” right, like dead prez said? This is that. It’s the barest hint of a face in the dark and a shine you can’t quite make out.
(Sidebar: consider the monsters in Attack The Block. Think of their shapes and their teeth.)
I wrote “faceless horrors” in my notes as something I wanted to talk about. I can’t fit it in here in a natural way, but I think it’s worth mentioning. The focal point of the video shifts and blurs as people move in front of the camera and change clothes. The only distinct figure is son in the white t-shirt, isn’t he?)
“The Black God” puts me in mind of The Nation of Gods and Earths, too. The idea that the Asiatic Blackman is God, Allah representing Arm Leg Leg Arm Head (a human body, keep up), the 5% knowing the truth while the 85% remain ignorant and self-destructive… all of that is in here. SGP talks about how he’s “no longer a black man,” meaning he evolved past that. He’s The Black God, and the song is all about self-improvement laid over a spooky piano melody and deep drums.
And I mean, SGP is obviously not biting Wu-Tang or whatever here. I doubt there’s many 5%ers in Florida, for that matter. But SGP in 2012 and Method Man in 1995 were both definitely working out some of the same ideas on wax and aesthetically, and even using some of the same language — whether that’s visual language or spoken language — to do so. I like that a whole lot. Grab The God of Black here. Amazon’s got Tical and Tical 2000: Judgement Day if you’ve somehow not heard them before now.