Wednesday, October 08, 2003
Back on the topic of physicality in hip hop, what's been pretty obvious this year is how aggressive most of the big grooves are: the implacability of "In Da Club", the bombast of "Pump It Up", the catastrophic siren drama of all the big dirty south hits ("Get Low", "Like A Pimp", "Fuck 'Em" etc.) , even Missy's "Pass That Dutch" is much harsher than anything she's released as a single before. Tellingly, when I was out in Sydney last week I heard DMX's "Party Up" twice. Now three years old or so, the Swizz Beats classic seems pretty timely right now - a shrill and blaring party groove that somehow gets the girls dancing to an unashamed angry boys' track. And there's something deliciously punishing about dancing to all of this stuff, willing yourself to make ever more energetic moves as you try to live up to the impossible machismo of the music.

What this stuff often sacrifices is the sexuality that is the other big attraction in hip hop grooves - the irresistible slinkiness of stuff like "Work It" or "Hot In Herre" or "How Many Licks?". You can still hear traces of it in "In Da Club" and "Pump It Up", but with the nu-Dirty South there's nothing you can really call "sexy" so much as "dirty" - what sex there is seems degrading, a titillating/alienating coital slum that brings to mind extravagant pornographic scenarios of gangbangs and prison scenes. I rarely see sober girls getting into this music much, but there's definitely a darkside attraction to it, especially after a few drinks.

Sometimes the best material is that which combines macho aggression with unabashed sexuality in such a way as to simultaneously sound both ultra-sexy and ultra-dirty. Perhaps my single favourite hip hop groove of the last few years is Bubba Sparxxx's "Twerk A Little" - that slamming, hyper-compulsive hiccup electro rhythm with its cut-up female vamp bleat is just about the tightest and most compressed bundle of sex-as-music that I can think of, and it can loop repeatedly comfortable in the knowledge that its repetition never gets boring, only builds in intensity, an endless avalanche of sexual demand. Ludacris's new single "Stand Up" doesn't quite surpass that peak, but it's the best attempt so far. Again we're dealing with a simple, forebodingly physical drum loop overlaying a simple cut-up melodic riff (which might or might not be a moan, it's hard to tell) with the occasional addition of dramatic string samples. It doesn't need to change or progress - it arrives right in the heart of sensory overload from the first bar and stays there.

Fittingly, "Stand Up" is slightly messier, rougher than "Twerk A Little", though both hover in the same zone of in-the-club excitement, bright lights and hot girls and dodgy intentions. "Stand Up" has two extra advantages: firstly, Ludacris is a much better rapper than Bubba, and this is one of his most charismatic performances, a jack-in-the-box springloading of inexhaustible energy. Secondly, "Stand Up" promotes the female rejoinder, relegated to the (thrilling) end of "Twerk A Little", to a chorus with the wonderfully sensual Shawna for a bit of dance instruction - "When I move you move/just like that!" I really hope that this comes with a pre-made dance a la the big dancehall hits (dance moves catching on in hip hop would make me indescribably happy). The male/female interplay works in the same way as it did on "What's Your Fantasy" - eliminating the sense of a purely male agency, allowing Ludacris's unabashed sex play to be something which the audience, both male and female, can engage with, interact with. It also helps "Stand Up" become a fantastic record to dance to, a track that allows you to jump out of your skin and literally lose it.


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