7/26/10

The Phenomenon Phenomenon

I like the idea of a song traveling. Through time, different epochs and approaches to music. It can be an entire song that is covered and thus exists in different versions or a song that mutates and changes and morphs into something else entirely. Snippets that live on and re-emerge in new contexts. That's the glory of hip hop. Sampling music. Everything can be re-used and re-imagined and re-approached and...re-referenced? Well, referenced.

The first time I heard the line "something like a phenomenon" was in LL Cool J's song "Phenomenon" from the album of the same name. The song was a hit in 1997. If you'd like to know more I recently blogged about that year's music, notable music videos and the general MTV phenomenon (ha!) I used to think that LL Cool J came up with the "something like a phenomenon" line but I was wrong. It was neither the first nor the last time the line or music associated with it has appeared in a piece of recorded & released music.

Later I heard it in the 1983 song "White Lines (don't do it)" by Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel and just figured that this was the origin to the line. But alas, I was wrong again as I only recently became aware of the earlier 1983 track "Cavern" by Liquid Liquid, from the Disco Not Disco 1 compilation. This track is the origin of both the "phenomenon" line and the bass line for "White Lines (don't do it)".

"Cavern" is a bit of abstract disco from Liquid Liquid. Back in the day disco was a massive mainstream phenomenon (ha!) but the disco of the 70's and early 80's also had that kind of avantgarde vibe to it. It was something new and worth exploring and it attracted all sorts of musicians and artists. In this track there's a blending of disco and punk elements and both are sort of new styles. Liquid Liquid's music is characterized as "post disco/post punk";


Great track. The Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel version (released later the same year) is actually the Sugar Hill house band playing their cover of "Cavern" by Liquid Liquid and then the bass line is sampled from this performance and used in the released rap version. The "something like a phenomenon" line is also referenced. Actually Melle Mel's line goes "something of a phenomenon" and Liquid Liquid's lyric is "slipping in and out of phenomenon". In fact Grandmaster Flash does not appear on this version of the track but that's another story. Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel in all their early 80's hip hop/rap glory on "White Lines (don't do it)";


Once the phenomenon (ha!) is a phenomenon (ha!) there's no stopping it. Up next we have some late 80's synth pop. Kon Kan with "Arts in D Minor (Harry Houdini)" from 1989;


Whoa...hmmm...you know how some things can be infinitely corny and pretty cool at the same time? I think "Arts in D Minor (Harry Houdini)" qualifies. A short sample of the "Whites Lines" intro is heard around the 2 minute mark.
Fast forward to 1993 and De La Soul's "Ego Trippin' (part two)" - great vibe in this track with "phenomenon" references in the rapping. The video pokes fun at "gangsta rap" videos and ditto musical elements.

Two years later came Duran Duran feat. Melle Mel & Grandmaster Flash with their cover of "White Lines". This is from their rather strange covers album Thank You (1995). A rockier version of "White Lines" featuring the original gangstas (well, not gangstas but you know what I mean).

And then finally we're back in 1997 and LL Cool J's; "Phenomenon";


Cool track. But the story doesn't end here. Two years later we have New York hip hop duo Mobb Deep and their dark hip hop track "Quiet Storm" that samples the bass line from "White Lines (don't do it)". Not bad;


So we've been tracing the Phenomenon phenomenon (ha!) for a bit. Let's end this post on a funny note. Oh the glory of globalization; truly a phenomenal phenomenon! (ha!) This is "White Lines (don't do it)" in Japanese! Awesome! King Giddra is a Japanese rap act and this is their waaaayyy to cool 2002 "White Lines" cover! "Something like a phenomenon"? You bet! Over and out, until next time! :)

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