The pairing of rap icon Chuck D and The Go! Team, a British sextet famous for its mash-ups of rock, hip-hop, cheerleader chants, funk and TV theme music, is one of the more intriguing of 2007.
Their collaboration, “Flashlight Fight,” appears on The Go! Team’s second disc, “Proof of Youth,” which was released in September. But if the Public Enemy leader wanted to perform the track with The Go! Team, which is now touring the U.S., he couldn’t just jump on stage and rap what he wrote.
Proof of Youth
(Sub Pop; US: 11 Sep 2007; UK: 10 Sep 2007)
“Chuck D’s part was all done over the Internet,” says The Go! Team’s single-named rapper-singer-percussionist, Ninja from Los Angeles. “Ian (Parton, the band’s leader) chopped it up and rearranged and changed the words. If he ever wanted to do it with us, Chuck would have to learn the new version.”
When she performs the track live, Ninja raps her own words. “I just can’t rap someone else’s lyrics, so I made up my own,” she says.
“I made (my lyrics) political,” she explains. “I was watching TV and was inspired by how the government makes you think you have a choice in things. You have a choice to go to school or work, but they’re the only options they have given you. ... I am a conspiracy theory addict, and this is my little conspiracy song.”
In concert, Ninja also uses her own words on “Grip Like a Vice” to replace those on the recorded version. “Ian used found vocals for that song,” she notes. “Mine are all break-dancing terminology about b-boys and tricks and moves.”
Then there are a couple of tracks where the words she wrote mean nothing. “`Wrath of Marcie’ used to be called `Wrath of Mikey’ ... I invented a character called Mikey and made up a story. But the lyrics had to be changed for some reason. When I asked Ian for direction, all he said was, `Just make it cheeky.’ Slowly, the song lost its meaning. Now, it’s not about anything in particular. It’s a song about nothing.”
Ditto “Titanic Vandalism.” “All I was told was, `Make it cheeky.’ Ian says that a lot. I didn’t even know what the song sounded like. I just put down the lyrics and then Ian wrote the music.”
Ninja points out that in The Go! Team, “you’re always fighting to be heard. I suggested we put the lyrics out there on our Web site, but it hasn’t happened yet. There’s six of us, and you can throw something out there, but you never know what’s gonna happen. ...
“People are used to vocals right on top of the tune, but with us, the vocals are buried. The songs are supposed to sound like they’re coming in on a bad radio station. ... (Commercial) radio wants us to clean up the sound, because there’s a load of white noise and feedback mixed in there.”
As one of five children of a Nigerian dad who was a lawyer and a half-Egyptian, half-Nigerian mother who trained doctors, Ninja’s upbringing was “very strict. There were only three career paths: doctor, lawyer, accountant. Other than that, you’ve basically wasted your life. Everyone wanted me to be a doctor.”
When she told her father she wanted to be a rapper, “He said to me, `Wrap what? Presents?’ He really had no idea what I was talking about. ... I’ve met relatives, and when I tell them I’m in a band, they treat me like I sweep streets and clean toilets. They’re not impressed.”
Nevertheless, Ninja “always had music on the side, since I was 10 or 11 years old, whether it was talent shows or martial-arts classes.”
Growing up, Ninja says she never idolized any particular artist - “I find it strange that we have fans,” she notes - but favored individual songs, including Neneh Cherry’s “Buffalo Stance.”
She also was exposed to hip-hop through her older brother’s Onyx and Naughty By Nature CDs; the music of Frank Sinatra and Doris Day and musicals through her mother, and classical music in primary school. “It was used as a punishment,” she recalls. “They would play it when they made you sit out in the hall alone (for disciplinary reasons). It was torture at first, but you get used to it.”
On this tour, The Go! Team, which includes guitarist-drummer Sam Dook, drummer-vocalist Chi “Ky” Fukami Taylor, singer-guitarist-keyboardist Kaori Tsuchida and bassist Jamie Bell, is playing a 50-50 mix of material from 2004’s “Thunder, Lightning, Strike” and “Proof of Youth.”
“We’re trying to pick the best of the best,” says Ninja, “the most energetic songs from both albums. We want people to dance.”
Asked to compare American and English audiences, Ninja replies, “Americans are more appreciative of the music. They come to have a good time. In England, you have to convince them. The South of England is like a New York crowd, almost stand-offish. In the north of England they drink loads, so you have them by the second song.”