Fat Possum has branched out! Now you can get a new sound from Oxford, Mississippi: dark blues-inspired rap. On this brand new CD, Fat Possum has brought together various rap artists from Atlanta and Memphis and had them interpret songs from the Fat Possum blues catalog. At first I expected this CD to follow more in the footsteps of such records as R.L. Burnside’s Come On In, taking blues out of the 1-4-5 track and inserting it into the beatbox and turntable mixer. This CD is not hip-hop reworkings of Fat Possum songs, but rather it is interpretations of these songs. Rap artists such as Organized Noize and Goodie Mob produce completely new rap tunes out of both the narrative sensibility and the music itself of Fat Possum songs. Each track is a single artist taking on a particular Fat Possum song: Organized Noize rewrites Johnny Farmer’s “Death Letter,” Go-Gittas revise Asie Payton’s “Ooh Baby,” and John Shriver (re)creates a new version of CeDell Davis’s “Baby I Love You.” The brilliance of this Cd lies not in its creation of new versions of these songs (like the “extended dance versions” of the 1980s), but rather in the complete reconstruction of these songs, producing narratives and melodies that we might recognize, but can’t quite place.
Many of these songs take on rather sexist (“Do the Romp”) and violent (“Death Letter #2”) overtones. This mix of blues and sometimes rather vulgar and violent rap gets disturbing sometimes, but it makes any follower of Fat Possum material question just why it’s OK for T-Model Ford to kick somebody’s ass, but not some young urban black man to do the same.
Probably the finest track is John Shriver’s rewriting of T-Model Ford’s “If I Had Wings.” Ford’s song is itself a ridiculous rewriting of Jimmie Rodgers’s “Waiting on a Train,” complete with ass-kickin’ and tadpoles in a bucket. Where Ford creates a carnivalesque narrative of rejection, anger, and the desire for just a drink of water, John Shriver samples Ford into a tranquil land of birds, Rhodes piano licks, and soft, round drum- machining. The interpretation of the interpretation takes the listener full circle to a song that tickles memories but rarely provides a clear glimpse of its origins. John Shriver makes Ford’s ridiculousness lull you off to sleep.
If you like Fat Possum, this CD may surprise you, though not necessarily unpleasantly. Open your mind to a whole new world of sampling. Hill Country blues meets urban streets in these tracks. Old men meet young ones. Together they make something new, recognizable to both. You’ll be seeing more of this in the future.