Reviews

The Show (1995)

Cynthia Fuchs

'Hip-hop to me,' says Dr. Dre, 'is a way out.'"

The Show

Director: Brian Robbins
Cast: Russell Simmons, Slick Rick, Treach, Biggie Smalls, Run-DMC, Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Warren G
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Columbia
First date: 1995
US DVD Release Date: 2004-07-06

"Here comes the brand new flava in ya ear." The rousing start of The Show throws all kinds of newness your way, from Craig Mack's glorious anthem to the preparation of Nation security guards backstage ("All the wannabes tonight, coulda-beens, has-beens, gonna go in the pen. Asalaam aleikum!"), to Dr. Dre's smug self-assertion ("Fuck what people got to say, I don't give a fuck") to Method Man's sage self-analysis ("When money get involved in this shit, that's when niggas start makin' mistakes," which looks almost painfully prescient now that he's lost his way on that mess of a Fox sitcom he's hitting every week) to Treach's self-styled threat: "If I was not in the studio and not doin' this shit right now, in this motherfuckin' trailer, you know what I'm sayin', and doin' this positive shit, I'd probably be right in your motherfuckin' house, right now, tyin' your ass up, in your fuckin' safe, slapping your kids around, on the real."

Back nine years ago, such gangsta talk was emphatic and pervasive. Now, knowing the many, ongoing and shifting phases of hip-hop, it sounds puffed up and, in hindsight, even tragic, as when Biggie suggests that someone might "get him," though it will be "hard as fuck" to do it. Still, Brian Robbins' documentary, newly released on an extras-less DVD, holds up, if only because the sentiments seem so, for lack of a better term, "real."

Featuring a pile-on of interviews with producers (Suge Knight, Russell Simmons), fans, and artists (Ghostface Killa, Puffy, Afrika Bambaataa, LL Cool J), The Show focuses on hip-hop's paradoxes and intersections -- art and business, fantasy and reportage, naïveté and cynicism. It opens as Simmons (founder of Def Jam in 1985, then CEO at the multi-threat Rush Communications) is on his way to Rikers Island to visit inmate Slick Rick (convicted of attempted murder). "I always tell artists," he says in his car, "It's all right to be, you know, real. Real is, you know, everybody says, "I wish I got to where you got. If I got to where you got, I would not be throwin' no guns in nobody's faces or robbin' nobody or none of that... I'm only going to see Ricky 'cause of the movie."

At the prison, Rick appears with his trademark eyepatch and without ice. Rick notes the importance of maintaining an image in hip-hop, and the film cuts to Biggie, Puffy shimmy-shadowing him on stage: "Damn," they rap together, "Niggas wanna stick me for my paper." Cut to Biggie at home, his mother Voletta testifying to his younger-days hustling and her persistent worrying about him. She insists that radio edits leave out the language in her son's songs that tells what it is: "You don't even know what he's saying."

The film's interest in what he's saying, however, is sincere and assiduous. Namely, The Show explores the ways that money affects every aspect of life, before and after making it in the industry. Warren G's fretting that his opening act, a pair of girls called Da Fros, want him to pay for hairstylists. Snoop's got gang-related homies who want allegiance even now that he's left the hood. "The life that we lived was rough," he says, slouched low on a couch, his unbraided head in a frenzy. "And there was nothing we could do to change it and we trying to figure out how to change it by expressing it, and then lettin' y'all know that we done did it already." Suge (whom Simmons admiringly calls a "street nigga") too has ideas about what's real, and therefore, valuable. "I ain't with that Hollywood shit. I like these little niggas [Tha Doggpound] because they're gangsters... They ain't with all that punk shit, they don't care about trying to have their hair done a certain way." Little did anyone know, how "real" Suge would get.

The film cuts between black and white show footage (various 1994 dates in Philadelphia and Wu Tang in Tokyo) and interviews (one features a little history lesson, in a diner where Kurtis Blow, Kid Kreole, Raheem, and Whodini discuss the origins of the "terminology," "Yes, yes, y'all"), suggesting formally that there is a distinction between performance and experience. The interviewees suggest there are distinctions between the East and West Coast styles, generations, uses of the word "bitch" ("I mean sophisticated bitches, the kind of hos you wanna marry," explains Simmons, "I love women"), and Joey Simmons' initial, innocent use of Adidas ("Walk through concert doors, and roam all over coliseum floors"), and the overwhelming commercialization of all things remotely hip-hop that would soon come to pass.

Stardom is, at this still early stage in the industry, only vaguely a curse; for the most part, artists are thrilled to greet fans, behind fences, in record stores, in parking lots, and in malls. Among the film's "real" moments are Treach visiting Brooklyn's 14th Street, where fellow Naughty By Nature MC Vinnie grew up; the Wu Tang Clan arguing over publicity maneuvers on the train in Japan (I'm sick, insane, crazy, Drivin' Miss Daisy out her fuckin' mind, now I got mine," exhorts Meth on stage); and Warren G looking for Zig-Zags ("Oh, they hear me say that?"), throwing dice on the sidewalk, and vacuuming his bus ("I clean my shit up").

At this point, Simmons' Phat Farm is well on the way to the bijillionaire business it is today. Originally "like a hobby," the business is in mid-takeoff in 1995, as the movie illustrates via Simmons flirting with his models, seated by the runway, on his cell. "The difference between what we did and what they doin' now is," insists Kid Kreole, "It was a form of entertainment. When you came in the concert... you seein' a show. You see a Grandmaster Flash show, you seein' a show." Now, he complains, the performers aren't "pullin' no weight."

As if to contest this point, the film shows some of the liveliest performers of its day, Biggie (who thrilling on "Big Poppa": "Straight up honey, really, I'm askin' / Most of these niggas think they be mackin' / They be actin' / Who they attractin' with that line, 'What's your name? What's your sign?' / Soon as he buy that wine, I just creep up from behind and ask you what your interests are / Things to make you smile, what numbers to dial").

"Hip-hop to me," says Dre, "is a way out." At the same time, "To me," offers Extasy of Whodini, "Hip-hop is a way of life." For the subjects in The Show, hip-hop is that and more: it's a means of self-expression and self-definition, to be known and wealthy. "It's what you wake up in the morning," continues Extasy, "And it's who you are, and it's representing what I am and what I feel inside." The slipping of pronouns is telling here -- hip-hop is about reflection and soul-searching, a big business that allows cronyism and expansion. Simmons wants to see hardworking artists who blow up, and then have "rich little black babies," breaking the cycle of hardship and hopelessness. Opening doors, hip-hop makes its creators visible. What they do with that visibility is what matters now.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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