Music

Sucka MCs: Da Album

Terry Sawyer

Sucka Mcs

Da Album

Label: Ace Fu
US Release Date: 2002-04-16
UK Release Date: Available as import
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Recently, I experienced a crisis about critiquing music. Since my boyfriend is a musician, we frequently have back and forths about bands and music styles. During one of our last exchanges he said, "What if somebody else out there loves it?" Instantly, I caved and felt a sudden surge of dirtiness. Why was I criticizing other people's art with my own idiosyncratic subjective reaction? For quite a few reviews after that conversation, I walked with water glider sensitivity over bands, trying to picture myself as a person who could stomach things I clearly hated. I was constantly aware of the artist's feelings, what their friends might say, and pictured them at home wrapped in high-thread count sheets screaming at pieces of paper "Fuck you, you don't understand. You just do this because you can't create music yourself." Then I heard the Sucka MCs and something in me took a healthy Cujo turn.

Cynthia Sowers, an old college instructor of mine, used to talk about how drastically our conception of the artist has changed since the Middle Ages. Back then, art was a trade like many others and as such viewed as kind of a functional community property rather than the product of the God-touched. Basically, artists were people who worked like anyone else and didn't expect to be exempted from the day-to-day rules and constraints of the commoners. Nowadays, artists are puerile, egotistical wounds who, once they've achieved a certain level of fame, expect an entourage of cronies following them around and to make sure that any cracks which might bring in the harsh light of reality and truth are duly spackled. Artists seem to believe that by virtue of making a commodity that can give transcendence, they are more special than the moments and people who bring transcendence in our everyday lives. Somewhere along the way, we got it in our heads that when a musician or a painter puts something out there for public comment (to be sure, they want public money) that only the crass and "untalented" would dare say "Hey, that sucks." For many artists, Art is not a democracy, but the province of an infantile naked emperor who insists that every day is a fashion show that only he can win.

Having said that I recognize that my opinion is one of many, that you may disagree. Because unlike a typical pop star, I don't think I'm better than you, smarter than you, or have more insight than you. And I don't think you should pay me tons of money to do what I do simply because you can't or don't want to do it. I'm just a kid with a decent sense of humor who loves music. I just wanted to toss out a helpful piece of advice to all artists: It is not all about you, if you truly love what you do you don't need the entire world licking your ass in order to do it. So I know that someone out there loves the Sucka MCs, thinks that they're an incredible band, and waits with baited breath for their every release. For all of those fans, all I have to say is, God help you.

The Sucka MC's bio contains the following revealing quote: "The Sucka MCs are tired of being persecuted. Since the beginning of time, my people have been repeatedly dissed at shows and house parties. Those same people would turn around and use our styles in a commercial arena." I myself had not known about their persecution, but I'm glad to see that discerning music listeners elsewhere in the world have taken to storming the castle with torches, tar and feathers. If someone is truly ripping them off and making money from it, then they are musical alchemists and should given mad praise for what is surely a feat of stunning wizardry.

Da Album sounds painfully homemade, a bad garage sale of a record. "Y U Wanna Be a Rapper?" provides a perfect example of the records overall immaturity. All of the emcees rap as if there isn't track beneath them to flow off of and as if writing lyrics is just a matter of jotting down your very own trickle of consciousness. Like most of the songs on Da Album, it sounds like people just randomly spitting verse over jalopy beats with no attempt at coherence, innovative word use or impressive rhythm.

Much of the record seems to hinge itself on jokes that aren't really funny, betting that the listener will forgive the lack of skill in exchange for a few one-chuckle cheap shots. "Jump up and Down on My Nuts" does not make me laugh and needs verbal Viagra. If I liked a song on this record (and I don't) it might be "Dairy Queen" which sounds like a song Beck wouldn't have bothered recording. Many of the songs, including "Another Round" and "I'm a Sucka" make reference to the aforementioned persecution. It occurred to me after several listens that perhaps this was satire. And then I thought to myself, even if I got it, I wouldn't get it. Shitty records are shitty records, even if the creators fancy themselves clever by half.

What's most difficult to endure on the record are the spates of offensive lyrics. I'm hardly politically correct, I can easily separate the fact that talented people can be moral morons because I fully understand that talent is a jonesing crack whore at life's bus stop. "Don't Bend Over (Cus You Might Get Shot)" pulls out the obligatory faggot jabs, the insecure masculinity, and the threats of senseless violence. Without the talent, these Iowan emcees sound like frat boys begging to be misunderstood.

I would be more forgiving if my friends had made this record, drunk, on a whim, and never forced me to listen to it again. But they didn't, so I'm not.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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