December 13th, 2007

Local Ghettotech (vs. Gobbledecrunk)

This Friday — here in Cambridge, Mass — the Thunderdudes are bringing none other than Detroit ghettotech luminary DJ Assault to move the (m)asses @ the Greek American Political Club —

I have to admit that I’m pretty excited ’bout that, since I find ghettotech, ghetto house, juke, etc. — various hardcore post-house/techno booty beats — to be really quite engaging on a visceral level. The breakneck tempos, the driving drums, the low-fi, DIY, indie aesthetic (often [self]described as “raw“), even the dirty chants, repeated ad absurdum, all work together to do some work: on my body, on my psyche, on the collective. It’s no surprise that “work that” (and similar imperatives) tend to dominate ghettotexts. These imperative qualities have a lot to do with what makes ghettotechs appeal more broadly, beyond their original, local confines (they’re labeled “ghetto” for good reason), globally even.

Of course, when I stop to think about it, when I let the looped words grind their lexical meanings into me, I wince. That ol Cartesian dualism, er, rears its head, and I find my mind wrestling with my hind, like, Are we really nodding along to this?

& I know I’m not the only one who asks such questions. I think — and hope — that this kind of inner (and sometimes outward) dialogue is pretty much shot through the ghettotech experience (for ghetto denizens and diggers-at-a-distance alike). Indeed, as some of the exchanges captured in this short documentary on ghetto house in Chicago attest, the producers and their people themselves grapple with the genre’s “abusive” sounds —

There’s an interesting contrast, however, between listening to ghettotech in English, where it’s not so easy to ignore the words’ meanings (even if I try to let them function as another nonlexical layer of sound, which, hell, I’ve been doing with nuff hip-hop & dancehall for some time now) and listening to “ghettotech” in another language, e.g., Carioca Portuguese or San Juan Spanish. I suspect that a lot of us global ghettotechies out here, especially those of us in the monolingual camp (ahem, USers), have an easier time listening to booty music when we don’t have to think about the meanings of the words. If it’s all gobbledecrunk, it’s all good.

I was recently e-terviewed for a piece by a Brazilian journalist on “global ghetto” ish, and I think the following q&a is germane, so I’ll end with this —

Q: Do you sometimes feel there should be more political lyrics in global ghetto music (I’m thinking of Rio funk, reggaeton, kuduro and kwaito which are largely sexual and/or party-oriented)? Or maybe feel that these musics could have more of a commitment to change or denounce their situation (if you think they do promote some kind of social change, please explain why)?

A: Sometimes I might feel that way, but then again, I think that music about sex or pleasure or partying is already political in a certain sense. It depends very much on the social or cultural context, of course. It’s no surprise that the themes that dominate a lot of ghetto music have to do more with everyday concerns, or with transcending the stress of everyday life, or with pissing off the middle-class, the government, the power structure. As for promoting change, sometimes one sees that sort of thing, especially in the Rasta-inspired visions of a lot of reggae, but in general, people living in ghettos worldwide haven’t seen much change, don’t see much hope for change, and probably won’t change the focus of their lyrics until there is some real change in the social conditions in which they live. I guess it’s something of a chicken and egg question, but it’s not for me to tell people what to rap about. Of course, as a DJ it can often be uncomfortable to play songs that are overtly misogynist or which objectify women as sex objects (and little else). Perhaps that’s another significant appeal of “global” / foreign ghettotech: it’s easier to listen to booty music when you don’t understand all the words.

25 Comments Add your own

  • 1. jace  |  December 13th, 2007 at 11:17 am

    here’s what i said to the journalist when asked my the same question:

    “Sometimes you need music to be a kind of escape, sometimes you need songs of love. It’s a silly idea to think that vocalists should somehow also be political leaders.

    The fear that the “natives'” music is too sexual, too crude is at least 300 years old, if not older…

    It is precisely because I have a strong social concern and awareness that I don’t place too much importance on the lyrical content of music.

    If you want to talk politics, follow the money. If you want to talk politics in music, follow the distribution, see who benefits from what.

    Imagine a ‘socially-conscious’ funk carioca hit… owned by a Westerner who profits from it while the artist gets underpaid. The song appears to be good & politically just, but it is simply an extension of an old colonial relationship. So examining lyrics won’t answer any questions of power… “

  • 2. Pete Murdertone  |  December 14th, 2007 at 2:21 am

    well I read this blog AND I luv ass and titties

  • 3. wayneandwax  |  December 14th, 2007 at 8:56 am

    i can’t tell if you left the quotation marks off “ass and titties” as an explicitly ambiguous gesture, pete, but i think we’re in agreement.

    by the way, did you notice that assault has a track called “bras n panties” over on his myspace? can’t tell if he’s going for the disney crowd with that one or what…

  • 4. kevin r hollo  |  December 15th, 2007 at 11:42 am

    great topic wayne.

    i’ve been thinking about why this kind of music doesn’t appeal to me, why the spankrocks and the ghettotechs don’t really make me want to get up and dance…

    the comparison to “gangsta rap” and “booty” music is totally apropos, and i think the gentleman’s response above that “somebody had to do it” is really telling. why is is that this kind of music is considered more “raw” or more “real?” is sex in itself a semiotic carrier of something more vital and meaningful across all cultural boundaries? is a frank or hyper-realized call to action (really just a simulation or “soundrack” if you will to the actual sex act) with regards to sex something that can only ever be embraced by “ghetto” life?

    what concerns me more, and something that i’ve explored in my own work at Miami Univ, is the shrugging off of strict lexical meaning in favor of a wider-reaching semantic reading, one based purely on sound. i’ve done this too over the years with much of the patios-laced musics! but i guess at the end of the day, knowing that the chants and words that are filtering through to me from these islands (concrete or jungle) are uplifiting or empowering rather than focused on the sex act….i dunno. it’s just like the dancing, at least the majority of it in that video: simulated sex. yes, i saw the footwork, but i think the “rawness” strips away any sense of magic or mystery in the music or dance, perhaps a bit naive of me but i miss it! there’s nothing hidden or submerged in ghettotech, it’s all out there with covers pulled back. it’s not that it’s ugly, not at all. just not very interesting.

    the struggle of the ethnographer or academic ultimately becomes a charge to subvert the semiotic code of the music, making it more digestable (or at least taste better), putting the music into a different frame, camera or blog, computer or book, finding relationships that might only lead to the same ideas of politics and power that spawned the music in the first place.

  • 5. Erin P  |  December 15th, 2007 at 10:57 pm

    A few weeks ago DJ Assault was playing at Smartbar in Chicago and I found myself gettin nasty on the dancefloor, as I always do when there is a party with Booty House (or Ghettotech, whichever you prefer). I had to sort of laugh at myself because a) i do consider myself a feminist and b) i tend to do whatever I can to fight oppression on all fronts-including culturally. I realized how troubled I was by the lyrics, yet I couldn’t help from dancing. Always the optimist, I asked DJ Funk (who was there as MC) what his mama thought about his music. You know what he said? “My mama’s a whore.” But Funk, surely there has to be some woman in your life whom you respect that doesn’t approve. Don’t you know any feminists? “Shit, Bitch-I’m a feminist!”

    This pretty much sums up Booty for me-it is truly ghetto. No smoke and mirrors.

  • 6. Pete Murdertone  |  December 16th, 2007 at 4:13 am

    with and without quotes mate….

  • 7. wayneandwax  |  December 16th, 2007 at 11:12 am

    those are some amazing quotations, erin!

    for the record, i think assault played “ass n titties” no less than 3 times friday night.

    (all this reminds me that i need to get my dj slugo interview transcribed and posted…)

  • 8. Erin P  |  December 16th, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Yes, I know. In fact when I write my feminist analysis of Booty, I think I will title my book, “Shit, Bitch-I’m a Feminist!”.

    Also, I think Assault played “Ass n Titties” about five times and probably said, “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke” at least one hundred times-on the mic and off.

  • 9. curm  |  December 16th, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    “The fear that the “natives’” music is too sexual, too crude is at least 300 years old, if not older…” -dj Rupture

    But isn’t music with crude lyrics being disseminated more widely now, and I ‘d guess that there have always been “natives” who find the lyrics objectionable as well. Plus, what about economic class aspects–while there is sexism at all levels, isn’t it often more blatant lyrically in working class ghettotech (not that I’d rather listen to non-sexist mundane uh jazz fusion or something). Doesn’t this also have to be connected back to more complicated issues regarding education and values and what people learn at home and at school and from the cultural marketplace—tv, videogames, music, movies, etc.). It may be wrong to ask or tell musicians to rap or sing about politics and global issues, but is it wrong to ask for a certain level of creativity in the lyrics?

  • 10. Birdseed  |  December 17th, 2007 at 4:24 am

    I think your way of listening is very similar to mine to this sort of music, but I’m not sure that’s actually universal. Who’s to say there aren’t people in the west who are actually attracted by the overt sexuality in the music? Ironically, possibly. Subconciously, maybe. But I don’t think it’s impossible to imagine some, at least, are attracted rather than alienated by the sexist allusions.

    Obviously this is not the case for most of us here at the “academic end”. But I think you can pretty straightforwardly make the case that we’re indirectly condoning this kind of attitude. No matter how “political in distribution” the music we listen to is, it’s still a mere subset of all locally produced and consumed music – we’d never see bachata or even something as young and modern as takeu in most discussions of our “translocal” music.

    Why? I know a lot of you loathe to take the word “authenticity” into your mouths but I think there’s an attitude that equates harsh crudeness with the real. Hip-hop is “realer” than R&B. Kwaito is realer than south african gospel. Kuduro is realer than zouk. We see the sexist attitudes as honest, and the straightforward love material as less so.

    Is it quite simply that we see the masculine as more genuine than the feminine? It’s easy to make comparison to the gender politics of art and litterature – there, too, “men’s genres” tend to be seen as better and more authentic than “women’s genres”. At least with this music we do see a fair amount of subversion of gender roles (going both ways) but nevertheless – I think there’s a real danger we’re percieving what could be understood as male power music as the only authentic music, and that is indeed an indirect support of its message.

  • 11. wayneandwax  |  December 17th, 2007 at 9:42 am

    No one is pretending that this sort of non-lexical listening is universal, Birdseed, which is part of what makes the lyrical content disturbing (for some us): the idea that some people might be identifying non-ironically with or influenced by the sort of misogyny often expressed in ghetto/booty genres seems as bad as the idea that some people might do the same with, say, Fox News. I tend to give people more credit/power when it comes to reading cultural texts, though, and even DJ Funk’s seemingly paradoxical comments imply something of a more complex position on such matters.

    I actually like a lot of bachata, but it’s no less phallocentric than juke or gtech. It’s only relatively recently that women even have a voice in the genre, and though the lyrics may tend more toward the romantic than the sexually explicit, there’s plenty of coding going on there and plenty patriarchal sentiment too. (Can we really call a genre such as bachata “feminine”?) Sadly, that remains the case for most of the music made today: the music industry is an industry dominated by men at nearly all levels. (In this regard, can we call any genre “feminine”? [Aside from, say, traditional music reserved for women, etc.]) Viewed in this broader context, why should we be surprised to hear locker-room jokes and frat party chants?

    Saying that we condone such crap is another question entirely. And although it’s true that shining light on such acts (never mind booking them for parties) serves to affirm what they’re doing in some regard, I think — though I can only speak for myself — that many of us overlook the nasty gender-politics (perhaps too often) because we support the race/class-politics that also seem so central to these sounds. Take, for example, Henry Louis Gates’s famous defense of the 2 Live Crew. (And see also, Kimberle Crenshaw’s critique.)

    I think your final point is one worth considering: is male power music constructed as the most/only authentic? And what are the implications of that? I might add “black male music,” at least in the US — and our ideas about authenticity in this messed up country are no doubt deeply entwined with the love/fear of black masculinity. Where that leaves us with regard to ghettotech, though, I don’t know. Part of me wants to note, again, that there are lots of complex factors and ideologies cross-cutting any of our engagements with such music. Another part of me wants to note the structural conditions — pervasive patriarchy — that seem to set all of this up in the first place (though, I’d also say that we’re all guilty of perpetuating such structures, even in little conversations like this). Another part of me just wants to shake my ass.

  • 12. wayneandwax  |  December 17th, 2007 at 9:50 am

    Also, Juan Luis Guerra is not the best example of bachata, unless you’re looking for the cleaned-up, middleclass crossover crap :P

    I prefer the NYC-based urban-crossover boybands myself: Xtreme, Aventura, Toby Love —

    — or the older stuff, before slick studios got their hands on it. But I guess that’s my class-centric authenticity talking through me again. Or as ODB said, “Oooh baby I like it raw…”

  • 13. Birdseed  |  December 17th, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    Sorry, I really need to brush up on my bachata. It’s not generally my genre of choice, though I find what little I’ve heard a bit appealing as well. :)

    I’m really at a crossroads in my personal engagement with music and these questions tie into that. I’ve always had a passion for music at an aesthetic level, but increasingly I feel that a lot of the things I percieve as quality have structural components, often far from benign ones, that signify what’s good and bad from a social context. Sure, I have a tendency to like minority/working class/gay/countercultural music over other sorts, but I also find myself stuck in “classic” rock structures, in patriarchal booty music, etc. etc.

    My defense so far has been an increasing drift towards relativism. Is there another way?

  • 14. wayneandwax  |  December 17th, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Spoken like a true graduate student! ;)

    I can’t say I have any great answers for you, as I struggle with a lot of these issues myself (including how to take positions on music, art, and cultural practices in such a mixed-up, multileveled, complex [and, if you like, postmodern] world).

    Also, one thing that’s been nagging me: I don’t think it’s quite fair to suggest that this mode of non-lexical reception of certain kinds of lyrically uncomfy music is necessarily “academic.” Indeed, I’ve been taken to task by a couple academics for focusing too much on sonic structures (whether talking about sample-based hip-hop or bachata-esque gestures in reggaeton) when what is most salient for other observers (usually, notably, of an older generation) is the lyrics and/or the images in the videos. Moreover, I’ve had plenty of discussions with non-academics, esp hip-hop or reggae heads, who often find themselves listening mainly to the beats/riddims while ignoring the lyrics, preferring to hear the voice as another layer in the texture rather than be distracted by details that seem to detract from the beautiful or interesting experience of the song as a whole.

    Tricky business, for sure. How to theorize/analyze across this stuff in any sort of coherent manner still eludes me, which is why I’m always grateful for these conversations, for hearing other perspectives.

  • 15. Birdseed  |  December 17th, 2007 at 2:53 pm

    I think the problem is that you’ve chosen ethnomusicology as your discipline, of course they’re going to focus on everything but the actual music! :) Isn’t it the task of academics to penetrate byond what is “salient for other observers”?

  • 16. wayneandwax  |  December 17th, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    I appreciate the smiley face, Birdseed, but I still feel a need to defend my field, especially from a would-be musicologist =)

    Although no ethnomusicologist worth his or her salt would ever claim that music “in itself” — i.e., abstracted from social and cultural context — is something alone worth focusing on, I should note that we still care a great deal about “humanly organized sound,” as John Blacking called it.

    It’s not that we focus on everything but “the” “actual” “music,” but that we believe such sounds — and their meanings — are inseparable from the people making and making sense of them. In terms of my own focus on musical structures, rather than say lyrics or images (though I do occasionally address those too), I’ve been inspired by such scholars as Blacking as well as Steve Feld, who have pursued connections between sound and sentiment, between music, culture, and experience.

  • 17. lonewolfzzzz  |  December 18th, 2007 at 3:33 am

    Assault is definitely an odd character. Despite his high-profile, I feel like he is somehow outside of the network of booty musicians. In his interview w/ the Phoenix, he shirked the “ghettotech” and “ghetto house” genres, preferring “accelerated funk.” You can hear it in the funky basslines of his more recent material.

    Check Nympho for example.

    His lyrics have all kinds of odd moments. “Your brother, your nephew, your grandpa is gay / gay gay gay gay gay gay gay / your sister, your neice, your grandmother sucks / sucks sucks sucks sucks sucks sucks sucks” Where is meaning in that level of repetition?

  • 18. kevin r hollo  |  December 18th, 2007 at 10:36 am

    lonewolfzzzz’s post is excellent! i had no idea assault was interested in this kind of subversion. tactics like this are prevalent in the kinds of poetics proferred by the flarf school, alan sondheim, and other avant practitioners.

    y’all need to read up on some of that!

  • 19. wayneandwax  |  December 18th, 2007 at 11:42 am

    “Accelerated funk,” eh? Sounds like a gimmick for distinguishing himself to me, or for resisting labels, which I can totally understand. When I think of “accelerated funk,” though, I think of, say, how James Brown’s recording of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” was actually sped up on tape to give it just a little more drive. But that said, I do think Assault has a distinctive style. I was pretty surprised to hear some of those housey synth-pad tracks he dropped last Friday.

    As for the flarfiness / subversive qualities of a lot of ghettotech lyrics (and not just Assault’s), that’s what I was getting at above when I said ad absurdum. That level of repetition definitely estranges the words from their meanings. (Reminds me of an exercise I used to do as a kid — repeating words until they lost their meanings and just became weird assemblages of phonemes.) If “Ass n Titties” did nothing but repeat “ass” and “titties” over and over again, it would be a lot easier to read this way. But it doesn’t.

  • 20. dominic  |  December 20th, 2007 at 2:03 am

    ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass titties tass itties sitties sass ass titties tass itties sitties sass it ass

    (i was gunna type ‘dumb’ over and over but felt that would be misconstrued as critical, when really i just like how bouncy it is)

  • 21. Guillaume / Masala  |  December 27th, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    So at the end of the day, how was dj assault?

  • 22. wayneandwax  |  December 28th, 2007 at 11:00 am

    Despite — or perhaps because of — playing “Ass n Titties” no less than three times, DJ Assault was well received here in Cambridge. I can report that a lot of people had a lot of fun. The promoters were calling it the best Thunderdome yet, which is saying something.

    As Lone Wolf suggests above, Assault’s selection was also refreshing in its nods to funky house, etc. And most of us seemed able to ignore (or reinterpret — or perhaps sing-along w/) the bland homophobia and misogyny.

  • 23. wayneandwax.com » D&hellip  |  July 1st, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    […] while making reference to the duo) and others have been wondering aloud again about the practice of global gobbledicrunk, while Kevin’s translating salsa songs & whatnot, today seems as good a day as […]

  • 24. wayneandwax.com » H&hellip  |  October 1st, 2008 at 9:39 am

    […] for the genre (yes, Benny Benassi), offers some ideas about the genre’s appeal (a la global gobbledigook), and invites people to get in touch. I’ve been meaning to bring his comment into full view […]

  • 25. wayneandwax.com » C&hellip  |  June 22nd, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    […] scene (for lack of better terms), and in this way it’s an important footnote in the story of global gobbledicunk, sin duda. Perhaps, and maybe this is what Gavin cares more about, the way in which reggaeton […]

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Wayne&Wax

I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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