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.