Whether by design or accident, Yaggfu’s “Future Shock” also makes me laugh. The deceptively simple, sarcastic lyrics successfully contrast hokey visions of futuristic bliss with the massively disappointing, increasingly hectic realities of modernity. The emcees pull this off so well in fact that I feel emboldened enough to violate the rules of valid criticism. For this review, I am embracing the fallacious yet attractive notion that in any given rap song, sample usage can be regarded as an ideologically-driven decision that mirrors the messages found in the lyrics.
Tri-Pack Wafer: Abstract Tribe Unique, Leaders Of The New School, Yaaggfu Front
“I hope one of his peoples could hook him up with a tri-pack/ That’s three different flavors/ Chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry wafers” — MF Doom, “Kookies”
Abstract Tribe Unique, Leaders Of The New School, and Yaggfu Front Look Towards The Future
When I listen to Yaggu Front‘s “Future Shock,” I am reminded of Bruce McCall‘s irreverent and visually arresting presentation from May 2008 titled “Nostalgia for a future that never happened.” In this talk (embedded below) the sardonic illustrator and author (known primarily for his many well-received New Yorker covers) discusses his revulsion/fascination with commercial art from the mid-twentieth century that forecasts the arrival of a post-WWII high-tech utopia. You know, hilariously innaccurate and vaguely disturbing visions of flying cars, silver jumpsuits, and robot maids by ’87 at the latest. McCall skewers his own source materials by redrawing them in a manner that mocks their naive hubris, implicit jingoism, and subtle creepiness while celebrating their imaginative beauty.
Yaggfu Front – Future Shock
I want to believe. C’mon, the twinkling pianos, the unusually warm and fuzzy orchestral horns – this has to be an intentional, mock Twilight Zone-ish ironic commentary on white-dominated retro-future aesthetics, right? With a few knowing jabs at mid-’80s rap culture and its distinct brand of robotic groupthink and unapologetic fetishism of the latest cars and couture thrown in for balance? The Puma tracksuit as space attire? The 808 as automaton musician? No?
Ok, maybe I’m reaching. But the one discernible message of “Future Shock” I am certain is not a product of wishful thinking is the idea that the heralded future (actually, the present) is still an uncertain, unkind place for the poor and unlucky. For many, this does not constitute a profound revelation. But if Yaggfu are, on some level, poking fun at the upbeat prognostication of The Jetsons by positing wonders like online billing and laser eye surgery as vicious signifiers of perpetual inequity, the song can be viewed as poignant as well. Even more so when race is considered; the post WWII technocratic wonderlands of magical highways and sprawling, mechanized exurbs were not meant to include minorities. Robert Moses was pretty adamant about that.
Afro-Futurists admire artists like Deltron, Dr. Octagon, and Andre 3000 for their neo Parliament-Funkadelic extravagance. Their spacey, scatalogical vaunts and costumed antics are interpreted as signifiers of a forward-thinking movement in the direction of transcendent liberation. The mind-forged manacles and alienation that are the legacy of slavery are figuratively broken by the embrace of the type of technological ingenuity that fueled the careers of Lee “Scratch” Perry and Afrika Bambataa, among others. These are compelling concepts and we should not dismiss these artists as mere daydreamers, but rap’s exploration of the future is hardly limited to artless garish solo artist indulgence in cosmic tropes with little to no discretion.
Leaders Of The New School – The End Is Near
Like Yaggfu Front, Leaders Of The New School and Abstract Tribe Unique view the future as a mixed bag at best, with most of the spoils going to the same undeserving heirs who seem to maintain an indefinite stranglehold on wealth. On “The End Is Near” the four future-conscious Public Enemy disciples from the rougher side of Robert Moses’ Long Island futureworld impress with a dizzying display of vocal styles. While the normally boisterous Yaggfu Front calmly recite their lines to describe nanotech drudgery, the Leaders are besides themselves with pre-millenial tension. Dinco D spits out non-sequiters just like Uniblab while Charlie Brown is damned near hysterical, carrying on about a coming apocalypse. Busta is surprisingly the voice of reason in this instance. His style on “The End Is Near” (click here for demo version plus other LONS gems) is frenetic even for him but he delivers a sober meditation on the issues of artistic integrity facing the hip hop genre as it morphs into a full-fledged power industry.
Abstract Tribe Unique – Torn
This is also the main topic of Abstract Tribe Unique’s “Torn.” “Torn” sounds like urgent panic; the hi/low-tech, dusty-but-digital organ sample jettisons Abstract Rude’s robust preacherly style towards the firmament. But Abstract Rude’s presentation is ultimately very down-to-earth despite his penchant for mystical medicine show theatrics. “Torn” tackles the subject of the future with skill and gracel Abstract rude examines the arrival of the new generation of rappers reared on information overload and bemoans the glacial pace of progress but retains a sense of hope for the dawn of a new consciousness. Flying cars or not. — Thun