Stream: Tek Specialists “Microphone Technologies”
Stream: Tek Specialists “What You Need”
Stream: Tek Specialists “Future Shock”
A while back I wrote a piece about ’90s rap songs whose content dealt with the pitfalls of modern life and pre-millenial tension as experienced by minorities and the poor.1 I found that such songs —whose lyrics often verge on dystopian— contrast wildly with mid-Twentieth Century visual art that optimistically depicts the future as a time of unceasing positive advancement. One such song, “Future Shock” by Yaggfu Front, appears to consciously satirize the discrepancy between such bright forecasts and the realities of persistent economic inequality and racial division at the turn of the century.
The group’s appropriation of the title of Alvin Toffler’s2 famously portentous tome suggests that the members of Yaggfu Front felt an ideological kinship with other rappers of the time who viewed accelerated technological and cultural pace with deep suspicion. “Future Shock” seizes upon Toffler’s theory that rapid societal change is often subconsciously interpreted by the human psyche as a profoundly disorienting and traumatic event, splicing it with that peculiar form of anti-establishment paranoia that trickled into mid-late 90s rap by way of conspiratorial rantings like Behold A Pale Horse. The future depicted in the song —really the “present” of 1999 — is a scary milieu replete with glowing gadgets but inhospitable to privacy and freedom.
The implicit question that lurks behind the song’s often hilarious sequences of dubious modern conveniences — whether or not the dazzling luxuries of modernity obscure and thus worsen problems that are rooted in seemingly unbreakable power relationships — is a serious one. When group member Damage informed me via email that the song was recorded as part of a future-themed project also titled Futureshock which was recorded under the name Tek Specialists and only saw a very limited release on cassette, I was curious as to whether the project as a whole would attempt to answer such a weighty question. Damage was kind enough to include a .zip file of Futureshock in his email; as far as I can tell the album is not professionally mastered.3
The relatively low sound quality of this recording complicates my attempt at listening critically. Their appears to be a concerted effort to craft a sound that is convincingly futuristic, but it is difficult to tell whether it is meant to be quaintly “retro-futuristic” or unironically “high-tech” and thus whether or not it achieves these goals. One thing is certain: most of the tracks on the album do not sound very similar to the title track, whose production has a warm, jazzy feel that in my mind sounded like a camped-up version of the kind of music you might find on an episode of The Twilight Zone. The other songs on the album contain music that is supposed to sound spacey or otherwise synthetic but for the most part come across as decidedly lo-fi and even sparse.
Rap is a genre that does spacey and high-tech well. It is difficult to listen to Futureshock without comparing it to the genre’s numerous other attempts at conveying futuristic sounds and themes. The album invites comparisons with the works of Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force, Jonzun Crew, Ultramagnetic MCs, Public Enemy, Organized Konfusion, Outkast, Sir Menelik, and Deltron 3030, simply by virtue of its implied thematic concerns. Tek Specialists truthfully shows less sophistication, urgency, creative recklessness, and bombast than all of these artists, however. The beats are basic and plodding where they could be dense and energetic; the flows are no more intricate here than on previous efforts; and most disappointingly, the content of the album is not especially arresting.
For the most part the future is represented by fairly standard bragging verses that are saturated rather unnaturally with references to science, technology, and science fiction. In some instances the references are piled as if to showcase a keen memory for pop trivia and arcana, just as tepid zips, zaps, and bleeps are thrown into the mix to announce with little subtlety and even less depth that this music is future-focused. The rappers occasionally pay lip service to some of the concepts that we know are supposed to thread through the album, but they refuse to make a coherent statement or take a stance; are they disgusted by the rise of industries based on surveillance and espionage or just content to allude to such developments to bolster empty battle raps?
Future Shock is entertaining enough at times: on “What You Need” and “Microphone Technologies,” skill and wit is undoubtedly on display. The album is prescient in its own limited way, too; the verses that are essentially comprised of lengthy series of cutesy laser gun, movie robot, and alien references could probably find an audience today if funneled to the right blogs. It is plausible that the group members intended such verses to be received as a critique of the reduced attention span of technophiles and couch potatoes. But while they succeed in acting out the deluge of undifferentiated data, they tell us precious little about the culture of voracious consumers that has never known a time when the internet was not a regular household appliance.
Since the Tek Specialists recorded Future Shock, other artists have done a better job capturing the zeitgeist,4 and in fact part of the predicament of our age is that the zeitgeist shifts so frequently. The Tek Specialists sound stranded in the late 90s while the album they recorded in 1994 as Yaggfu Front5 still sounds fresh, inventive, and yes, even futuristic, without having to announce itself as such. —Thun
- “Tri-Pack Wafer: Abstract Tribe Unique, Leaders Of The New School, and Yaggfu Front.” [↩]
- Future Shock. [↩]
- It was rumored earlier this year that the album was being remastered and rereleased, but nothing has come of that, as far as I can tell. I emailed Damage recently to ask if it would be ok for me to offer the unmastered version as a download here but he has not yet responded, so the audio streams above are all you get … for now. [↩]
- Lil’ B’s Age Of Information is the current standard bearer. [↩]
- Action Packed Adventure. [↩]