Here’s a review of two recent books in the series, from Harp magazine.
So far. So good. The rockist 33 1/3 series has been appropriately space, time and scene sensitive — Bowie’s Berlin via Low, Neutral Milk Hotel’s glorious South — without getting lost in any sort of loftiness. In the process it’s becoming a coolly emotional Encyclopedia Britannica of Pop.
For Dan LeRoy’s look at the nasty white boys of rap’s second CD, the New York Times scribe sticks to that location/time continuum so to tell the tale of affluent Brooklyn B boys finding mo’ money and mo’ problems at the hand of sampling, Capitol Records and fantastic LA. Certainly, Boutique was viewed as visionary to the critical cognoscenti. But did your little brother buy it; the one who was still fighting for his party rights? That’s the question most asked throughout: How did naughty frat boy antics become high art and sales worthy in the marketplace of the late ’80s? LeRoy presents aptly funny answers to how the Beasties cut loose from Def Jam’s Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons and made their own way, super slowly, through what could’ve been a disaster. Not only did Horovitz, Yauch and Diamond find happiness — check out the stories of hanging poolside — they removed themselves from all level of novelty act by making collage-hop de rigueur forevermore.
Happily, LeRoy’s book is fast and sharp. Miles Lewis’ look into Sly Stone’s seminal 1971 LP Riot isn’t quite as clear cut. Instead, it’s an often ruminative peek into the Sly one’s post-Stand masterpiece. That’s not to say that Lewis’ take on the funk classic isn’t biting or brisk. It tells the story of black American politics circa 1971, chats up band members, and outlines the headaches involved in not following a wildly commercial success with another wildly commercial success. Perhaps Lewis is simply mimicking Riot’s brooding qualities or those of the multi-discipline musician and flashy host who made it. Perhaps Lewis — a Bronx memoirist currently living in France — is making his own Riot.
By A. D. Amorosi
First printed in Jul/Aug 2006