Pharrell, Stop Messin’ With Tribe (Here’s Why)
by Joshua B. Hoe So, yesterday I about lost my mind when I saw that Pharrell - Voice judge, former better than average producer, and retro Mclaren hat wearer - decided to remix a Tribe Called Quest classic (Bonita Applebum).
And of course, it is disappointing to say the least.
So, I am going to just go ahead and say STOP IT! Please just stop it!
At Pharrell's best moment he could not touch QTip….I believe he did this out of respect...but stop…..Even if you are somehow trying to reignite interest in Tribe...Just stop it.
Appropriation Writ 2 Large
We are at this point in music pop culture where associating with something cool has a transitive property.
It probably started back with people like Puffy sampling almost entire songs but adding a new backbeat and terrible new lyric (thanks Sting)….
Then it got worse,
Right now we are at a place where a DJ or Producer creates a new song, pays massive dollars to any of an ever shifting group of horrible singers (the ones who are ‘brand names’) to “sing” on the track.
You may remember the particularly awful track produced by Black Eyed Peas frontman will i. am called “I’m Britney Bitch” where Britney's only role was to literally say the words “I’m Britney Bitch” in her ‘unique’ nasal drawl.
For some reason, which I will never understand, people get famous magically (usually because they have a ‘look’)...and now just having their name associated makes people buy their music (even when most have no musical talent at all - even with the help of every studio filter available).
The producer might have a name, the music might even be fun or creative, but for some reason adding a famous name attached (even when the famous name only adds a bad voice and their looks to a video) just makes people push BUY.
And then there are movies...so many terrible remakes of movies that NEVER should have been remade ever.
Everyone can watch or listen to everything that has ever existed at the tap of a finger now (virtually anywhere)...So, why would anyone spend millions of dollars to badly remake a classic movie that people can watch whenever they want?
My Theory Of Remakes and Remixes
There is a time and place for remakes and remixes...and sometimes (rarely) remakes and remixes are awesome.
It is when you can actually add something NEW and INTERESTING that changes the experience from the one experienced listening to or watching the original
Here is a great example…
I assume you remember The Rolling Stones song “Satisfaction.” Frontman Mick Jagger is playing the guy who always gets every girl (you know..playing himself), singing about how he can never get any “Satisfaction” - Awww poor Mick...He always struts through the song because the whole point is that….OF COURSE HE CAN - He is Mick F’N Jagger...He never spent a night alone in his life…He is rubbing it all in our faces, saying “Isn’t it Great to Be Mick Jagger”
Now listen to the Devo cover of “Satisfaction” - They play it exactly right, adding the element of creepiness and nerdy paranoia...It reads as an entirely different song, It is all hard angles...It is almost like a proud failure anthem. It’s the same song, but they bring something ENTIRELY NEW out in it.
Or what about the amazing Johnny Cash cover of NIN "HURT"...You could hear every day of his life in the vocals of that song...NIN version, good...Johnny Cash version GREAT. Instead of being young man pain from a breakup it was everything done wrong across a LONG life of pain and suffering.
Or the Soft Cell cover of Tainted Love, so iconic it is remembered while the original barely exists in the cultural memory banks (if you lived in the 80’s + 90’s almost played to death sadly).
When it is all done badly, it is usually a trainwreck..and makes, at least me, angry.
Sure, you might get some rub from association with greatness...but probably not if you're remake or remix SUCKS.
A Tribe Called Quest is one of the cornerstones of Hip Hop History, they have some of my fave albums of all times, and Bonita is a CLASSIC...What did you bring to it aside from more noise and packing too much into what was a simple pleasurable classic.
(FYI If you don’t own People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm or the Low End Theory….Shame on you...Shame - get them now...now).
Do I look at Bonita Applebaum differently after your version? NO...I only feel sad it is not the original (and btw, my wallet better stay in f’n El Segundo too).
The point is, stop messing with greatness, unless you can bring something new to the table.
The last time I remember you bringing something new to the table, and I mean this with all respect, was Clipse.
Pharrell (et al) My New Suggestion
When someone has done a remake or remix that adds nothing to the original...Everyone who interviews them or references them should have some universal signal for FAIL...I am not talking about actually being mean to people...more like...if you were talking to them and just mentioned the song and slowly shook your head back and forth sadly...NOOOOOO.
No asking for a response, just the name of the song and slow head shaking and sad looks.
And yes, that includes people who do it in a new genre...like when the only difference is you add a different voice and a banjo to a rock classic and call it country….Or when people think it will just sound better with their voice….that can work sometimes but it is rarely better….get over yourself.
BTW so-called “music critics” when a singer in one genre covers a song in another genre...It is not automatically amazing or bold...Sometimes they just suck (Call this the Blake Shelton effect).
I appreciate going for the gusto, if you have a plan, and really are trying to bring a unique perspective to a song, you can have a spectacular fail….but, if you are just trying to be a remora fish attaching yourself to greatness...STOP IT!
You don’t gain from the transaction, with anyone who appreciated the original at all...they will always see you and it will be like you have an asterisk attached to you...Oh, it’s _____ he/she ruined one of my fave songs.
Anyway, even if I am wrong in general...I am right in this case...Leave Tribe Alone!
What do you think of Pharrell's Appropriation of Tribe? How do you feel about remixes and remakes? Leave a comment!
Listen to the 25th Anniversary Edition of People's Instinctive Travels here:
Listen to The Low-End Theory Here: