Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Art of Sampling: Bobby Womack

I wanted to make another post illustrating what sampling sounds like, when done right, in hip-hop. It took alot of thought to arrive at the best illustration of this but I finally arrived on one classic song: Bobby Womack's "Across 110th Street. "Across 100th Street" is a really incredible song - the 1970s were an era after Civil Rights, when much of America's black population had left the Deep South and settled in America's biggest cities. The result wasn't pretty - America is famous for its inner city ghettoes and housing projects - I saw some of them up close when I was in New York as a kid. The projects often seemed blocky, not quite situated properly - as if they were simply there to warehouse people as opposed to giving them a home. The lyrics in this song are so powerful - hip-hop was probably more intimate with the culture of the ghetto and the projects than soul music but Womack really tells the story of living in the ghetto without glorification. In fact, he literally says in the song that he isn't proud of his behavior:
I was the third brother of five, Doing whatever I could to survive, I'm not saying what I did was all right, Trying to get out of the ghetto was a day to day fight.
My best friend gave me a copy of the Across 110th Street soundtrack on vinyl during high school. I think it's still at my family's house. The movie that it was used in, also called Across 110th Street, isn't really deserving of the song - it's raw blaxploitation - an era of film that gave African Americans more attention than American cinema ever had before but not in the most respectful manner. Quentin Tarantino, who grew up on blaxploitation, used this song perfectly in Jackie Brown. Granted, Tarantino has used violence and ridiculous imagery every bit as bad as the worst blaxploitation but his filmmaking chops come out in a scene in Jackie Brown where Jackie, played by Pam Grier, is moved to tears while listening to this song - all of the drama that she had weathered for several decades finally cracking her shell. Being ever the strong woman, the tears are only faint - a rare subtlety in the often in-your-face world of Quentin Tarantino. (There is alot of subtlety and emotion in Jackie Brown - it is definitely one of Tarantino's best films.) The song is utilized in the beginning of Jackie Brown too but I couldn't find a clip of that.


 A scene that beautiful really makes you wonder why Tarantino resorts to violence so much. He is certainly capable of much more. Like most major soul songs, hip-hop producer have had their way with "Across 110th Street." One notable effort is "Walking Through The Darkness" by Tekitha, a female singer who showed up on many Wu-Tang Clan songs when they were popular. It was on the soundtrack for Ghost Dog, a movie starring Forest Whitaker about a modern day samurai.


 It's that guitar riff that really makes Bobby Womack's track so haunting. Tekitha's version sounds almost like the ghost of the original song. Tekitha really held her own on that song, a track I would find intimidating to touch if I were an R&B singer. Tekitha's career isn't over - she put out an album called Prelude in 2010. Let's hope she gains alot of popularity - she deserves it with such talent. To show how sampling can be used in many different directions, Womack's classic song is used in a much more upbeat manner with Destro Destructo's track "Along For The Ride:"


 While Tekitha made a melancholy effort out of "Across 110th Street," Destro, a Portland rapper and part of the massive Oldominion Northwest rap crew, made a club banger out of it. Even so Destro still channels the meaning of the original song with lyrics like

Been through enough for four lifetimes, with no lifeline and still made it through our grind.

"Across 110th Street" is a song about getting out of the ghetto. In different ways, Tekitha, Quentin Tarantino and Destro Destructo (three very different artists from three very different ethnic and geographic backgrounds) all used Womack's song to channel the process of moving forward through life's struggles. Bobby Womack is still alive - pushing 69 years old - and more than likely he has followed the artists and filmmakers who have taken his work and moved it in new directions. I hope he enjoyed them as much as I did.

No comments:

Post a Comment