Over the past decade, I’ve seen about 10 dozen underground music videos and about three dozen underground movies, everything shot on the cheap and looking like it. Amazingly, for such diverse music, just about every video and movie are the same. All of the flicks are biopics, and they all feature two brothers. (I am not kidding.) One wants to go legit but can’t transcend the hostile ’hood of his upbringing, and the other, flouting the law and reveling in well-paying wickedness, represents an alternate though no less legitimate kind of existence — I think. All of these movies are so horribly scripted, acted, and filmed that following the plot requires enormous reserves of patience and a preternatural knack for piecing together jigsaw puzzles by sight. Basically, the average underground rap movie makes Plan 9 From Outer Space look like The Godfather.
As for the videos, the ones for lighthearted, uptempo songs have people dancing and wearing loud colors, usually in a downtown park. For tough, thugged-out tunes, the pixilated scenery includes guns, fancy cars, nighttime urban vistas, guns, and scowling faces, and did I say guns? For relationship numbers, hoochies, hoochies, and more hoochies!
PPT doesn’t do any gangsta shit on Tres Monos. Pikahsso, Picnictyme, and Tahiti do trot out some young gals in tight pants, and the three rappers bust some moves, but for the most part, the local trio is content to mug for the camera and lip-synch along to the flow.
I still can’t help buggin’ out, though. On the album, the group manages to simultaneously pay homage to and parody hip-hop, a rare and wonderful feat. Yet in the videos, PPT seems guileless. Instead of taking a page from Dr. Octagon or Biz Markie, two rappers who eloquently and intelligently dis rap’s constricting m.o., PPT gleans inspiration from OutKast and Busta Rhymes. P, P, and T aren’t trying to be ironic funny (Octagon, Biz). They’re trying to be funny ha-ha (OutKast, Busta). Most of the songs are loaded with sarcasm — eloquent, intelligent sarcasm. Why the PPT’ers chose to play it down onscreen is … well … ah … another good question.
Take the track “Work It Out”: With its strong, soulful vibe and Tahiti’s guttural — and absurd — sexual demands, the song would have made for an awesome take-off on ’80s loverboys like Freddy Jackson, Michael Cooper, and Johnny Gill. If you’ve seen one of their videos, wit’ all dem satin sheets a-twirlin’, tropical oils a-squirtin’, and “massages” e-ruptin’, you’ve seen ’em all. Yet the “Work It Out” vid isn’t the least bit satirical. However, it is clever. Fuzzed up to give viewers the impression of watching an old b&w tv set, the video shows the three lads smartly dressed as ’50s-era crooners performing onstage in a concert hall. Interspersed among various shots of the trio’s performance is actual b&w documentary footage of female teens swooning, probably to either early Elvis or The Beatles. The overall result is cute, but it doesn’t complement the song’s sarcastic edge. (Sample lyric: “It must be seen / She’s my queen / I love her dirty drawwws / And I’m her nappy-headed king.”)
Maybe one of the PPT casanovas could have been shown expressing his undying devotion to a pair of 5-foot-7-inch foam breasts (’cause, really, most guys care only about one thing). Or successfully seducing a blow-up doll (’cause, really, most guys see women only as non-speaking, non-thinking objects). Something, anything should have been done to live up to the song’s insightful, biting wit. Something less sitcom-y, more South Park-y.
During the conceptualization process, PPT probably wanted to avoid adult themes, understandably. The three monos are still riding high from the success of “We’re Rowdy, Loud, and Proud,” the Dallas Mavericks’ fight song, and they’ve just been signed to Big D-based Idol Records (Spunge, Flickerstick, Black Tie Dynasty). In PPT’s defense, the road to a cult following may be paved with subversiveness, but what about the way to mainstream success? Family-friendly is the only path. (Damn, FCC!)
The DVD does have a lot of bright spots — figuratively and literally. One video harks to Stone Temple Pilots’ sweet vid for “Big Bang Baby” (circa 1996), an intentionally low-rent production shot on chintzy stock in which the four rockers perform against a white backdrop. PPT’s “Waterfall Girl” has the three rappers going off on the fairer sex in front of two or three huge, white, rusty industrial water tanks and beneath an unfathomably brilliant blue sky. Like the guys in STP, they’re dressed in vivid colors, making the entire tableau look like a bowl of fruit-flavored candy. The jagged dissolves also add a nice, appropriately cheesy touch.
The rest mostly fall victim to insufficient funds and/or lack of vision. “Frustrated” is great, with its alternating close-ups of the rappers rightside up and upside down, floating across a background of ethereal gray buildings. But good videos need to progress. Even if all you have is a couple of rump-shakers, a solid backdrop, and no discernable narrative structure, you can still maintain a viewer’s interest, chiefly by progressing visually. The best example is Heavy D’s vid from back in the day for “We Got Our Own Thang.” It was enthralling not just because the bodies in motion were attractive, but because the dancers kept doing different stuff, from different camera angles, and in different tempos until the end. “Frustrated,” while eminently watchable, is monochromatic. (The song itself, though, is wonderful: a smooth joint with melancholy piano, swift rhymes, and Tahiti’s voice “screwed” to a crawl.)
Rap groups’ making their own music videos is nothing new. Around here, maybe. But, generally speaking, no. To understand why some aspiring rappers think their music just isn’t enough, we gotta go back a ways. At the dawn of the video age, when rap was first going mainstream, image started to become closely linked to music. In other words, what an artist looked like was almost as important as what he or she sounded like. As MTV took off, some of the genre’s early stars scrambled to put their faces on lunch boxes, Trapper Keepers, magazine covers, billboards, and screens both small and silver to maximize salability. No longer merely rappers, LL Cool J/Ice-T/Will Smith/Vanilla Ice/Queen Latifah had become — say it with me now — entertainers.
Forced to live up to the big-timers, underground rappers also began trading on image. They generated their own press by paying (or forcing) ’zines to run gushing articles and anointed themselves as stars by writing, directing, and producing their own videos and movies. When video recording equipment became nearly as inexpensive as audio gadgetry, the underground rappers who weren’t getting their mugs out there, who weren’t “hustlin’ ” — to use the street term for “avoiding real jobs at all costs” — simply weren’t maximizing salability, thus dooming themselves to a life of obscurity and poverty.
PPT’s future is looking good, no doubt. While no one’s gonna remember the DVD in two months, everyone’s liable to still be jamming to the tuneage. Tres Monos in Love hits the streets in early October. Visit myspace.com/pptmusic or idolrecords.com.
Fashion rocks! ’Member that catchphrase from about 10 years ago, when it was coined by MTV? In a not so subtle attempt to get a piece of the fashion industry’s seemingly infinite pie of advertising dollars, the network began producing and broadcasting what could be called fashion shows-slash-rock concerts. Most of the supermodels and new designers who participated have done well for themselves: Todd Oldham, Anna Sui, and Isaac Mizrahi, to name three, have all gone mainstream and are kicking sartorial butt, and a majority of the hot-steppers, notably Gisele (yeah, she and I are on a first-name basis) and Heidi Klum, are still working and are still viable conversation topics. As for the bands: Anyone remember The Hives? The Vines? The Strokes?! OK, you may, but do any of you really care about them? I didn’t think so.
Local designer Callie Smith will be putting on a fashion show-slash-rock concert, in town, and something tells me that Smith, her line of clothing, and the bands slated to perform would all rather stage-dive off the edge of the world than do MTV. Later this month, Smith’s boutique label, Paper Doll Nation, will take over an Eastside speakeasy, litter a catwalk with folks in her diverse ensembles, and invite to the stage local funk-jazzbos Confusatron, premier purveyors of abuscados zapatos Sleeplab, and an unknown band from Austin (not at the same time, of course). Paper Doll Nation, Smith said, is “a mismatch of all different looks blended together,” which is undoubtedly an au courant concept. Sometimes, a gal feels like wearing skulls and crossbones, Smith said. Other times, she wants to go preppy. With Paper Doll Nation, Smith intends to reflect the average gal’s desire, nay, need to dress well and, well, however she damn well pleases. Smith plans to display 12 to 15 outfits. Doors open at 9 p.m., and the entertainment begins a half hour later.
Over the past year, Fort Worth has seen a few underground fashion shows, most of them by Esoterica Salon. We probably shouldn’t count the recent “trashin’ fashion” show at Firehouse Art Gallery and Studios, where “models” (read: plainfolk) walked down a “runway” (read: the gallery’s lawn) in “clothes” (read: wearable visual art) made from found fabrics and objects. Paper Doll Nation’s event probably won’t be as contemporary as Esoterica’s, nor as grungy as the one at the Firehouse. It’ll probably end up somewhere in between, definitely a good place for a lass at the mercy of her moods. Visit myspace.com/paperdollnation.
Relatively new Dallas Observer music editor and critic Sam Machkovech is no longer with the paper. When reached for comment, Observer editor Julie Lyons said she is prohibited by company policy from saying anything other than he’s gone and will have a farewell column in this week’s paper. “We all wish him the best,” she added. I have to say that of my five years here on the other side of I-35, no other Observer music editor’s ambit of interest was as broad as Machkovech’s, which simply means the dude was the only DO music ed who deigned to cover Fort Worth/Tarrrant County bands on a regular basis. For a while back there, not a week seemingly went by without some mention of either Bosque Brown or The Theater Fire — or both. In one issue, Machkovech’s music staff also managed a review of Black Tie Dynasty’s new album and a glancing, glowing reference to prog-rockers Alan. Either Machkovech was really into his job, or we Cowtowners out here in the ’sticks have come a long way — or both. The good news is that his replacement, according to Lyons, is a Fort Worth native, Trinity Valley alum, and former editor/writer for the Santa Fe Reporter, Jonanna Widner.
… I never thought I’d say this (in print, anyway), but three cheers for Malcolm friggin Mayhew. The Startlegram local music critic is helping build a virtual jukebox “dedicated to North Texas-area music” for www.star-telegram.com. The ostensible purpose is to promote local music. Interested bands should e-mail email@example.com “an MP3 of one song, a bio, a photo, a link to your web site, and an e-permission slip to use it all so you can’t sue us.” I can hear y’all grousing: Shit, Hearsay. What the heck’s the difference between Malcolm’s jukebox and, say, this little web site called MySpace? Well, for one thing, someone (Mayhew) will be providing quality control, so not just any blowhard with a digital camera and a guitar can post his shite. And for another, if Mayhew and the Star-T play their cards right, the newspaper over time could amass a veritable digital library of North Texas music, which would be great for research, ’specially for my forthcoming book on the non-relationship between daily newspapers, artists, and young readers.
… Party people Darth Vato have recorded two new tunes for an upcoming e.p. (Double Viper), and they’re up on myspace.com/darthvatom. Listen to ’em before DV floods The Moon this weekend. They’re long, strong, and down to get the friction on — and, surprisingly, semi-politically charged.
Contact HearSay at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sat at Gypsy Tea Room, 2548 Elm St, Dallas. $10.
Fri at The Moon, 2911 W Berry St, FW. 817-926-9600.