Diamonds in the Dust: Comparing Kanye West and EDM to latin dance music and gangsta rap

Thousands of records from thousands of artists are released each year – a staple of the music industry for well over a century. Each decade has its defining genres and movements, and each year cultivates its own revolutionary pieces.  

However, somewhere amongst the waves of recordings is a bevy of forgotten albums. Many of these are key to understanding music’s history. Yet they never make it on the endless “top 500 all time” lists.

Diamonds in the Dust is a weekly study of the criminally neglected; songs, albums and entire genres swept under the rug by a lack of media attention, misunderstandings, or simply being too ahead of its time. 

O.C. - "Word…Life"

In 1994, the shamefully underrated Brooklyn rapper Omar Credle, otherwise known as O.C., led an attack on the budding gangsta rap scene. Harkening back to lyrical traditionalism and cleverness for the sake of it, O.C.’s magnum opus was radical then and remains so now.

With the precision of a well-trained journalist, O.C. immerses the listener into the perspective of the true-to-life slum hounds of New York City. His prose is so explicit that even a comfortable middle-class white kid from the suburbs like myself feels exposed to the anxiety-laced realism throughout the record.

“Constables” is a strident criticism of the New York Police Department, and a solid candidate for narrating today’s growing anti-cop attitude. O.C. certainly isn’t the first rapper to call attention to racial profiling, but with bars as visceral as these, he definitely mastered the subject.

“Get your ears ready for creative control / ’cause no one’s gonna tell me how to sell out my soul,” a line from the jazz-rap opening track, “Creative Control,” which feels like a harbinger for today’s loudmouthed Kanye West. 

O.C.’s middle finger to the overlords of music’s industry is a quick, yet poignant reminder of the shrouded suits who call the shots. So many of the messages Kanye raps today about echo throughout the album that it’s hard to not think of his self-proclaiming and power tripping within the industry.

The clear cut favorite on “Word…Life” though is “Time’s Up,” a warmongering attack on phony gangsta rappers and their secretly soft lives. O.C.’s lyrics sear like heat-seeking missiles, roaring with enough ferocity to travel 21 years into the future and knock off the heads of today’s equally counterfeit mainstream gangsta rappers.

I’m not saying all of today’s harder hip-hop is a sham, but I’d venture to bet a name or two comes to mind when I mention slaying today’s culprits. And if this is indeed a sentiment you share with me, pop in O.C.’s “Word…Life” and let a master instill a bit of sobriety into those perpetuating their egregious brand of "fantasy-rap."

Joe Bataan – "It’s A Good Feeling (Riot)"

Bataan’s LP “Riot!” is a poorly recorded mess. The blaring horns sound like they are being played through tin cans and much of the percussion is weightless and amateurish. For a Latin Boogaloo album, especially one so focused on getting its listeners dancing, these mishaps are eternal sin.

Regardless, there’s a certain charm and young man’s naïvety hidden beneath the sloppy demeanor. Album opener “It’s A Good Feeling (Riot)” is the perfect example of a racket-inducing party track that lacks substance but warms the heart. With all its manic chanting, breakdown soloing and Bataan’s crowd-guiding vocalization the message here is clear – we’re here to move your body.

In a lot of ways, “It’s A Good Feeling” feels like a precursor to the pulsating bass drops and vocal solos of today’s electronic dance music scene. The lack of complexity is a product of following a winning formula. Start strong, take a moment to slow things down, build intensity and release it all at once in an ass-shaking frenzy. Cut, paste and repeat.

Bataan’s blending of soul and Latin grooves is a clearly calculated process, no matter how improvisational it all sounds. He certainly didn’t break new ground, but “It’s A Good Feeling” captures the momentous social crisis of late '60s New York City. 

The chaotic nature of it mirrors the youthful anxiety pulsating through the urban landscape at the time. Bataan was an escapist leading a dance floor of escapees, similar to a DJ leading a crowd of misunderstood, under-appreciated and revolutionary millennials. The parallels practically write themselves.

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Contact the reporter at nlatona@asu.edu or follow @Bigtonemeaty on Twitter.

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