August 08, 2004



My friend Boris Wallon disagrees with me about Fela. Huh. He says: "Not that I have anything to offer by way of convincing, but I was pretty surprised by your take on Fela, whose records I find myself listening to rather a lot, especially 'Expensive Shit' and especially especially 'Coffin For Head of State,' which is just killer songwriting albeit over a very long groove. Fela is a wonderful singer with a great sense of timing."

After he said this, I said, "Boris," I said. "You are fucking high," I also said. Boris is kind and understanding. He chucked me lightly under the chin and increased my morphine drip. When I came to, several near mint copies of Electric Mud were missing but my friend, the musical critic of music, Keith Harris, was standing there with a cogent response in his hand. Duck, Boris!

"Afrobreat is easily the boringest of major African genres, because it's the most generic, the stodgiest—it knows what music is supposed to be, both structurally and ideologically. The synthesis is always finished, rather than being in process. It's weighted down by the cultural (maybe essentialist?) assumptions of folks who don't understand that James Brown isn't 'African' and griots don't sing 'the blues.'"

But then I remembered what I wanted to talk to Boris about—Masta Killa's No Said Date, an album I assume is mis-titled but which gives me deep and acute pleasure all the same. I was going to tell Boris about it, but then he told me about it. This was surprising to me. This is what Boris said:

Boris Wallon:

Half the reasons to love Masta Killa's No Said Date are extra-textual, which is either bullshit or gravy, depending on who you are. Me, there isn't a single day that passes when I'm not leaning more toward backstory as the most important constituent part of an album. (Why should it be, then, that all one-sheets should suck so much ass? A question for another day.) The in-play issues, then, in no particular order and probably leaving a lot of stuff out:

1. Prior to this album, Masta Killa had been the only member of the Wu-Tang Clan not to have released a solo album. Most of the others have at least four. Even Inspectah Deck has three, although normal people, on hearing about the three Inspectah Deck solo joints, will likely respond: "Who?" Wu-Tang heads like to gossip a lot about Masta Killa feeling bitter about his odd-man-out status, but his interviews find him talking a very anachronistic and pleasantly refreshing team-player game: sorta like you might imagine a just-Ringo interview circa 1968, maybe. I had a Jam Master Jay parallel that worked a lot better than Ringo, but thinking about it made me feel sad.

2. Be all that as it may, though, you can only hear so much gossip before it starts to worm its way into your consciousness—which is pretty much the G.O.P.'s whole reelection strategy, from the looks of things (which reminds me: are those Swift Boat Veterans For Truth guys actually Satan, or just Satan's asshole buddies? Please advise). So when you read that some of the songs on No Said Dat have been sitting in the cans for eight years, you wonder: How come? How come, when Method Man gets away with releasing 74-minute albums that have three stone classic tracks, fourteen more fair-to-good ones, and twenty minutes' worth of wholly forgettable skits? Mustn't there be something to this weakest-link talk that one reads, blushing with shame, on Wu-Tang message boards? Isn't this album gonna suck?

3. And why is the damn thing almost invisible? Search in vain for mainstream press coverage of it. It's on a microscopic label. Even with a cameos from almost every member of the Clan, No Said Date has entered the popular consciousness like an extra in a mob scene. This must lend credence to various suspicions, right?

At which point you turn your attention toward No Said Date itself, and are shocked and amazed. It's neck-deep in Wu vernacular ("After this drink, we become sworn enemies!"), more recognizably Wu than the solo work of higher-profile Wu stalwarts. The title track flows like an angry Hubert Laws, which you gotta know is awesome if you've been trying to rep for Hubert all these years without success. The beats are freezing cold, except when they're not, as on "Old Man," which, wait for it, features Ol' Dirty Bastard doing his best recollection of the classic McDonalds' quarter-pounder jingle. Over the Sanford & Son theme. Can I get a "fuck yeah"? What's more, the sequence is dazzling. Song after song after song, it's one of the most consistent albums I've heard all year, and its relentlessness sounds — in view of its late arrival, and of its everybody-get-on-board guest spots, and of the bio as received and understood by the making-sense-of-too-much-information Wu massive — like a self-referencing refutation of anything you, or I, might have supposed in advance about it. Which is awesome, and makes it ideal summer listening: it's wistful and hopeful and current and historical all in the same breath.

Posted by Sasha at August 8, 2004 05:31 PM | TrackBack