Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Da BackWudz

About a year ago I only associated "the backwoods" with some vague notion of a deep Southern rural setting. Then I heard the song You Gonna Luv Me, and the subsequent remix with Nas and Slim Thug, and now I can further associate "the backwoods" with Da BackWudz, a group whose name is seemingly inspired by a deep Southern rural setting. Aside from featuring Nas in the rare position of sounding comfortable in a quicker double time flow, because of the beat's interesting marriage of Kanye West and crunk, You Gonna Luv Me piqued my interest in the Decatur, Georgia duo. Well, like I said, about a year went by, and while doing casual message board browsing last week, I came upon a leak to Da BackWudz debut, Wood Work, which happens to come out today. Surprised that this album was not already in stores and shipping gold, nevertheless, I decided to check it out myself.

Read any of Da BackWudz' press and you'll be hit with this idea that their musical influences span genres. According to an MTV write-up, Wood Work is a "a down-home compilation of classic crunk, throwback funk and juke-joint soul . . . allowing them the ability to encompass all sounds and vibes without getting stuck in a one-dimensional groove." On one hand, this could make for a diverse and continually exciting sound. On the other hand, what it ultimately means is that the album is sabotaged by having too much going on. Wood Work is not an album that lives and dies by its lyrics. Rappers Sho-Nuff and Big Marc, Sho-Nuff especially, I think, more than acquit themselves, with only occasional lapses into the contrived. However, it's in the production side of things that the debut meets its death sentence.

If I had to generalize the Southern rap aesthetic in a single word, "soulful" would jump out admittedly. Listening to Devin the Dude, Goodie Mob, Outkast, Scarface, UGK, etc, lyrically and sonically these artists convey the energy and raw emotion which characterizes a lot of classic soul music. Instead of having any real soul though, Wood Work merely has busy soul samples. And as everything from Jennifer Holliday (You Gonna Luv Me) to Bob Marley (Making Money Count Hundreds), or even Willy Wonka (I Don't Like The Look Of It), is thrown on, these samples aren't filtered in any especially creative or meaningful way. They're simply piled up, drums on top of singing on top of synthesizers on top of sound effects on top of more singing on top of chants to the point where all these elements just topple over (Fantastic). To see this trouble, look no further than the revamped You Gonna Luv Me remix. The version on the downloaded release happens to be different than what I heard a year ago. While the 2005 effort was no simplistic creation, its sped-up sample was used with restraint, and its synth led industrial thump proved more than manageable. Now, in '06, the sample is used not only in the hook, but over the verses too, making itself quite distracting. The drums have been changed to have more going on but no more success. And when it comes time for Nas' verse, they isolate the percussion, in an awkward fashion, and add an annoying "hey hey hey" chant for extra measure. It must have been real crowded in Decatur that day. All of these fancy production ticks, tricks, and trinkets are indicative of a self-conscious style that waves its hands wildly instead of just keeping a solid beat.

However, it's not all bad. When the production is more focused and Sho-Nuff and Big Marc are allowed to lead the way, Wood Work gets its formula right. For instance, the intro, Welcome 2 Da Backwudz, starts with thick old school horns and handclaps, an instant adrenaline shot, which the MCs ride with ease. There's also some scratching and a background melody. But even if a lot still is going on, it's organized: "church music and oldies and R&B consoled me, but nothing sounded better than what the Hip-Hop told me." Later comes Feelin' Lonely, the group's high point. With guitar, keys, more natural sounding drums, and singing that's covered in this interesting studio murkiness, but still is able to move, the album finally finds its soul. Appropriately enough, the rappers share a trio of heartfelt stories over the song's mellowed-out vibes. While the first verse deals in the Brenda / Tisha genre, it's the second story that introduces the most creative and even daring episode. The tale of a gay football jock may, at first, seem like a mundane after-school special, but the sincerity with which this story is presented, and the subtle irony that its conclusion taps into, make Feelin' Lonely stand out. In this one song, with the production tempered, the lyrics made primary, and the rhymes and stories allowed to shine, Da BackWudz finds its sound, if a bit a late.

Lame nigga, I flame niggas
Whoever came withcha
I got retire-out-the-game figures
Da BackWudz f/ Slim Thug, Nas: You Gonna Luv Me (2005 remix)
BONUS: Da BackWudz: Feelin' Lonely
BONUS: Da BackWudz: Welcome 2 Da Backwudz


Blogger neo said...

I kind of feel bad for them 'cos I know they have potential. Even though "you're gonna love me" was a good groove, the song creatively beat-wise was indeed a letdown. If you're going to use samples all the way through the chops have just got to be creative and such..

April 18, 2006 2:45 PM  
Anonymous Colin said...

I give this song a giant "m'eh"

Not a fan of Da Backwudz.

April 18, 2006 10:22 PM  
Anonymous ganghadin said...

aha on the clinton sparks touch the sky mixtape their is a track called twin towers with jayz and nas. so thats where the verse came from....
Lame nigga, I flame niggas
Whoever came withcha
I got retire-out-the-game figures...

April 19, 2006 2:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Man this beat is fire. I'm not a big fan of southern rap for obvious reasons but the production on this backwudz cd is crazy. Anyway Nasir molested that "You're gonna love me" beat. His flow was flawless and his lyrics on point. I was worried about how he would sound on this kind of a track but he passes with flying colors.

April 19, 2006 6:33 PM  
Anonymous ashley said...

hey! i'd like to say on 'feelin lonely', that song is so awesome.. but does anyone know what that backround song is called? ive been trying to find it... but i cant..

April 21, 2006 3:54 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

ashley, I did a little detective work for ya.

First, I assume you're talking about the background singing, "Whenever you're feeling lonely, I know that I'm not the only one that you can call, but keep me in mind. This feeling of lust is haunting, following me and wanting you to think of a time and keep me in mind."

Apparently, these lyrics, part of the song Keep Me In Mind, were first written by Jim Messina and appeared on the album by him and Kenny Loggins entitled Mother Lode, http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00000253E/sr=1-1/qid=1145723148/ref=sr_1_1/102-0323208-4196923?%5Fencoding=UTF8&s=music

Keep Me In Mind was covered by April Aloisio on her Easy to Love album too http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00000C3Z6/ref=sr_11_1/102-0323208-4196923?%5Fencoding=UTF8

However, from a brief, amateur comparison, I think what we hear on Feelin' Lonely wasn't a sample. Sounds like to me somebody resung it in the studio. That's my best guess, but liner notes would probably do me better on that note.

Hope that helps.

April 22, 2006 9:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At first I thought Da Backwudz were just one of those one hit rap groups, but i've started to listen to them alot and I really like thier songs. I heard Welcome to da Backwudz last night for the first time, and I really liked it! I really like how they have so many different sounds. From like hardcore rap(Don't Handcuff) to more musical stuff(Welcome 2 Da backwudz) So I'm looking forward to what their going to come out with next!

August 21, 2006 10:34 AM  

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