First of all, the Internet is good only for email and some big-butt Web sites. That said, I was surprised and taken aback by David's gift. But with this CD, David has showed me a glimpse of the Web's true usefulness. He has, in pitch-perfect clarity, created a sturdy and distinctive collection of hip-hop tunes, most of which will probably never be heard anywhere but on the Net.
The CD, which arrived at the Houston Press three days after David sent it, came in shiny Mylar wrapping (just like Madonna's Sex book). Shiny stuff removed, the CD looked like any other: in its jewel box, covered in abstract black-and-blue images, with the words Merry Christmas Craig in small black letters on the cover. Seeing your name on a CD gives you an overwhelming sense of importance.
Recording-wise, all the tunes are up to their full stereophonic potential. But one thing that separates this CD from your copy of, say, Thriller, is that this one lets you hear when one song stops and the next one begins. It's like listening to the digital equivalent of a bootleg tape.
Beginning with the jazzy, robust grooves of the funk-rap outfit The Herbaliser (featuring Bahamadia) on "When I Shine," Merry Christmas Craig is going to be something you know goes past convention and into its own inventive style.
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Along this untrammeled path also go the X-ecutioners, who mix heavy scratching with nervy rhymes on "Raida's Theme (Remix)," and Royce The 5-9, with his deep roughneck riffs. "I'm the King (Street Version)," by 5-9, is both clever and truthful. ("Y'all niggas ain't rough / You need to smile more in your pictures.") Even the instrumental numbers, like the London Funk Allstars' bebop-happy "Funky Sweater" and Dr. Zaius's mind-bending "Sine Wave Assassin" tread on a singular, underground cool.
Since this is a hip-hop album compiled by an indie-pop guy, some indie acts on the borderline of hip-hop make appearances, like that out-there wordsmith Kool Keith. A man of many faces (all of them certifiable), Kool Keith assumes the identity of Dr. Dooom here as he spews the vile hopes and dreams of a serial killer on "Apartment 223." He raps: "Look behind your fuckin' back / With a drill bit in your ass crack." And that's the least offensive line. Keith's old road dogs, Ultramagnetic MCs, also end up on this disc. In extremely sharp contrast to their former partner, Ultramagnetic MCs give up a laid-back, mack-daddy flow on "It's All The Way Live."
There are a few songs that sound like David was just filling space. The moody indie-pop of Wheat's "Don't I Hold You" sounds like something you would hear on your favorite WB drama. Same goes for Mogwai's sullen, eight-and-a-quarter-minute-long instrumental track "Tracy (Kid Loco's Playing with the Young Team Remix)." The most befuddling and migraine-inducing track on this baby is the final track by an Athens, Georgia, band called Macha. For some reason these dudes think if you combine Celtic rhythms with music from the Orient and play it really aggressively, you're breaking new ground. Ironically (or not), the song is titled "Until Your Temples Are Pounding."
Still, even those awful tracks can't take away from the great hip-hop here. Thank you, David. It's not the kind of gift you can receive from Wherehouse Music or, hell, even Amazon.com.