Happy Birthday Dr. Gatling: An Original Gangsta's Playlist
This is the face that launched a thousand rap lyrics. You are looking at Dr. Richard Jordan Gatling, a mild-mannered inventor from the mean streets of Como, N.C., who started his career by inventing a screw propeller for steamboats, not knowing that someone else had patented one shortly before he completed his. He spent most of his life quietly, teaching or owning stores while inventing various farming machinery. At one point he gained a medical degree, presumably so he could better visualize the full impact of his next invention. (He never practiced.) Some inventors, upon hearing that more soldiers were dying of disease than by stopping rounds, would devote their lives to a developing medical technology to save lives. Not Dr. Gatling. He thought that the cure was more freakin' bullets. When the Civil War broke out, Dr. Gatling stroked his magnificent beard and said...
If I could invent a machine - a gun - which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease [would] be greatly diminished.
Portability would come later.
And with that amazing bit of completely missing the point and ignoring the law of unintended consequences, Dr. Gatling took a seed planter he'd invented, threw some bullets in where the seeds used to go, cranked up the bass, and voila, now you have a machine gun (Ho! Ho! Ho!). During Prohibition, gangsters began referring to their Tommy guns as gats in because of the Gatling gun, and in the modern era it has come to be slang for any type of gun, whether it's a machine gun or not. Today rappers - and Linkin Park but we're not talking about them - drop gat references all over the place like spent shell casings.
So in honor of the man we have to thank for massively multi-bullet volleys and approximately 80 percent of the rap songs in the world, here's a playlist.
Brand Nubian really got into the teachings of Malcom X in a big way, and accusations of hate speech followed them wherever they went. There's no doubt, though, that they knew how to throw down a good track, and they made a hell of a stand with their ode to defiance until the end with "Pass the Gat" from 1992's In God We Trust.
The baby killer and the rabies dealer himself, Brotha Lynch Hung is a widely successful independent horrorcore rapper. Underneath all the "motherfuckers" there are some pretty clever twists of phrase he can come up with on the subjects of guns and killing people in "Had 2 Gat Ya" from his debut album 24 Deep.
Rocks Off was allways more of a Tupac fan than of Biggie, but "Gimme the Loot" is still a damned good track. The more we listen to it, the more we realize how much good gangsta rap reminds us of old pirate songs, just with fewer accordions. It's a bit long, though. If you actually spent this much time talking in a robbery going on about your badassedness, we're pretty sure the adventure would end in a S.W.A.T. team's high-caliber rebuttal.
The only way we know of Mobb Deep is because they were on the soundtrack for the movie Slam , which is well worth tracking down if you ever want to see the duality between the violence of many rap songs and the beauty of their poetry really done right.
We felt a little bad about featuring ICP's bitch-slap to Eminem so high up in our recent rap comedy countdown, so we thought we'd give Shady a chance to redeem himself by ending Dr. Gatling's playlist with our favorite Em appearance, in 50 Cent's "Gatman and Robbin'." It's the car that sells it.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.