In a political climate that curses creativity and perpetuates fear of anyone who isn't white and male, Tricky's Mixed Race is a much needed dose of sanity even if (or maybe because) the music is mirroring a world that is chaotic, unfamiliar, and - as Jamaicans say - "gully." Tricky's previous release Knowle West Boy was a pirate-radio broadcast from a council estate of mind packaged with a family photo of tough, almost gangster looking white folks who, revealed in the press for that album, included Tricky's uncle and grandfather. Using the "mix tape" as a template for composition and a diverse selection of guest singers and rappers, Knowle West Boy and Mixed Race transcend racial, cultural, and sexual clichés without a trace of self-consciousness. The fantasy of homogeneity that some self-styled political leaders would like good people to imagine as real is nowhere to be found (or heard).
"I am nothing, I move through walls / I'll make thunder when the night come / I'm full moon and the earth rotates / I am Adam, and Eve she waits..." Excerpted from Everyday lyrics by Tricky
Guest vocals as well as vocals from the beyond are a part of any Tricky project. Tricky has said more than once that his lyrics arrive via a process of channeling the "voice" of his biological mother who committed suicide when he was a child. Throughout Knowle West Boy and Mixed Race, Tricky acts as a vessel for this voice from "the other side" while engaging in a complex game of role-playing between himself and a range of singers, many of them female (Franky Riley, Terry Lynn) and from places as far flung as Algeria ("Hakim") and Jamaica ("Kingston Logic"). Like any great mix tape, Tricky's presence is felt on each track even when his own voice is completely mute ("Bristol To London").
The mix tape as composition is a concept more and more artists - and not just in hip-hop - seem willing to explore (Houston loves mix tapes, that's for sure!). Interestingly, this is one compositional form that classical and jazz idioms have had the jump on years before Jamaican dub and American and British hip-hop. But of course, the form is malleable and today is going in a myriad of directions (We'll analyze Erik Satie's 1917 ballet Parade as a mix tape some other time).
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When Tricky creates a track in a particular style - be it ska, punk rock, slow funk, goth, disco or whatever, his choices speak to a subtext that is his own story (as on Knowle West Boy about his council-estate boyhood) and/or offers additional context for and commentary on the other tracks in the mix. The program order of the tracks is crucial, making a statement where the sum is as important as the individual parts.
Mixed Race includes grooves never heard previously from Tricky, including a definitely studio-collaged but still swinging with muted trumpet "Early Bird" (as in Charlie Parker?) and the nearly ska number "Come To Me." For contrast, one is also hit with Henry Mancini's guitar ostinato from "Peter Gunn" in Mixed Race's version of the Jamaican underground hit "Murder Weapon," its feel and color putting an unexpected spin on the previously described up-tempo numbers. Tricky recalls on his blog that when he was a younger man, a bully from "another estate" confronted him by singing the lyrics to "Murder Weapon" at him as a pure and simple threat.
Tricky offers a track by track break down of Mixed Race on his website.