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Dave Soldier, "Da HipHop Raskalz"

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This CD consists of 16 HipHop tracks made by 5-10 year old children from Amber Charter Grade School in East Harlem, New York City.  The children write and improvise their own raps, play their own instruments, and program their own drum machine beats.  They named their own groups and created the cover art for the CD.  So why is this album credited to a middle-aged white guy named Dave Soldier?



If he is known at all, Dave Soldier is known for a pair of reasonably high-profile conceptual conceits which got some press attention.  The first was the Thai Elephant Orchestra, in which a group of actual elephants were trained and conducted to play gamelan-style percussion.  It was a cute concept, and while the music itself was uninspiring, to the extent that it raised money or awareness for elephant conservation, I suppose it was a worthwhile idea.  The second notable project was The People's Choice Music, which used the information from a survey of music likes and dislikes to arrive at two compositions: "The Most Wanted Song" and "The Most Unwanted Song."  The most desirable song was a brief, catchy midtempo love song featuring piano and guitar, and the least desirable was a 25-minute opera-country-rap song with accordion and bagpipe.  Again, a funny concept.  I'm mentioning Soldier's past conceptual outings here in order to give some perspective on Soldier's oevre, because Da HipHop Raskalz is insipid, annoying and exploitative in a way that his previous projects only hinted at.

Part of the problem with the Outsider Music trend that has swept the indie scene over the past few years—promulgated by folks like Irwin Chusid and others—is that it often masks a sort of contempt for the naïve, deluded or mentally-challenged artists it claims to celebrate.  For every Outsider musician who has passed into actual respectability, such as Jandek or Daniel Johnston, there are countless others whose sincere musical endeavors exist only to be enjoyed by jaded music snobs who claim that they appreciate the primitive qualities of the music, when in fact the real attraction is merely its novelty, or worse, the fact that it is a socially acceptable way to laugh at retards.  Increasingly, the Outsider Music finding release seems to be exploitative in nature, constructed specifically in order to serve as fodder for the kind of people who appreciate Bum Fights videos.  In the case of the hugely popular Langley Schools Music Project, at least the two LPs were sincerely undertaken efforts by a well-meaning music teacher, who did his best to get a group of untrained grade schoolers to perform serious versions of pop favorites.

The same can not be said for Da HipHop Raskalz, a cynical attempt to cash in on the Langley Schools' popularity, adding elements of race and poverty into the mix.  Everyone loves those human interest stories on the news where a bunch of inner-city black kids, the kind who everyone assumes spend their time playing with dirty needles and discarded babies they find in the dumpster, get to go to the zoo or paint a big mural or something.  Nobody ever asks what happens to these kids once they get thrown back into their presumably miserable lives, having served their purpose by contributing some ratings to the local news broadcast.  This is the audio equivalent of one of those news stories, with the added pretension of Outsider Music.  If there is anything that is funnier than a 350 lb. schizophrenic retard pushing the presets on a Casio keyboard and yelling about McDonald's, surely it's a bunch of inner-city kids whose minds can't understand the unintentional humor of lyrics such as: "T-rex is in the house/He's the king of the world/He's so bad, he eats his wife/He don't even care if his wife his cute."

Though the press material claims that the music collected on this CD "is often better made and nearly always fresher than that on the radio," the music here is about what is expected from a group of untrained 5-10 year olds.  Most songs contain simple lyrics, silly sentiments, poor rhymes and a general lack of cohesive structure.  If any of these kids were smart or talented enough to actually kick out some fresh rhymes or come up with interesting beats, Dave Soldier made sure to keep them off this record.  Because there's nothing less funny than a kid who actually has musical talent, right?  I mean, where's the fun in that?  Soldier makes the outrageous claim that the instrumental and melodic lines here "seem inspired by everything from...Middle Eastern melodies to Sub-Saharan African tribal beats" (comparisons that seem vaguely exoticizing and racist in and of themselves), the music is in fact largely excruciating, canned-sounding beats and dull keyboard fills.  There doesn't seem to be a toddler Timbaland among these kids, unfortunately.

At least Langley Schools was a project made 30 years ago, by people blissfully unaware that one day their music would be a highly salable commodity.  When the nine-year-old Sheila Behman sang her haunting rendition of "Desperado," music fans took note because the girl actually had considerable vocal talent, not because of the "awww" factor, the novelty or because it was funny or embarassing.  Da HipHop Raskalz doesn't work on this genuine level; it is a calculated and cynical attempt to create a ready-made collection of in-jokes for the WFMU crowd.  Mike Lupica of WFMU has already declared "I Want Candy" by The Muffletoes to be "the greatest song of all time" (you can listen to the sample below and decide for yourself how hyperbolic this statement is).  After listening to this in its entirety, I could only feel sorry for the kids involved.  I hope they had fun recording these songs, and I really hope they never realize that they were tricked into turning themselves into a laughing stock for a bunch of jaded white record collectors.


Last Updated on Sunday, 10 December 2006 07:53  


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