My first review in a while, of hip-hop collage pioneer Steinski's retrospective What Does It All Mean?, was published this week. This time it's for Zeek -- recently merged with Jewcy -- where I plan to be doing music writing on a regular basis. I'm pleased with the way this one came out, since it attends to the record's specificity, but uses it to make broader points about the politics of contemporary culture. Here are my last two paragraphs:
The real revelation on the first disc of What Does It All Mean?, though, is “The Motorcade Sped On,” Steinski’s recasting of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, in which archival audio is paired with synth beats to surprisingly musical effect. It’s one thing to mash up different pop songs, as “The Payoff Mix” did, and another entirely to push that aesthetic to its logical extreme, revealing the distinction between culture and politics to be a differentially regulated boundary that serves the powers that be. If the propaganda machine is going to cross that border, Steinski suggests, we might as well follow it across. That’s definitely the message of the second disc here, his 2002 “comeback” record, the album-length collage Nothing To Fear, which takes advantage of technological advances in music-making without sacrificing the lucid simplicity of his work from the 1980s.If you click on the link above, you can listen to tracks from the album. Also, I have a copy, obviously, and would be happy to play it for you one day. The early material is really good in its own right, but even better when you realize when it was made.
In a sense, it’s ironic that Steinski’s achievement is coming to us in the form of a neatly contained retrospective, since he was so instrumental in helping his listeners hear past the arbitrariness of packaging. If the big-box stores were catering to his approach, the whole-season collections of The Rockford Files and Knight Rider they proffer would be replaced by a vast array of mash-ups, the experience of YouTube transferred to disc. That wouldn’t sell, though. Indeed, it couldn’t sell, given the way copyright law is enforced. The paradox of What Does It All Mean? is that we are being asked to buy something that makes us question the reactionary nature of white-market consumption. Then again, the same could be said for books like Capital or Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s Empire. It’s a contradiction inherent to revolutionary practice in a world where property relations matter more than the human beings they bind together. But it’s a contradiction we’re better off recognizing for what it is, something Steinski teaches us with brevity, wit and a good deal of soul.