Episode 3.5: Raw Like Sushi

neneh-cherry-raw-like-sushi

Raw Like Sushi – Neneh Cherry – Virgin – 1989

By 1989, 25-year-old Neneh Cherry had already lived multiple vibrant lives. The child of bohemians (her mother, artist Moki Cherry, and her step-father, jazz musician Don Cherry). The 14-year-old high school dropout-turned-downtown-club-kid. The 16-year-old touring the UK with The Slits. The lead singer of post-punk band Rip Rig + Panic. Wife and mother. Divorced single mother, lover, and collaborator. All of these eclectic experiences and identities shape the 10 tracks of Cherry’s debut solo album Raw Like Sushi. Like Cherry, the album is impossible to pin down as one thing; it’s feisty and assertive, using a melting pot of influences from rap to funk to dance pop to convey a young woman’s truths without waiting for permission to do so.

Though the album is nearly 30 years old, it’s one we have found ourselves listening to often in recent months, marveling at its prescience and continued relevancy. Not only do we hear 2018 ring in its girl power-inspiring anthems, assertions of female sexuality, or rebuking of Men Behaving Badly. We hear its decade-defining production reflected in current artists attempting to recreate specific dated sounds of the past — and use this album as a reminder that we need to understand where we have been to know where we are going.

In this episode, we unpack the layers of this album’s lasting sonic influence, discuss and debate the ways its topics remain relevant in today’s cultural and political climate, and salute Neneh Cherry’s prolific unfuckwithable baddiness.

Listen to Raw Like Sushi: iTunesSpotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Hey, hi, hello! Our apologies for our lengthy absence, but this is our side hustle and our real lives got lowkey busy, but we’re back!
  • This album is only two years older than us. Is that weird?
  • Shoutout to Viv Albertine and her dope 2014 memoir for turning us on to Neneh Cherry.
  • Peep our further watching links below to see Neneh performing with the Slits.
  • Okay but like… you could live under a rock and still have likely heard “Buffalo Stance”
    • Let’s get this bread.
    • Who knew the word “buffalo” had so many different connotations?
    • “We went over [to America] with our funny little posse from London. And in the black department, [“Buffalo Stance”] wasn’t black enough, and in the white department, it was too black. So it was just this weird middle satellite, floating around.” — Neneh Cherry, Pitchfork, 2014
    • Check out our further watching links to see that iconic Top of the Pops performance. SHOUTOUT TO BADDASS WOMEN WHO GET SHIT DONE.
  • Rolling our eyes forever at the manboys and scumbros of the world.
    • Here’s a CliffsNotes guide to the Nicki Minaj – Cardi B. beef, if you’re curious about how they approach diss tracks like this.
  • Why are teens so scary???
  • Okay but “Kisses On The Wind” brings up such a complicated discussion about girls acting older than they are and the ramifications, false (or maybe not!) confidences, and power dynamics involved. We could talk all day about this stuff; hit us up if you have thoughts.
  • Shoutout to New York City, the greatest worst city in the world!!! Love you and hate you so much!!!
  • “The Next Generation” is pre-woke, don’t @ us.
  • While we’re randomly talking about Paula Abdul, please enjoy this, the single greatest video on the internet.
  • “Phoney Ladies” is also pre-woke!
    • Susan Collins: Resign, bitch.
    • There’s a special 🙂 place 🙂 in 🙂 hell 🙂 for 🙂 women 🙂 who 🙂 don’t 🙂 help 🙂 other 🙂 women 🙂
  • We’re both super into this weird current music trend we’ve been in for a couple of years now with bops throwing it back to ‘80s production techniques. (Hi Jack Antonoff! Hi Rostam! Hi Dev Hynes!)
  • We could spend a longgggg time talking about how many artists Neneh Cherry has inspired, but to save space, we’ll just direct you to our massive Spotify master playlist for a bunch of recommended listening.
  • After an 18-year absence, Neneh Cherry is back on her game, making great music for our times. Her latest release, this month’s Broken Politics, is no exception.
  • As always, find and follow us on Facebook and Twitter if you don’t already.

Favorite track(s): Buffalo Stance and Inna City Mama (Carly) | Buffalo Stance and Heart (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Love Ghetto (Carly) | Inna City Mamma (Carrie)

Album credits:

  • Neneh Cherry — Vocals, programming
  • Sandy McLelland — Background vocals
  • Chandra Armstead — Background vocals
  • Cameron “Booga Bear” McVey — Background vocals, executive producer, mixing, beats
  • Phil Chill — Programming, beats, background vocals
  • Claudia Fontaine — Background vocals
  • Nellee Hooper — Vibraphone
  • Jerod — Guitar
  • Alvin Moody — Bass
  • Nick Plytas — Programming
  • Jeff Scantlebury — Conga
  • John Sharp — Programming
  • Tim Simenon — Beats
  • Dynamik Duo — Beats
  • Mark Saunders — Multi-instruments, beats
  • Wil Malone — Conductor, programming, string arrangements
  • Gordon Dukes — Background vocals
  • Mushroom — Programming

Further watching:
Montreux Jazz Festival interview | 2012
Performance + Interview on Arsenio Hall | 1993
“Manchild” live on Top of the Pops | 1989
”Buffalo Stance” live on Top of the Pops | 1988
The Slits – The Man Next Door live | 1981

Further reading:
Neneh Cherry Never Stopped Taking Risks. Now She’s Making Politics Personal | New York Times (October 2018)
Neneh Cherry Is Back and More Fashionable Than Ever | Vogue (August 2018)
Raw Like Sushi Sunday Review | Pitchfork (April 2018)  
Neneh Cherry Will Get an Overdue New York Debut | New York Times (January 2015)
Disorienting Eclecticism: Neneh Cherry’s Raw Like Sushi Revisited | The Quietus (May 2014)
Raw Like Sushi review | BBC (2009)
Neneh Cherry: Homestyle | Rolling Stone (February 1993)

Episode 7: THE MESSAGE

grandmaster-flash-the-message-album-cover

The Message – Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – Sugar Hill Records – 1982

In 1982, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released their debut album, The Message, but putting their sound to vinyl had been a long time coming. Formed in the south Bronx in 1976, prolific DJ Grandmaster Flash and his team of MCs (Melle Mel, Kidd Creole, Rahiem, Mr. Ness, and Keith Cowboy) started playing and rapping at house parties, with local fame and notoriety soon to follow. When “Rapper’s Delight” became the first hip-hop record to garner national attention in 1979, the door opened for the Furious Five to release their sound to the masses and come to commercial and critical success.

Released against a backdrop of an economically ravaged and crime-ridden New York City, The Message is widely heralded as the record that made social-consciousness a subject that could be covered by hip-hop. It’s an album that has received considerable praise, from creating a template from which hip-hop could expand, to setting technological standards by blending hip-hop and electronic music, foreshadowing the evolution of EDM.

In this episode, we examine The Message’s connection to modern hip-hop and rap, speak about the lyrical and musical techniques that excite us every time we listen to it, and take a look at the music that influenced the album, as well as what makes it an enduring influence on artists today.

Listen to The Message: iTunes | Spotify | YouTube

Subscribe on iTunes

Episode notes and postscript corrections

  • Record Store Day is a wonderful initiative to get people out to buy vinyl (locally, ideally), and we really scored, but, we cannot stress this enough: support your local record stores as often as you can. Three classic shops in the West Village have closed in the past year alone, if that’s any indicator of just how important it is to support small businesses.
  • Fanny, you guys. Fanny. We’re so glad we discovered this rad all-female rock group and we wholeheartedly endorse the documentary through which we discovered them, Girl in a Band. See our Further Watching links below for a link to watch the doc (if for no other reason than to watch the standing ovation moment behind this perfect go-to GIF).
  • BRB, listening to our new, beloved copies of Marquee Moon (BTW — if Carrie’s dad called Adventure “the red one” one time, we may refer to it as “the black one” at some point in the future) on repeat. Yes, we will be lying on the floor (sorry we said “lay” in the episode; we know better). Yes, we will light multiple candles. It’s a thing.
  • Here’s a brief history of rap (as seen previously in our Tom Tom Club notes)
  • Sylvia Robinson was a total BAMF  — this speaks a bit to why Carly is totally obsessed with her.
  • Here’s some further reading on how funk influences hip-hop.
  • We love basslines. We love them entirely too much. Enjoy this playlist.
  • Hmm… doesn’t “It’s Nasty” sound so familiar? Oh, right. Yeah. That’s because it’s basically “Genius of Love.” Just like hip-hop references what came before it, we’re referencing what came before this episode. As in, revisit our Tom Tom Club episode and notes for a refresher on this particular bop and its history of being an iconic, oft-sampled song.
  • Laura Levine is up there with Henry Diltz and Mick Rock as one of Carrie’s favorite music photographers — you should really check out her work.
  • Hi, let’s talk about vocoders for a minute.
  • “It’s A Shame (Mt. Airy Groove)” makes a dip into social conscious rap — we’ll get into this more extensively in a minute — that is both of its time and ahead of its time at the same time.
    • Honestly, though, it IS a shame that we’re still thinking the same things called out in a song that’s 35 years old.
    • But, it’s not surprising. Every generation has their own “What’s happening to this world?” anthem, and each draws upon what has come before it.
  • Shoutout to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five for not letting toxic masculinity keep them from writing a song all about how much they admire another man.
    • “Dreamin’” is basically how we talk about our own heroes, though, so we’re not throwing any shade. We’d do it, too, if we could.
  • Gospel music certainly influences hip-hop (see current mastery of it from artists like Chance the Rapper); it’s just that “You Are” misses the mark.
  • You can’t understand “The Message” without understanding the history of New York in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. We went into the CliffsNotes version, but to go more in-depth, we recommend documentaries like NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell or Blackout (links below in our Further Watching section), or reading Love Goes to Buildings on Fire.
    • “The Message” is still excruciatingly relevant. New York didn’t get cleaner without some people paying a price. The problems evident in “The Message” still exist today, just amplified in smaller pressure cookers, exacerbated by issues like gentrification, the war on drugs, and the way the war on poverty has turned into a war on the poor.
    • The lineage of “The Message” is evident in current hip-hop, from Jay-Z to Kendrick Lamar. We’ll have some examples in our master playlist on Spotify.
  • The recording of “The Message” actually caused some discord within the group. According to this video note by Rahiem, each person auditioned to have a part on the track, and Melle Mel was the winner — but the rest weren’t pleased that it was just him.
  • “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” was a bonus track released first as a single, then as the final track on the 1982 UK release and subsequent reissues.
  • Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five doesn’t have a happy ending as a group; they’ve broken up twice and performed under different combinations of alliances with no real clear chance of getting the original group back together. Animosity between some members still exists: in 2015, Scorpio made headlines when he accused Grandmaster Flash of being a “fake” DJ.
  • Their legacy lives on, however, from the current hip-hop and rap scene to shoutouts in Hamilton to the Netflix series The Get Down.
    • Shoutout to anyone who has been lucky enough to see Hamilton by now. If you haven’t, and you can miraculously get your hands on tickets: GO. SEE. IT.
    • Seriously, watch The Get Down. It will bring you joy.
  • We have several issues with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s induction process, and we’re pretty sure we’re not alone — DM us, @ us, email us — we’d love to talk.
  • Pssst — if you like us, shares us with your friends, and please rate and review us in the iTunes store. We would very much appreciate it and you would be a friend of the pod for life.
  • As always, talk with us! Even if your question can be answered from our FAQ page here, never hesitate to shoot us an email, message us on Facebook, or follow and DM on Twitter to get at us with questions, comments, or just to say hi. We’ve had some great conversations so far.

Favorite track(s): It’s Nasty and Adventures…Wheel of Steel (Carly) | It’s Nasty and The Message (Carrie)
Least favorite track: Scorpio (Carly) | You Are (Carrie)

Album credits:
Grandmaster Flash (Joseph Saddler) – turntables, drum programming, Flashformer transform DJ device
Keef Cowboy (Keith Wiggins) – Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Grandmaster Melle Mel (Melvin Glover) –  Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
The Kidd Creole (Nathaniel Glover, Jr) –  Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Mr. Ness/Scorpio (Eddie Morris) –  Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Rahiem (Guy Todd Williams) –  Lead and background vocals, writer and arranger
Doug Wimbish  – Bass guitar
Skip McDonald – Guitar
Reggie Griffin, Jiggs, Sylvia Robinson – Prophet Sequential
Dwain Mitchell – Keyboards
Gary Henry – Keyboards
Keith Leblanc – Drums
Ed Fletcher – Percussion
Chops Horn Section – Brass

Further watching:
Hip-Hop Evolution | 2016
Girl in a Band | 2015
Blackout | 2015
NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell | 2007
“The Message” music video | 1982
Grandmaster Flash explains his DJ theory | Date unknown, likely early ’90s

Further reading:
Grandmaster Flash Beats Back Time | The New York Times (August 2016)
Grandmaster Flash: ‘Hip-Hop’s Message Was Simple: We Matter’ | The Guardian (August 2016)
So What Exactly Is ‘the Get Down’? Let Grandmaster Flash Explain | Vulture (August 2016)
‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five is the Embodiment of New York City’s Spirit | Culture Creature (June 2016)
The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time | Rolling Stone (December 2012)
Love Goes to Buildings on Fire: Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever | 2012
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message (reissue review) | Pitchfork (July 2005)