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on dj screw and invisibility

January 18, 2011

i was listening to dj screw -3 in the morning on the subway a few weeks ago and i was struck by the nagging feeling of hearing around corners and hidden stories within the text of the music.  it reminded me of my favorite novel, ralph ellison’s invisible man.  especially the passage at the very beginning when the invisible man describes getting stoned and listening to louis armstrong:

once when i asked for a cigarette, some jokers gave me a reefer, which i lighted when i got home and sat listening to my phonograph.  it was a strange evening.  invisibility, let me explain, gives one a different sense of time, you’re never quite on the beat.  sometimes you’re ahead and sometimes behind.  instead of the swift and imperceptible flowing of time, you are aware of its nodes, those points where time stands still of from which it leaps ahead.  and you slip into the breaks and look around.  that’s what you vaguely hear in louis’ music. -invisible man

dj screw was able to channel the invisible man’s experience, but go much further and illuminate his own multitude of light bulbs on music listening “under the influence”.  later in the chapter, ellison/the invisible man describes a boxing match where a fighter won by “stepp[ing] into his opponent’s sense of time” and how the ability to do so is powerful:

so under the spell of reefer i discovered a new analytical way of listening to music.  the unheard sounds came through, and each melodic line existed of itself, stood clearly from all the rest, said its piece, and waited patiently for the other voices to speak.  that night i found myself hearing not only in time, but in space as well.  i not only entered the music but descended, like dante, into its depths.  and beneath the swiftness of the hot tempo there was a slower tempo and a cave and i entered it and looked around… – invisible man

black lodge anyone?*

i find much of the writing on dj screw to be problematic, but i find it hard to pinpoint where exactly music critics get it wrong.  and i think since making this connection, i’ve realized that it’s because i don’t think that very many memorial posts or articles acknowledge his relationship with invisibility—his compulsion to manipulate the time/space continuum in order to give birth to his own form… many acknowledge and deify robert earl davis, but i think elevating him takes away from his basedness.  we could argue all day about what lil b means when he calls something based or calls himself the based god (and i have and will continue), but my interpretation is of things that are real and unique and significant—even on some genius shit—stripped of any pretense, or posturing or packaging or hype.  things that refuse to be intellectualized or taken out of context and just are… very #based.

“i wear the best shoes.  i wear the same shoes everyday” – lil b

yesterday was martin luther king day and when i emailed wayne to ask him if anyone seen anyone make the connection between ellison’s character and chopped and screwed music, he reminded me that what i am talking about is afro-subjectivity.  while ellison/the invisible man tackles louis armstrong, dj screw’s oeuvre is almost exclusively black music—specifically popular rap and r&b. there’s something very punk about how dj screw’s grand project makes my mind race and quiver when i listen to something like his manipulation of ice cube’s it was a good day.  you could write a dozen academic papers about the original song and its message about blackness and the american condition, but when screw fucks with it, it gives one pause.  instead of searching for great meaning, your ears perch and crane to see what other more interesting entities are lurking within the cave.

“all dreamers and sleepwalkers must pay the price, and even the invisible victim is responsible for the fate of all.” – invisible man


ice cube, “it was a good day (from dj screw- 3 n the morning)” download

and continuing with the theme of mlk day, but to also a bonus comment on his dream of interracial harmony here’s some og ron c.  RIP TEENA MARIE.

rick james and teena marie, “fire and desire (og ron c’s chopped and screwed mix)” download

*yeah having just finished twin peaks, its sort of unfair to start dropping references, but couldn’t help it!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2011 7:36 pm

    yeah but don’t sleep on the screwed tom tom club!

  2. pm_jawn permalink*
    January 19, 2011 4:26 pm


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