Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Music Review: ZIP ZAP RAP (1986, Devastatin' Dave)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 5 minutes.
Best line: "Don't be a dope Dupe-dupe / Don't smoke that coke Dupe-dupe / We're talkin' 'bout...blow-caine / It's not good, for your brain"

A lot of people seem to think that it's cool to mock this album cover, and in fact, most of the critical rhetoric concerning this single by Devastatin' Dave the Turntable Slave concerns the cover art, leading me to believe that few have actually listened to the music contained therein. The ZIP ZAP RAP is a fine piece of music. There's an infectious saxophone refrain, drums with a high degree of reverb and echo, and a choir of middle-school children who back up Devastatin' Dave whenever necessary. It's not difficult to close your eyes and imagine Chilly-D (a character portrayed by Lorenzo Lamas in one my all-time favorite movies, BODY ROCK, which was released the same year as this song) doing a windmill. It's kind of like a combination between the rap section in Blondie's "Rapture," Rico Suave's "Rico Suave," and New Edition and Mr. T's "Peer Pressure." In fact, the material shares several similarities with Mr. T's album and accompanying film BE SOMEBODY OR BE SOMEBODY'S FOOL, including positive anti-drug messages for children, use of the phrase "Don't be no fool," a persuasively upbeat attitude, compelling use of saxophone, and the ability of the performer to just step away from the material and not get caught up in the rapidly conjured emotions that the music persistently conveys.

Content-wise, there is a whole lot going on. The way that Devastatin' Dave raps about drugs tells me that he's perhaps had some personal experiences with them that may not have turned out so well. Despite the fact that the first line of the song is "Say no/Say no/ Say no to drugs/ Say no to drugs," I really don't see Devastatin' Dave as some kind of puppet of the Reagan administration (who, interestingly, ran a concurrent campaign which was entitled "Just say no to drugs"). It's one of those things where you can just tell by the sincerity of the vocals. There's also a lot of freestyling and scat singing ("Zoom zoom boom and zip goes your brain/ you know it's only cause you've been smoking cocaine/ Ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta") that recalls the classics of Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway, who were also frequently prone to inserting a social message in their work.

Anyway, Devastatin' Dave starts off about the dangers of a coke habit, but the song doesn't end there. He moves on to material involving getting a job and exiting the life of crime that is all too familiar for some, "Like at the swap meet a serious deal that could change the course of your life/ It's a life time contract, read it with caution, check out the small print, you've got three options/ The first one is to get your money and spend on someone else's grief and you know that all that means, good buddy, is that you're a thief/ The second option is a nine to five, or if you want, a one to nine, but if you read closely, you'll see you've been there for a long time/ The third one is to go for it and try to get the crop of the cream/ When you get tired of drivin' you just hop in your limousine- hah, and roll out!" (drum break). It is interesting that Devastatin' Dave offers a 1PM to 9PM shift as a universal alternative to the 9AM to 5PM, as not all jobs are that flexible, at least not in my experience.

The final insight that Devastatin' Dave imparts kind of comes out of left field. You're just not expecting it. You're caught up in all this good stuff about kicking drugs and getting a job and then 'BOOM!,' literally: "Hard times, y'all are gettin' hard/ cash money is the only solution/ you gotta get hip to the system trip, become a soldier in the revolution/ Do it now baby cause when they drop the bomb, there won't be nowhere for you to run/ Try and spend your last cash when you see a big blast/ and it's Five, four, three, two, one! " (sound of atomic blast and people screaming). Devastatin' Dave surely knows how to end with a barrage of zingers. It is unclear to me, however, if he is attempting to undermine the message of the rest of the song by taking this seemingly nihilistic viewpoint, or if he is merely illustrating the dangers of the atomic age in which we live, so you better get your nine to five job fast and spend money before the bomb comes. It's this kind of ambiguity and unwillingness to keep things in 'black and white' terms that provide continued discussion and make ZIP ZAP RAP such an enduring classic.

-Sean Gill


skeelo said...

Hi, you are the reason I read words. Keep 'em coming.

Nicky said...

He is the Phil Collins of rap.