I Used to Love H.E.R.: Birdmonster (Justin Tenuto)

The 39th installment of I Used to Love H.E.R., a series in which artists/bloggers/writers discuss their most essential or favorite hip-hop albums and songs, comes from Justin Tenuto, bassist/wordsmith for San Francisco’s Birdmonster, which released its sophomore album, From the Mountain to the Sea, this fall.

Read more of the group’s musings at its blog.

When Kevin asked me to do this here post, part of his continuing I Used To Love H.E.R. series, I honestly found it a little incongruous. After all, I’m a scrawny, banjo-playing white boy who feels uncomfortable when he accidentally forms a rhyming couplet in an email. My formative years were spent playing Iron Maiden on a Japanese Washburn whilst hipper suburban crackers were discovering Dr. Dre. I thought Slick Rick was a pirate. If Kevin wanted to ask my opinion on, say, the best Kurt Russell movie, he would have received a fifteen page thesis, arguing the merits of “Tombstone,” “Tango & Cash,” “The Thing,” and “Captain Ron” and none of our lives would ever have been the same again.

Unfortunately, you will not be reading about the thespian prowess of a man whose face is ninety percent chin. Instead, you will be getting done learned about some rap music, or, rather, hearing about some hip-hop you already know, through the eyes of a man wearing a shirt with a unicorn on it. I apologize.

the hall of gameE-40
The Hall of Game (Jive, 1996)

Listening to E-40 is like reading “Clockwork Orange” without using the glossary. By which I mean, in the grand tradition of Anthony Burgess and the septuagenarian virgin who created the Klingon Dialect, E-40 lives in a world where the Queen’s English is merely a jumping off point for all manner of hallucinated verbiage. Crackulating? Hoe cake? Penelopes? Bootch? Undefinable really. It’s like that Lewis Carroll poem about the Frumious Bandersnatch: you don’t really have to understand it if sounds totally kickass.

Of course, there’s more to Forty Water than just an entire lexicon of slanguage and nonsensicality. Take, for instance, “The Hall of Game.” Just don’t take mine. That wasn’t a Benny Youngman joke.

Because, really, what other CD starts off with Rasheed Wallace saying the maker of said CD sucks? None, with the possible exception of Darko Milicic’s debut “I’m an Oaffish Fraud of a Billionaire,” which, coincidentally, barely missed the cut for this post.

You might not be impressed with the inclusion of Jail Blazers-era Rasheed Wallace-ness. I’m not sure why, but I’ll play along. See, when E-40 isn’t defending himself against roundballers with perplexing skunk spots, he’s laying down hyperspeed, genuinely goofy verses over beats made on twenty dollar, Salvation Army Yamahas. Too Short, Tupac, and other indefatigable Californian rap Gods guest here and there, but the disc is definitely E-40′s, which is to say, he’s not one of those guys who seems outshined by his guest rappers; rather, his bizarre originality pops out in extreme relief.

(Highlights include the surprisingly dusty “The Story,” the not-quite-a-hit-single “Rapper’s Ball,” the dated pager-related rhyming on “Ring It,” and the inspired use of that Bruce Horsnby jam “The Way It Is,” recorded the same year as Tupac’s “Changes,” in case you’re curious.)

Missy Elliott
Under Construction
(Goldmind/Elektra, 2002)

At the risk of sounding like a misogynist, I never really enjoyed female rapping. Sure, I thought, there were the Lauren Hills, Roxanne Shantes, and Queen Latifahs of the world (although Latifah’s career is now notable more for her horrendous post-Living Singles roles in Bringing Down the House and other nefarious poppycock), but largely, feminine rapping was a world I avoided with aggressive diligence. Sure, I’ll listen to “No Diggity,” with it’s brilliant Bill Withers sample, but I’m pressing fast forward when Queen Pen comes on. Sorry Queen Pen, but that verse is sorry.

Then, Missy Elliot entered my life. It was an innocuous moment, really, sitting in my old high school buddy’s car, listening to his vast collection of CDs I didn’t own, when “Under Construction” found its way into the CD changer. I listened, I smiled, and then I jetsammed my bias like an atheist who saw Jesus on a tortilla.

The simplest answer for this abrupt conversion is the pure and unadulterated awesomeness of Missy Elliot. In a way, she’s kind of like a female E-40: she’s gifted but she doesn’t take herself seriously; she’s genuinely bizarre without it feeling like some weirder-than-thou posture; she’s hilarious. Sure, she starts every song with “This…is a Missy Elliot…ex-clusive” but in time, even that becomes completely endearing. Plus, it’s probably the only album that uses a meowing kitty and trumpeting elephant as euphemistic stand-ins for a vagina and a dick. Respectively. Obviously.

Anyway, if you don’t own this: buy it. Or download it. Or whatever it is you kids are doing nowadays. It’s a perfect party LP: bouncy, dirty, and devoid of the bogus attempts at sketch comedy that wouldn’t make the cut on American Dad. You’ll thank me for it, even though you don’t know who I am.

One thought on “I Used to Love H.E.R.: Birdmonster (Justin Tenuto)”

  1. I was rocking out Missy’s Under Constructions today on my computer and was curious to see out there who else was still loving it as always. Such a good record. Cheers.

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