Cage samples Built to Spill: “Ballad of Worms”

Yesterday I was reading the excellent A.V. Club at The Onion, whose Random Rules is a regular feature with an artist who discusses shuffled songs on his/her iPod.

This week’s guest is Slug of Minnesota’s Atmosphere. Included among Slug’s wide-ranging shuffled stops (Tom Waits, Lifter Puller) was Built to Spill’s I Would Hurt a Fly. Slug tells us, “This is actually my favorite Built To Spill song ever, and it’s totally because of a rapper named Cage.” I like both artists but had no clue their paths ever crossed in the form of a hip-hop track.


Turns out, Cage (on El-P’s great Definitive Jux label) samples Hurt a Fly for a track called Ballad of Worms (2004, Eastern Conference: All Stars III) – which details, quite graphically at times, his sick girlfriend who is on her deathbed: “I tell her, keep her head up / Even though I gotta hold it up for her.”

In the hands of Cage, Doug Martsch’s lifted vocals (“I can’t get that sound you make out of my head … “) still depress but in a more macabre tone. The sampled strings and guitars sound even more haunting and desperate than in the original Built to Spill track.

A few points to be made here: For one, this is sampling at its best. Not so much in terms of creatively reworking the sampled source but in recognizing a mood in a lyric and giving it a different meaning in a new context.

Secondly, why aren’t we seeing more of this? That is, hip-hop artists sampling more current indie acts. The hurdle of clearing samples aside, this marriage of genres would go a long way to help squash whatever preconceived notions fans may have of either style. It’s a little more than intriguing that a respected underground MC is sampling an iconic indie-rock group. If you’re a Built to Spill fan, maybe you don’t run out and buy Cage’s albums, but he at least piques your interest. And we might safely assume that Cage had some working knowledge of Built to Spill’s catalog, meaning he’s probably a fan himself. At the very least, you have to respect that.

Cage | Ballad of Worms
Built to Spill | I Would Hurt a Fly

5 thoughts on “Cage samples Built to Spill: “Ballad of Worms””

  1. Right on. I would have never known about this if not for your post, and it’s quite cool. You’d think there would be more of this given indie acts are more likely to be into it for less $$$ than sampling some classic rock or funk track. Huh.

  2. I also read that AV club issue and was outrageously psyched to see such eclecticism from Atmosphere. Clearly, he is badass.

    Perhaps more pertinantly, it interesting that you mention the connection of indie rock and underground hip hop. Indie rock is actually what got me into hip hop in the first place, though I must admit that I’m still a newbie and far from knowledgable. I would speculate that the shared dichotomy between underground rock/pop and undergroup rap creates a mini little cult of musical brethren. Or maybe my pretentious little mind is making things up again.

    In any case, way to rock the Cage ref. WOOT!

  3. Since reading that article I’ve been trying to find the song, without bothering just to Google it…..One click later and I’ve got the easy answer. Atmosphere’s music is inspirational, and it’s good to see that the wide range of sounds they use stems partly from Slug’s own ecclectic tastes. Nothing worse than scene heads….

  4. Cage is one of my favorite artists. His movies for the blind album is the best expression of adolescent angst since downward spiral. Cage has always had a weird identity. He doesn’t quite fit in with the hiphop machismo. His music has a lot of anger and violence in it, but none of it is bravado… its all genuine. Read about his life history and you’ll be a believer. Cage also has said in interviews that he doesnt listen to much current hiphop, that he listens to older rock music, and that the fans that he draws are seldom hiphop kids, but mostly hardcore and metal fans. This is clearly due to the unique set of influences and peers that cage draws on. One of my favorite Cage collaborators is Darryl Palumbo who’s band Head Automatica is pop-ish but cool as hell.

  5. Found it funny that it was never mentioned here that Cage’s track “Ballad of Worms” isn’t actually about a sick and dying girlfriend that really existed, but rather, it’s a metaphor for the way he sees the hip hop scene evolving, or at least how he saw it then. I doubt much has changed. Just saw him in Toronto a bit ago and he’s still fucking dope and nuts lol.

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