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The Boston Phoenix Big Dirt

ODB does it because he can

By Alex Pappademas

SEPTEMBER 27, 1999:  They call him the Bastard because his style knows no father. But to judge by his second album, N***a Please (Elektra), Ol' Dirty Bastard's got at least one funky uncle: '70s stand-up and blaxploitation icon Rudy Ray "Dolemite" Moore, whose idea of pick-up sweet talk was something along the demented lines of "I'd sure like to get in your pants, 'cause I done shit in mine." The inimitable charm with which Dirty, a self-proclaimed "cunt-breath asshole eater," delivers his ultra-obscene propositions; his goofy mix of gregariousness and irascibility; his egalitarian attitude vis-à-vis the "niggerettes" (he sends out love to "all the pretty girls, and the ugly girls too . . . 'cause to me you're pretty anyway") -- there's plenty Moore in the ODB DNA.

Funny, drunk, disorderly, and stun-gun belligerent, Dirty's 1995 debut, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (Elektra), showcased his rug-burn pipes and Brooklyn-field-holler flow over peak-period RZA production. Return was easily the most raw 'n' ridiculous rap product issued by a major label this decade. Wedding bizarre sonic cues (backwards raps, Altman-esque overlapping dialogue, Bastard-ized soul crooning, rants about gonorrhea) to irresistible singles ("Shimmy Shimmy Ya" and "Brooklyn Zoo"), it dropkicked East Coast hip-hop's daily-operation manual into the fourth dimension. N***a, presumably assembled while Dirty was off the wagon and/or on the lam, just doesn't compare.

But when the Artist Briefly Self-Identified As Big Baby Jesus isn't busy threatening to kill his loved ones and/or the bouncers at the House of Blues, or (allegedly) shoplifting sneakers, or battling the whole NYPD armed with nothing but a cell phone, or otherwise engaging (recently jailed) Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland in a self-destructive-celeb version of the Sosa/McGwire home-run race, he's an extraordinary performer, the John Belushi of hip-hop, an entertainer who can't/won't/don't stop. And whether the strugglin' nature of hip-hop '99 causes you great dismay or not, you need ODB's lunacy in your life.

Track #1 has Chris Rock (who gets half the grist for his ign'ant-niggas routines from Dirty's longer-than-Wu-Tang Forever rap sheet, but they keep appearing on each other's albums, so I guess there's no hard feelings) promising that this record ain't no "commercial shit." But the first half of N***a is actually a noble (and totally doomed) attempt at commercial Dirty, with proven hitmakers like the Neptunes (producers of Noreaga's smash "Superthug") and Irv Gotti (Jay-Z's "Can I Get A . . . ") supplying the radio-primed beats. ODB can't keep cool on his undercover pop-chart raid, however; by the end of the second song, he's screaming hysterically. Then there's a scarifyin' remake of Rick James's "Cold Blooded," the single "Get Your Money" (where Dirty calls his fellow African-American rappers "coward bitch-ass faggot punk-ass motherfuckers" for letting white dudes take over hip-hop), and a posse cut about gettin' high (on which ODB doesn't actually rap, yielding instead to Wu-stringers 12 O'Clock and LA the Darkman, plus a guy who I really hope didn't get the name "Shorty Shit Stain PA" from his mom and dad).

With all radio-play obligations thus, uh, fulfilled, N***a welcomes back the RZA -- who's turned from Bobby Digital into Johnny Mnemonic and remembered how to make good records -- to the production chair. And (as Kim Gordon would say) things get pretty fucking dirty. The tracks explode with splattering turntable rewinds, flashbacks to the Lowell Fulson/Willie Mitchell juke-joint stomps of Wu beats past, catchy hooks (everybody, now: "I want pussy/For free!"), and (on "All In Together Now") the psych-rock flava of the MC5 if they finally got their wish and woke up black.

Near the end, a jazz drummer shows up -- n***a, what? -- and Ol' Dirty duets with Li'l Mo on the Billie Holiday standard "Good Morning Heartache." Mo's one of the few female singers here who doesn't sound as if ODB had "discovered" her behind the register at Payless; she did some guest-vibing on Missy Elliott's latest, but she's probably never worked under these conditions. She struggles to play it straight while ODB "sings along," adding not-ready-for-the-Apollo gospeloid vamping, unintelligible Fraggle Rock gurgles, falsetto yelps, resiny coughs, and Janis Joplin yowls. He's pulling the rug out on Mo, and Billie, and himself, but you never doubt that he loves the song too, that he's throwing it down the back stairs like musical Samsonite to prove how strong it is. Which, not coincidentally, is what the rest of the record does with hip-hop, a risk I wish all the MCs who supposedly wield more "skills" than ODB had the courage to take more often.

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