Welcome back to Ask The A.V. Club, our weekly pop-culture Q&A; column. On to this week's batch of your Qs and our As:
Say Hello To My Overused Friend
Why do hip-hop artists feel the need to include skits on albums which, in most cases, would already be bloated and overlong without them? Even the very few skits that I find funny still get the fast-forward treatment most of the time. And some of them… Let's just put it this way. Is there anybody out there who really feels that the experience of listening to Ready To Die is enhanced by the mental image of Biggie getting his dick sucked?
Hip-hop aficionado Nathan Rabin responds:
The short answer, of course, is that rappers include skits on their albums because they think they're funny. Besides, can you ever get enough bad Scarface impersonations? Granted, what strikes a rapper and his posse as gut-bustingly hilarious during a stoned 3 a.m. recording session isn't likely to strike their fans as particularly amusing on the 10th or 15th listen—assuming that they found the skits even mildly amusing the first time around. And that's a very big assumption, especially since so many hip-hop skits feel like labored in-jokes or hackneyed homages to cult movies. (Superfly, The Mack, and Scarface are some of the most omnipresent.)
The blame for the ubiquity of hip-hop skits can be spread among three of the most influential and revered producers in hip-hop: Prince Paul, RZA, and Dr. Dre. Prince Paul used skits to subvert the seriousness and posturing of hip-hop, and to inject the albums he produced for De La Soul with his singular absurdist sensibility. RZA's skits were essential to the Wu-Tang Clan's blaxploitation/kung-fu aesthetic. And Dr. Dre's skits involving radio WBALLZ and DJ E-Z Dick betrayed the good doctor's fondness for the lowbrow party-album crassness of Rudy Ray Moore.
Why do rappers litter their albums with painful, time-wasting skits? For the same reason they put out 75-minute albums and double-disc monstrosities (although these days, that second disc is likely to be a perfunctory DVD): 'cause everyone else is doing it, and they don't want to fall behind. MC Up-And-Coming might think littering his album with skits will give it a vibe like 3 Feet High And Rising, Liquid Swords, or The Chronic, when skits mostly just waste everybody's time.
That said, some skits do justify their existence. J-Zone and The Coup both use skits to add cohesion to ambitious concept albums, and Prince Paul took hip-hop skits to a higher evolutionary level with A Prince Among Thieves, which used skits and songs to tell a cohesive ongoing story about an aspiring rapper mixed up in the street life. (Chris Rock reportedly bought the album's film rights.) At best, skits give listeners a sense of a rapper's personality and sense of humor—or, in The College Dropout's case, his contempt for higher education—but more often than not, as you correctly asserted, they're just additional filler on albums that aren't exactly trump-tight to begin with.
Bitch Spelled Backwards?
In the mid-'90s, I found this mix-tape that was full of punk and ska and was awesome. The best part of the mix was not the great music, but these random soundbites placed between the songs. (This was before CD burners made it easy to do this.) One such soundbite was a creepy announcer-type guy saying the following: "How 'bout bitch spelled backwards is dog, how 'bout bitch spelled backwards is dog, stained-glass windows, stained-glass windows, stained-glass windows." Weird, I know. My friend subsequently lost the mix, and for the past 10 years or so, we have been searching for that soundbite. We have pretty much given up, but after reading Ask The A.V. Club, I am taking a leap of faith and hope you can help.
Jason Heller responds:
The soundbite is from "Religion I" off of PiL's 1978 debut, Public Image. The song isn't a song per se—it's an almost eight-minute spoken-word piece in which John Lydon drones on about the evils of organized faith, and particularly Catholicism. It's followed, naturally, by "Religion II," a 90-second reprise with the full band stomping behind Lydon's hysterical shrieks. You had the words a bit off, though, which might have hindered a Google search: The song opens with the couplet "Stained-glass windows keep the cold outside / while the hypocrites hide inside." Later, it states, "Where they hide and pray to the god / of a bitch, spelled backwards is dog." According to Simon Reynolds' post-punk chronicle Rip It Up And Start Again, the words to "Religion" were intended for a Sex Pistols song that never came to be, first titled "Sod In Heaven." The phrase "stained-glass windows" isn't echoed throughout Lydon's soliloquy, though, so either your memory is a little cavernous, or the person who made the mix-tape employed a trick I used to use: running a digital delay box between the record player and the tape deck, which could be switched on at random to make your own instant dub versions of songs.
Ask An A.V. Club Intern
At this point, Ask The A.V. Club is thoroughly buried under "name that half-remembered show/film/song" questions, so we gave our interns a crack at researching their way through the backlog. This week, welcome guest responder Zoe Weisman, who tackled the next three questions:
There was a show I saw in my early childhood that I hope you could help me remember. The show was made up of puppets and stuff, similar to Fraggle Rock, but I think there might have been real people in it, too. It was all about the happenings inside this weird castle which I remember had a big key or crank or other such mechanism that a giant or ogre would turn. I also think it had some storybook theme, and the book would open and close at the start and end of the show respectively, although that could be a memory I tacked on. It was during the early '90s and on some cable station, I know, because I only saw it at my grandparents' house, and they had cable while we didn't.
Eureeka's Castle, a series about a puppet-infested wind-up castle, aired on Nickelodeon between 1989 and 1995. This Fraggle Rock take-off followed the everyday antics of a motley bunch of Muppet-like creatures, including Eureeka, a sorceress in training; Batly, a stubborn, nearsighted bat; Magellan, a snaggle-toothed dragon who couldn't control his own tail; and the Moat Twins, a couple of shaggy siblings who swam around and ate peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches all day. Some episodes are available on VHS, and you can watch the credits, complete with jaunty song, here.
In the vein of the question about the nightmarish movie about the ever-growing hair, I also have a movie that haunted my childhood nightmares. In it, there are two elderly spinsters (sisters?) who live in a spooky old house—in England maybe? Anyway, there's this creature who lives in their basement. All you get to see of it is these blackened fingernails, and they periodically let it out to ravage the countryside. Or maybe it escapes on its own? I have some memory that it's their younger brother who they locked up as a child, but as an older sister, I could easily have made that part up as some deeply Freudian complex about how mean I was to my little brother. Does this ring any bells at all? I would have watched it sometime in the mid-'70s on network TV. Or maybe it was the late '70s by the time I was able to choose a show on my own? (I was born in '66.) I do hope you can find it! I feel like if I watched it as an adult, I could finally let it go!
This is a 1970 British movie called ">The Beast In The Cellar, a.k.a. Are You Dying, Young Man? a.k.a. Young Man, I Think You're Dying. The film takes place in the 1930s, and the spinster sisters, played by Beryl Reid and Flora Robson, have locked their younger brother in their cellar to prevent him from going to war. Naturally, after 30 years in solitude, he goes insane and embarks on a brutal killing spree, targeting nearby soldiers. A DVD is available in America, though reportedly it's a pretty bad transfer.
You guys seem to be pretty good at finding old movies… so try this one out. It was a horror movie on during Halloween, and the plot, as far as I can remember, was that there were some kind of evil cockroaches that would infect people. The infected people's heads would open up (like they had a hinge), and these evil bugs or cockroaches or whatever the hell they were would spill out and infect the next person. I remember one scene in a bathroom that was especially nasty, and also that (perhaps) the movie had something to do with cats, like maybe they were immune to it or something. I have no idea what this movie could be, but it scared the hell out of me when I was younger, and I've never been able to track it down. Thanks,
What seems at first to be a moderate cockroach infestation turns into a bloodbath in 1988's >The Nest, when the sheriff of a small New England town discovers that the insects have developed a taste for blood. The result of a biological experiment gone awry, these pesky carnivorous bugs have developed the ability to mutate into mammal-roach hybrids. Director Terence H. Winkless went on to helm Bloodfist in 1989, and naturally, the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers TV series four years later. You can watch for the first signs of genius on DVD.
Thanks, Zoe. Next week: Our music writers gang up on a question about musicianship, and we tackle some quick-and-dirty queries. Send your questions for future columns to firstname.lastname@example.org.