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30 Days of Songs: Day 14

June 5, 2011

day 14 – a song that no one would expect you to love: Salt ‘n’ Pepa: Push It

It’s pretty hard to surprise people who know me with my listening choices. Most people know I’ll listen to just about anything for a while. But the rap/hip-hop/urban dance sphere is one that I’ve tended to avoid. So I’m guessing that at least some people would be surprised to know that I love Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s first album, Hot, Cool, and Vicious. The album single, “Push It,” was the track I listened to the most:

Hot, Cool, and Vicious came out my freshman year in college. It was the beginning of the mainstreaming of rap music and I’d never heard anything like it before. I can’t remember who introduced me to it. Maybe my friend J, who worked for the college radio station (and until recently worked as a music buyer for a number of large retail music outlets). In any case, someone had the album on LP and brought it down to play in the dorm living room.

My musical tastes were pretty narrow when I started college. I mostly listened to classical music and a little bit of folk. But my first year, I started listening to everything that came my way. I went to as many concerts as I could. I did all my studying in the music library listening room, so I could rifle the recordings collection while I wrote my English papers. I was a musical sponge at the time. Salt ‘n’ Pepa’s “Push It” drew me in with its beat, with the distinctive keyboard riff, and the new-to-me vocal style based more on rhythmic declamation than melody. I was also attracted by the strong feminine presence of the singers. They’re funny, fierce and charismatic.

“This dance ain’t for everybody, only the sexy people!” was my favorite line, although Wikipedia tells me it is actually derived from another song, “The Bird” by The Time, a Minneapolis-based funk band founded in the early ‘80s by Prince.

Up until I heard this album, rap had always seemed off limits, a type of music that excluded me in so many different ways – my race, my gender, my class, my suburban environment – that it felt wrong to listen to it, too dangerous for a white high school girl living in Indiana. But Salt ‘n’ Pepa was safely subversive. The language was not as difficult for me to navigate. And Salt ‘n Pepa’s strong woman image was something I could get behind. Take “Tramp,” for instance, another song off of the same album:

The text of this song is worth repeating in toto, in case you can’t understand it in the video:

Tramp

Home girls, attention you must pay
So listen close to what I say
Don’t take this as a simple rhyme,
‘Cause this type of thing happens all the time.

Now what would you do if a stranger said, “Hi?”
Would you dis him, or would you reply?
If you answer, there is a chance
That you’ll become a victim of circumstance.

Am I right fellas? Tell the truth!
Or else I’mma have to show and prove
You are what you are. I am what I am.
It just so happens that most men are

Tramp

Have you ever seen a dude who’s stupid and rude?
Whenever he’s around he dogs your mood?
I know a guy like that, girl.
He thinks he’s God’s gift to the world.

You know that kind, excited all the time,
With nothin’ but sex on the mind.
I’m no stunt, on me you can’t front.
I know the real deal. I know what they want.

It’s me, because I’m so sexy.
It’s me, don’t touch my body.
‘Cause ya see, I ain’t no skeezer
But on a real tip, I think he’s a

Tramp

On the first date he thought I was a dummy
He had the nerve to tell me he loved me
But of course I knew it was a lie, y’all
He undressed me with his eyeballs

Trying to change the whole subject
‘Cause everything he said pertained to sex
So I dissed him, I said “You’s a sucker”
Get your dirty mind out the gutter

You ain’t gettin’ paid, you ain’t knockin’ boots
You ain’t treatin’ me like no prostitute
Then I walked away, he called me a teaser
You’re on a mission, kid, you he’s a

Tramp

I loved this song in college. I loved the way it took on predatory men, giving them back a term thrown at women, often underservedly, as a way of defining them by their relationship to men instead of on their own terms. That was something that I, like most college-aged women, could understand a little too well. It only takes one frat party to know how that discourse operates. I loved the sound of horns. I loved the way they stretched out the word “Tramp” into a near growl.

“Push It” was the song we, a dormful of students at a women’s college where feminism was a way of life, would put on to dance to. And that’s the song I remember best.

“Push It” came back into my life last year, when it turned up on the soundtrack of Glee for the episode “Showmance,” the season premiere (not the pilot) from season 1 and, in my opinion, the best single episode the show has produced to date (The show has actually lost me this season, which is too bad, because it had such a promising start). Here New Directions is trying to raise the coolness factor of the glee club by performing this (highly inappropriate) song at a school pep rally:

This version of the song captures the energy of the original, but it also makes me realize how much the song is defined by that keyboard lick. It’s not here, and the song doesn’t sound like itself. And it’s funny that is the part that is left out, because it’s the most distinctive part of the song, the part that is most often sampled/quoted by other artists. You can find it in all kinds of places. Destiny’s Child has used it. Timbaland’s “The Way I Are” opens with it. Lady Gaga used a version of it in at least one performance of Paparazzi (it comes in around 1:29):

This keyboard riff has at least one more very important and valuable characteristic: It has completely erased all thoughts of Mmmbop from my brain. This is, no doubt, a relief to all who have to live with me.

What music do you unexpectedly love?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2011 12:39 pm

    I unexpectedly love “Poker Face” and “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga. I think her outrageous costumes are tiresome and not actually outrageous, but I love those two songs. Especially “Just Dance,” with its focus on mindless activity as a way of getting through a situation.

  2. June 5, 2011 8:07 pm

    Those are the two songs of hers that I like too, Violet. And I agree about the costumes. Madonna did it better 25 years ago.

  3. June 6, 2011 6:45 am

    There’s a song by The Shins called “Sea Legs” that I loved when my daughter played it for me. It has an interesting rhythm.

  4. June 6, 2011 7:23 am

    I love the Shins. They do some interesting things, musically. They’ll come up later in this meme, probably in the last post. Their song “Saint Simon” uses a compressed sonata form, which I find entertaining and sometimes use in teaching. And yes, the off-kilter rhythm of “Sea Legs” is fun to listen to.

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