The Barefoot Jungle Sound

Quiet is the new loud in hip-hop

You can thank Jamaican dancehall in part for the rise of rap minimalism, especially Steven "Lenky" Marsden, the genius producer responsible for a rhythm track called "Diwali," which has served as a template for three (count 'em, three) 2003 hit singles: Sean Paul's "Get Busy," Wayne Wonder's "No Letting Go" and the ubiquitous summer hit "Never Leave You -- Uh Ooh, Uh Oooh!" by Lumidee. The two formers aren't that minimal, but Lumidee's brilliant gem, produced by Tedsmooth, who harnesses a "Diwali" loop, recalls both Haitian voodoo trance and the Dixie Cups' 1965 girl-group smash "Iko Iko." "Never Leave You" is one of the best singles of the year, which is weird because it seems so inconsequential: just a woodblock beat looped over and over again. There's no instrumental melody, only Lumidee's beautiful vocal one. The magical transformation arrives not as a string of notes, but as a single bass note plucked thrice. This note is nothing, really, but amidst all the percussion, it's a deep earthquake that rumbles all that is above it.

Mark Andresen

"Hey Mega, gimme some of that barefoot jungle shit," mumbles Busta Rhymes to his producer, Megahertz, at the beginning of "We Goin' to Do It to Ya." He's had bigger hits than this one, but none more musically shocking. It's tiny, for the most part, an itsy stutter-step beat that plinks along while Busta, in his best breathy mumble, intones, "Get your big ass on the floor, you know we goin' to do it to ya!" Lyrically, the song's pretty dumb: lots of rhyming about -- what else? -- getting paid, getting laid. But this is rap radio, after all, where lyrical brilliance is apparently frowned upon. "Do It to Ya" flows perfectly into the weirdest track in the new barefoot jungle, the Young Gunz's "Can't Stop, Won't Stop," produced by Digga, which sounds like a DJ Screw version of one of the first crossover synthesizer hits, Gershon Kingsley's "Popcorn," from 1972. "Can't Stop" is all hollow plonks with handclaps on the second and fourth beats, and it proceeds along innocently before a massive eruption of snare and a sample of a dude stuttering "guh guh guh guhguhguh guh." Wha'? What is this stuff? Where did it come from? How did the massive power of the big beat transform itself into something so seemingly miniscule as to seem like a speck next to the big-ass booty shit that came before it? How can small seem so big? It's all in the contrast, and the reason that these tracks seem so large is because, within hip-hop radio, where testicle-grabbing lyrical bravado is mirrored by big, big sound, sometimes the only reasonable way to get heard is to whisper. A whisper in a crowded room quiets the loudmouths, makes them shut up for a minute to hear the more important conversation.

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