Girl Talk: Honor Among Thieves
The relatively new sport of fighting over band names has already reached comedic levels. More than a few projects have dumped their monikers in a panic after finding out something on the other side of the country--or the ocean--already claimed it. (Recall the spiteful clash between hipster-metal duo Death from Above--switched subsequently to Death from Above 1979--and James Murphy's dance label of the same name.) The winner is usually the band that looks like it can, or would, put forth a lawyer.
The case of the two Girl Talks, however, is a special one. Baltimore's Girl Talk isn't the Girl Talk of Gregg Gillis, mash-up artist and sample thief extraordinaire. The evidence--the cassette-only release Honor Among Thieves is ambiguously credited--points to this being the work of Rjyan Kidwell, aka Cex. Gillis is probably the one with the bigger lawyer, but Kidwell's got nothing to fear: Until the day comes that Gillis can make amends with every artist he's ripped off, he's defenseless. Kidwell just can't help being vague.
The statement Kidwell makes with Thieves is no exception. The tape's liner note is a screen-shot of CNN's Paula Zahn looking fierce and concerned, albeit plenty ditzy, while the words hip-hop art or poison? float above her head. Kidwell's tape could've been Zahn's "exhibit A" for the latter. Obviously, he doesn't believe that--recall Cex's Maryland Mansions and Tall, Dark, and Handcuffed rapping phase--and his sampling work is so deft it couldn't come from anything less than affection, but damned if he didn't dig up some serious vitriol. He leads with clipped lines from Ice Cube's "Horny Little Devil," which he eventually reduces to "don't like white men" set on a loop. A mash between a pair of unabashedly anti-Semitic, anti-queer, and anti-white 1995 Menace Clan tracks is right on Cube's heels. Things get a little better--the cuts get more politically and socially aware--as the tape goes on, but the "fuck whitey" vibe of Kidwell's mix doesn't flag.
We'd like to think Kidwell is calling out Gregg Gillis' pussy-footed rap fetishizing with Thieves. Gillis' biggest crime as Girl Talk doesn't reduce to licensing or money. It's that he strips the black anger from rap. How uncomfortable would it be if Gillis dropped a Menace Clan cut into a party mash-up? This isn't to give a pass to Menace Clan, but Gillis puts his own safe, sanitized interpretation of rap onto his laptop pedestal--he's made it white in a way no number of ironic mash-ups could ever do, or no number of lawyers could ever undo. We're glad Kidwell was trailing behind, picking up the scraps. Someone had to do it.