Don't do it!
March 4, 2007 5:52 PM   Subscribe

Grandmaster Flash - White Lines. A strange video for a strange song. Allegedly directed by Spike Lee and starring Laurence Fishburne.
posted by grouse (66 comments total)
 
Props to Grandmaster Flash as one of the originators of hip hop, but... well, hip hop's gotten a lot better since then, hasn't it?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:03 PM on March 4, 2007


I still have a lot of fondness, though, for The Message. Great track. A huh-huh-huh-HUH!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:06 PM on March 4, 2007


rang dang diggidy dang da dang! Holy cow, I remember that video from back then.
posted by dabitch at 6:11 PM on March 4, 2007


To be honest, when I first heard this song (probably about 15 years later), I assumed it was part of a court-ordered community service program for a drug conviction, because a hip hop song with an anti-drug message seemed unfathomable to me. I guess the attitude of performers has changed a lot since then as well.
posted by grouse at 6:13 PM on March 4, 2007


Duran Duran
posted by meech at 6:21 PM on March 4, 2007


Yeah, didn't they do a track about what zodiac signs they all were? Better times, man, better times.
posted by chrismear at 6:22 PM on March 4, 2007


Himself and the Furious Five, that is, not Duran Duran.
posted by chrismear at 6:22 PM on March 4, 2007


Yall know Grandmaster Flash is is being inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, on March 12, right?
posted by BeerFilter at 6:23 PM on March 4, 2007


The pro-cocaine response.
posted by basicchannel at 6:40 PM on March 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Probably a good time to raise awareness of him, then. Shoulda been in there a decade ago.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:41 PM on March 4, 2007


OK, I'm painfully embarrassed by this admission, wouldn't have believed this if I had heard someone else say it yesterday, and suspect that I have lost all sense of taste, but...

... the Duran Duran version rocks harder than the original.
posted by Flunkie at 6:54 PM on March 4, 2007


From Wikipedia: In 1984 the group split between Flash and Mel before disintegrating entirely. Flash, Kid Creole and Rahiem signed to Elektra Records and continued on as simply "Grandmaster Flash" while Mel & the others continued on as "Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five." In 1984, Mel released a 12" single, "White Lines," which went on to become one of his signature songs.

I saw these guys long ago. Wow! What a show. There were issues that night, serious issues, yet I ran out and bought their record the next day (or something like that). Their song, The Message, well I wish more rap and hip/hop were like that.
posted by caddis at 6:55 PM on March 4, 2007


A child was born, with no state of mind
Blind to the ways of mankind.
God is smiling on you but he's frowning too
'Cause only God knows what you go through.
You grow in the ghetto, living second rate
And your eyes will sing a song of deep hate.
The places you play and where you stay
Looks like one great big alleyway.
You'll admire all the number book takers
Thugs, pimps, pushers and the big money makers.
Driving big cars, spending twenties and tens
And you wanna grow up to be just like them.
Smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers
Pickpockets, peddlers and even pan-handlers.
You say I'm cool, I'm no fool,
But then you wind up dropping out of high school.
Now you're unemployed, all null 'n void,
Walking around like youre Pretty Boy Floyd.
Turned stickup kid, look what you done did
Got sent up for an eight year bid.
Now your manhood's took and you're a Maytag.
Spend the next two years as an undercover fag,
Being used and abused, and served like hell,
'Till one day you was found hung dead in a cell.
It was plain to see that your life was lost,
You was cold and your body swung back and forth,
But now your eyes sing the sad, sad song
Of how you lived so fast and died so young.
That's the money verse.
posted by caddis at 7:06 PM on March 4, 2007


The little known song that this samples heavily from.
posted by smackfu at 7:07 PM on March 4, 2007


The pro-cocaine response.

I watched half of that video. After the first 3 seconds I realized that group is a good argument for firing squads.

I'm glad I can get that damn backburner question off my mind of what that lyric was (The Message.)
posted by Listener at 7:17 PM on March 4, 2007


Little known fact - Melly Mel was high as hell on cocaine when he wrote and recorded "White Lines".
posted by SweetJesus at 7:51 PM on March 4, 2007


The OG.
posted by Nabubrush at 7:53 PM on March 4, 2007


Yeah, didn't they do a track about what zodiac signs they all were? Better times, man, better times.

"Birthday Party":
Hey y'all! We're havin' a ball! We hope you're doin' fine!
'Cause any time is a happy time for a birthday party rhyme!
And then they go on about zodiac signs and birthdays and how great the FF are and I don't remember this but probably eating frosting off the cake too. With, if memory serves, kazoos playing the main riff. Right up there with the Sugar Hill Gang rapping about eating bad food at their friends momma's house and banging Lois Lane and shit like that.

Better times? Hell, those were the best years of our lives!
posted by Opposite George at 7:54 PM on March 4, 2007


And yeah, they took that zodiac shit seriously; fer cryin' out loud, one of the FF was even named Scorpio.
posted by Opposite George at 7:57 PM on March 4, 2007


I watched half of that video. After the first 3 seconds I realized that group is a good argument for firing squads.

I'm glad I can get that damn backburner question off my mind of what that lyric was (The Message.)
posted by Listener at 7:17 PM PST on March 4 [+] [!]


... from someone who uses their profile space to discuss dislike of subwoofers.

Do the kids stay off your lawn since you instituted the firing squad?
posted by basicchannel at 7:58 PM on March 4, 2007



Since when is White Lines an anti-drug song? I guess in the same way Lou Reed's Heroin is anti-drug and Clapton's Cocaine-- ie, not very successfully!!! It certainly was a backdrop for a lot of cocaine consumption I saw!

Any halfway honest "anti-drug" song is going to be perceived as pro-drug by the people you'd most like to have it sway in the other direction.

I actually think you might get a very good test of who is likely to have a future drug problem by measuring their responses to things like Naked Lunch and Heroin-- if they think, "Wow, that sounds cool" rather than "ick" or "you'd have to be an idiot to do that," watch out.

[And I say this as an ex-heroin/cocaine addict who found those supposed anti-drug songs intriguing rather than offputting but doesn't support censorship.]
posted by Maias at 7:58 PM on March 4, 2007


I actually think you might get a very good test of who is likely to have a future drug problem by measuring their responses to things like Naked Lunch and Heroin-- if they think, "Wow, that sounds cool" rather than "ick" or "you'd have to be an idiot to do that," watch out.

Well, I said "cool," but then I never tried heroin...and coke, that's for losers.
posted by caddis at 8:03 PM on March 4, 2007


For a year or two the only hip-hop I knew was "Rappers Delight", "White Lines", "the Message", and the World Famous Supreme Team's "Hey DJ". Other than that, I got my hip hop culture from the Clash and Malcolm McClaren. And then Run DMC's "King of Rock" made me realize how much cool shit was really out there.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:09 PM on March 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


Shoulda been in there a decade ago.

First record, 1979. First eligibility, 2004.
posted by dhartung at 8:18 PM on March 4, 2007


There's also the George W Bush version
posted by delmoi at 8:31 PM on March 4, 2007


My favorite thing about cocaine is the fact that it is only illegal if you only get in trouble for it if you are black or if you are poor. That must be that "invisible hand" I keep hearing about.
posted by geoff. at 8:43 PM on March 4, 2007


Well, Cocaine was written by J.J. Cale, as were After Midnight and Travelin' Light, but Clapton made them famous.
posted by metaplectic at 8:57 PM on March 4, 2007


As smackfu pointed out, this is based entirely on the song "Cavern" by Liquid Liquid (even the vocal lines for Liquid's song were used as the basis for the backing "White Lines"). What's interesting is that 99 Records, Liquid Liquid's label at the time (as well as the label for ESG, Bush Tetras, and Glenn Branca), sued Sugar Hill, and it successfully shut down both labels.

From this interview:

"As far I know, there was a struggle between 99 rec[ord]s and Sugarhill because of Optimo sample's in Grandmaster Flash song's White Lines. What's happened?
I knew you would get around to asking me about that. First, the song you're referring to is called "Cavern", my bassline was taken and used for "White Lines".... I guess My initial reaction was that I was flattered we were already fans of Grandmaster Flash's. It got complicated very quickly.... It eventually led to a lawsuit which we won and then Sugarhill filled for bankruptcy so we never collected. Our label was exhausted financially by the experience and never recovered."

But yeah, Flash and Melle Mel and the Furious Five, holy shit that's amazing. I never ever thought it was anti-drug, even as an eleven year old, but I've also loved that bass line for years. I remember a video with them in a limousine, not this one, however. And yes, I still have my vinyl copy.

And of course, I love this brilliant movie scene that uses it.
posted by sleepy pete at 9:22 PM on March 4, 2007


Are you sure that wasn't a Bob Fosse production?
I swear I saw some jazz hands in there...
posted by miss lynnster at 9:37 PM on March 4, 2007


Shaun & Ed: Something of a phenomonon baby, telling my body to come along. White Lines, Blow away! Shhh!

Shaun & Ed: Ah, get higher baby, Ah, get higher baby, Ah, get higher girl! Ahh!

Zombie:(groans loudly)

Shaun & Ed: Daba daba daba daba daba!

Zombie: (groans)

Shaun & Ed: Daba daba daba daba daba!

Zombie: (groans softer)

Shaun: What's he doing? He should say base.

Ed: Or freeze.

Shaun & Ed: What a tit.
posted by bwg at 9:39 PM on March 4, 2007


The little known song that this samples heavily from.

Oh god, liquid liquid...I've got that song on a grand royal tape somewhere. It's not on iTunes or Youtube, which is a little disconcerting.
posted by timelord at 9:44 PM on March 4, 2007


Maias said "Since when is White Lines an anti-drug song? I guess in the same way Lou Reed's Heroin is anti-drug and Clapton's Cocaine-- ie, not very successfully!!!"

True! The most annoying thng about White Lines though is the way the RIAA made them slap the cheesey repeating sample of the guy shouting "DONT DO IT" all over the track, just to (totally unsuccesfully) make sure nobody interpreted the song as pro-drug.

Now why would Melle Mel need an explicit warning on his drug track when Lou and Eric don't? Gosh, I just cant think of a reason...
posted by Tones at 9:55 PM on March 4, 2007


Do the kids stay off your lawn since you instituted the firing squad?

It's the leghold trap that does it.

I like Grandmaster Flash and I love Public Enemy and I liked a lot of early hiphop. I think the bass is assaultive. The pro-coke like video mentioned subwoofers. Installing them in the guy's colon would be even better than a firing squad, but I haven't achieved either yet, sadly. Volunteers?
posted by Listener at 10:04 PM on March 4, 2007


I call bullocks on both the Spike Lee and Fishburne angles.
posted by dobbs at 10:06 PM on March 4, 2007


a film by Kirk

from Gilmore Girls
(also starring Mary Lynn Rajskub, aka Chloe)
posted by O9scar at 10:36 PM on March 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I call bullocks on both the Spike Lee and Fishburne angles.

Has bullocks now become ironic? I can't tell anymore. Can you speak louder into my hearing trumpet please.
posted by meech at 11:02 PM on March 4, 2007


Those poor, poor kids from Fame.
posted by pracowity at 11:03 PM on March 4, 2007


I went as Rick James from the cover of "Street Songs" to a Halloween party in 1981 at USC. No one had a clue as to who I was supposed to be.
I put the "why?" in "white boy".
Good times.
posted by Dizzy at 11:10 PM on March 4, 2007


Tones: the way the RIAA made them slap the cheesey repeating sample of the guy shouting "DONT DO IT" all over the track

Er, what? Citation please. (I mean, I can hear the cheesey stuttering vocal. But I don't buy the line about the RIAA.)

(PS. The RIAA is evil.)
posted by oncogenesis at 12:00 AM on March 5, 2007


The little known song that this samples heavily from.

Oh god, liquid liquid...I've got that song on a grand royal tape somewhere. It's not on iTunes or Youtube, which is a little disconcerting.


cough*mp3*cough. the extraordinary video was on youtube briefly, until oskar fischinger's daughter noticed. backstory here, mp4 stream of a wmv stream of the video [sic] here. (some discussion here.)
posted by progosk at 12:39 AM on March 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


Politics aside -- "White Lines" is currently in my mp3 player for my workout sessions -- it's a great tune for cardio.
posted by davidmsc at 1:34 AM on March 5, 2007


Mr. Dobbs, do you mean bollocks?
posted by DenOfSizer at 2:58 AM on March 5, 2007


Had no idea Spike Lee directed that video.

And bwg beat me to it! The song plays an interesting role in Shawn of the Dead ("It's not techno, it's electro!").
posted by bardic at 4:36 AM on March 5, 2007


hip hop's gotten a lot better since then, hasn't it?

No.
posted by languagehat at 5:57 AM on March 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


What l-hat said. I hate current hip hop, but I love this shit.
posted by dame at 6:32 AM on March 5, 2007


hip hop's gotten a lot better since then, hasn't it?


What? Sure there are more experienced and slicker producers giving it a top 40 like sound, but most of the songs are just about getting Benjamins and bitches. meh. GMF had heart which is more than can be said for most of today's hip hop artists. Check out Mr. Magic courtesy of WFMU for some great old school hip hop.
posted by caddis at 7:03 AM on March 5, 2007


*Thanks for this! White Lines is set as my ring tone. Between White Lines and Rocket by Herbie Hancock I have many fond memories of skating in left turning circles and doing the backspin.
*NNA (nostaligic nerd alert)
posted by Jeremy at 7:07 AM on March 5, 2007


oncogenesis, I have no citation, it's total half-remembered hearsay. :P

No, I conflate, I don't think the RIAA "made them" do anything, but I do think there's something funny here. Would Eric Clapton have to release a song called "Cocaine (Don't Do It)"?
posted by Tones at 7:30 AM on March 5, 2007


Who said they had to? If Eric Clapton had called it "Cocaine (Don't Do It)," then he would have totally failed in the ambiguity that this quotation on Wikipedia seems to indicate he was consciously aiming for:
It’s no good to write a deliberate anti-drug song and hope that it will catch. Because the general thing is that people will be upset by that. It would disturb them to have someone else shoving something down their throat. So the best thing to do is offer something that seems ambiguous — that on study or on reflection actually can be seen to be ‘anti’— which the song “Cocaine” is actually an anti-cocaine song. If you study it or look at it with a little bit of thought… from a distance… or as it goes by… it just sounds like a song about cocaine. But in actual fact, it is quite cleverly anti-cocaine.
posted by grouse at 7:43 AM on March 5, 2007


This was one of my favorite songs when I was 4 or 5 years old - one of the bonuses of having a sister who is 10 years older.

I used to regularly shout my favorite parts, especially "Up your nose or through your vein!" and sing "White lines...blow away".
posted by nekton at 8:47 AM on March 5, 2007


grouse, yes, exactly my point. I think 'White Lines' has exactly the same poetic ambiguity as 'Cocaine', except for the tacked-on "DONT DO IT". I'm guessing there was a decision made at some point in the track's production to sacrifice the poeticism to market realities. I'm annoyed that Clapton and Reed got away with something Mel wasn't able to.
posted by Tones at 9:50 AM on March 5, 2007


Shoulda been in there a decade ago.
First record, 1979. First eligibility, 2004.


Sonufagun, I coulda sworn he dated back to the early seventies!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:38 AM on March 5, 2007


"White Girls" by Mighty Casey uses the melody.
posted by now i'm piste at 4:57 PM on March 5, 2007


And here's the video for "White Girls".

White girls, going through my mind.
White girls, help me unwind.
The more I see, the more I do.

posted by now i'm piste at 4:59 PM on March 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Damnit, sorry to spam the thread with this semi-off-topic derail but here's the best part from a song about interacial relations:
Don't tell Minister Farakahn, he don't wanna know what's going on.
posted by now i'm piste at 5:01 PM on March 5, 2007


flapjax at midnite writes: hip hop's gotten a lot better since then, hasn't it?

languagehat writes: No.
caddis writes: What?

languagehat, you strike me as a very intelligent guy who normally knows what he's talking about, but I have a strong feeling your easy one-word-answer is probably coming from a decidedly uninformed position. If you can honestly tell me that you've really familiarized yourself over the years with the enormous and wide-ranging developments in hip-hop as a genre, from (just to offer a couple of big-name, obvious examples) Public Enemy to The Roots and right into many of today's amazing underground hip-hop artists, and still tell me hip-hop hasn't gotten better than White Lines, then it'll simply indicate your personal taste in hip-hop. Which is fine, of course, nothing wrong with that. But your unequivocal "no" will then be understood to be an expression of your own personal musical taste, rather than the absolute statement of authority that it seems intended to be.

caddis, I'm not talking about a "slicker, more Top 40 sound". Far from it. Why do people always point to the biggest, pop-iest hip-hop when they want to decry its current state? Clearly, the best stuff going on in hip-hop today (with some notable exceptions) is not being played on Top 40-type stations. Duh. And I'm not saying old-school hip-hop is, on the whole, inferior to newer hip-hop. For example, my very next comment, which came right after the one you quoted, expressed my fondness for The Message. I was simply referring to the tune in question: White Lines. I think the piece is a prime example of very early hip-hop that was just finding itself, inventing itself, and as we know some of those earliest efforts were more successful (in standing the test of time, particularly) than others. I'd say White Lines was a rather wobbly and tenuous combination of beat and word. But again, if you really think the song is one of the top achievements of hip-hop, and that hip-hop really hasn't gotten any better in the years that've followed White Lines, hey, that's cool! Music is great that way, we can all just dig what we dig. No worries!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:13 PM on March 5, 2007


"White Girls" by Mighty Casey uses the melody.

It uses more than the melody.
posted by grouse at 5:16 PM on March 5, 2007


I'm not saying old-school hip-hop is, on the whole, inferior to newer hip-hop.

Dude, you said, and I quote, "hip hop's gotten a lot better since then, hasn't it?" I don't think it's a stretch to take that as meaning that "old-school hip-hop is, on the whole, inferior to newer hip-hop"; in fact, that would seem to be the obvious reading. But I have no problem with your expanded formulation. (No, I have not familiarized myself in detail with recent developments in the field, but I am in awe of Public Enemy. Nonetheless, I will brook no dissing of Grandmaster Flash and the other pioneers.)
posted by languagehat at 5:50 PM on March 5, 2007


Okay, languagehat, granted, it wasn't a stretch to take my "better since then" as representing my feeling about all hip-hop from that period. Still, I think my 2nd comment in this thread (about The Message, and linked above) might've served as an indicator, but anyway, now you know! And let it be shouted from every rooftop from the Bronx to Brooklyn: I was referring to this one example, White Lines! AND... just to be clear, I am NOT dissing Grandmaster Flash and the other pioneers! Just that frickin' White Lines, fer chrissakes!

I can't believe how many times now I've written White Lines...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:20 PM on March 5, 2007


I'd say White Lines was a rather wobbly and tenuous combination of beat and word.

agreed. I was defending old school hip hop, not that song.
posted by caddis at 6:36 PM on March 5, 2007


Wow, everyone in this thread who hasn't yet watched the opening few minutes of that video in the 2nd-to-last link in progosk's comment above should stop reading and go watch it right now. Thanks for that history lesson, progosk; that was really fucking neat.
posted by mediareport at 7:23 PM on March 5, 2007


Basicchannel-- I just watched all the other Clipse videos on Youtube. I'm generally not much for hip-hop, but that stuff's compelling.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:43 PM on March 5, 2007


"Nonetheless, I will brook no dissing..." lines like these make me like l-hat.

And flapjax, NO. No means no. Nothing in today's rap/hip hop even comes close to those early, heady days of old school/electro.

All of the modern rap artists, and modern country for that matter, can collectively lick my balls.
posted by vronsky at 7:22 PM on March 7, 2007


And flapjax, NO. No means no. Nothing in today's rap/hip hop even comes close to those early, heady days of old school/electro.

Well, to each his own. I loved the energy and freshness of that early stuff, like I love the same in 50's rock, early 60's folk rock, etc. I still find some pretty good stuff in today's hip hop, despite the overwhelming deluge of vapid, over-produced boasting about money, drugs, virility etc. As for modern so-called country, I could not agree more. The business types were successful in sucking all life whatsoever out of what currently exists as country music, at least that which gets any media attention. May Hank Williams and Patsy Cline rise from the dead and haunt them the rest of their lives.
posted by caddis at 7:59 PM on March 7, 2007


Well with the exception of Shania Twain, I totally agree with you caddis. Cause you know, she's purr-tee. So all the rest of modern country can lick my balls except for her. Wait. That's wrong. Shania can lick my balls too. But in a non punitive way.
posted by vronsky at 8:35 PM on March 7, 2007


The Grandmaster Flash video has been removed from YouTube :( but the Mighty Casey video is still up.
posted by grouse at 12:04 PM on March 26, 2007


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