Saturday, November 05, 2011

90's Hit Parade #17

N.W.A. - 100 Miles and Runnin'

N.W.A.'s finest moment, with Ice Cube nowhere in sight. It's a full speed sprint, as Ren, Dre and Eazy each drop fantastically aggressive verses, then pass the mic around for a final verse. They spend most of the time doubling down on "Fuck tha Police" (Ren shouts "I didn't stutter when I said Fuck tha Police," Dre taunts "And while you treat my group like dirt, your whole fuckin' family is wearin' my t-shirt"), but they take some time out to dis departing member Ice Cube. Eazy E used to get a lot of shit, but let's not forget that the reason he was even in a position to be given shit was because he had skills to begin with, and he really makes this track. His high, thin voice stands out over Ren and Dre's drill sergeant shouts, and when he comes in with a machine gun staccato that cuts against the rhythm, it seems to change to whole feel of the song, like entering the bridge of a James Brown jam. In fact, when he starts out with "Runnin just to find the gun that started the clock/That's when I ease up off the startin' block," it's the second most exciting moment in the song. The first comes a few lines later when he says "TAKin' a MINute to TELL you what's ON my MOTHerFUCKin' MIND!" over a ticking clock that swings back and forth between the speakers.

The stereo panning is probably overdone a bit here, but it's a cool trick, and this is one of Dre's most intricate compositions, taking influence from Public Enemy's Bomb Squad and building on the PE-inspired "Straight Outa Compton." There's a runner's heavy breath going back and forth through most of the song, and when it breaks down after E's verse into the sample of "Nowhere to Run" from The Warriors (or was it Vanishing Point?), you can almost see a bouncing devil head providing the diabolical laughter. The fantasy of N.W.A. as FBI fugitives that provides the thematic structure of the song reaches back to a deep vein of black folklore, from the underground railroad to gospel to blaxploitation, with emphasis of course on the latter. When a guitar comes in at the end, it plays long, slow notes that sound like they could have come from a classic 70's soundtrack. N.W.A. produced precious little worth listening to in the following years, and Dre would smoke some chronic and abandon the harsh, aggressive style, but "100 Miles and Runnin'" is one of the most exciting hip hop tracks ever produced.


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