AFRO-SURREAL: Camp Lo bring the wordplay, elegance, and Bronx bravado
By D. Scot Miller
Fuck all that. Camp Lo's Uptown Saturday Night (Profile, 1997) is one of the most slept-on albums in the history of hip-hop. Period. Innovative well beyond its years, Uptown Saturday Night introduces the Camp Lo aesthetic — a combination of exquisite wordplay, foppish elegance, and Bronx-style bravado mixed in with a fearsome frivolity. They redefined "gangsta," using the oft-quoted Posdnous lyric "Fuck being hard /Posdnous is complicated" as a motto. Because Uptown Saturday Night IS complicated, which makes it hard. It's also pornographic and violent to an extreme and probably bears the uncomfortable distinction of being the first, if not only, hip-hop album to portray coprophilia in nearly positive light.
The album is a complete immersion into a certain brand of street slang that bears a lineage with Iceberg Slim, De La Soul, Digable Planets, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah. Definitely otnay orfay ofeys, the Lo's first outing is the most utterly inaccessible and damn-near indescribable crossover album of the era.
Camp Lo created such a lyrical Gordian knot that even the most versed connoisseur of microphone wizardry could be left looking baffled with a handful of either jewels or cubic zirconia — only an accurate hip-to-square conversion chart could tell which. "In another millenia /Blow the dust off these jewels," says Geechi Suede, and to this day, Googling the lyrics of their one and only "hit," "Luchini," brings page after page of misquoted and half-heard snippets exposing Herbs. An example: "Keep your ears out for our years"? How about keep your ears out for Roy Ayers? He's a jazz musician. "Levitating in da' shiggys"? How about dashikis? They're a kind of shirt, from Africa.
All Afro-Surreal elements are present: a layered rococo style steeped in international travel; a dandy's obsession with "vines" from Paris and Milan; a literary approach with references ranging from Donald Goines to Fragonard; and a frivolous manner that belies a serious intent. After Uptown Saturday Night, hip-hop changed, and not necessarily for the better. Go see Camp Lo. Give these men their due.
CAMP LO With DJ Apollo and Sake 1. Thurs/21, 10 p.m., $10. Mighty, 119 Utah, SF. (415) 762-0151. www.mighty119.com