Music Geek-Out #11: Luscious Jackson’s “Naked Eye”

Just to remind everyone, I’m doing a series on the playlist I curated for the dinner at philoSOPHIA 2012 at Miami U in Oxford, Ohio. The playlist is Oxford-centric, and feminist-centric. In homage to the old Oxford radio station 97X WOXY, I drew largely from their playlist in the 90s, when I was a student at Miami.

So after the Breeders I went with another fabulous 90s indie girl-band, Luscious Jackson.  WOXY played them so much, and gave them so much love I thought they were local, even though they aren’t. They’re from NYC. In fact, the Beastie Boy’s original drummer, Kate Schellenbach, was part of the group. Their fansite has a HUGE list of articles here

Two notable things about the video: (1) It’s really interesting how they portray the female protagonist. The video suggests that all the band members are not distinct characters, but in fact the same one. There’s one female character, portrayed variously by each band member. This evokes a lot of critical ideas about, e.g., the role of women in patriarchy, the function of female characters/feminized elements in narrative, etc. (Though, one thing that complicates the latter is that the story is apparently the woman’s (she’s at the beginning and at the resolution, the male character is the one who leaves in order for her to come to resolution)–however, this may just be another example of what Rey Chow suggests is the “Jane Eyre” logic–it’s a story nominally about a woman, but the narrative still centers the male protagonist.). and (2) If you watch the end of the video, it is clear it was made in an era when it was entirely plausible to park on the curb at the airport, leave your car, and come back to it. We in the US haven’t been able to do this in over a decade, so this, above all, is what dates the video.

I chose “Naked Eye” specifically because its aesthetic follows well from “Cannonball”: there’s the same general “sound” (with the softly pulsing guitar work, the drumming), and the effected female vocals are a very strong sonic similarity.  There’s also some quasi-rapping in the verses: they’re not strictly sung, they’re not really sprechstimme, and the rhythm and rhyme pattern evokes rapping, but the delivery is so laid back that it doesn’t really feel like rapping (which is usually more enthusiastic). More specifically, white girl rap is more monotone than conventional rapping: there’s not the rise and fall in pitch, there is relatively little use of (musical) accents (e.g., “hitting” a particular syllable with emphasis), etc. Mainstream rapping uses all these things to produce a more complexly textured vocal delivery. This sort of laid-back half-rapping is really characteristic of a particular strain of indie white girl rapping in and following immediately from the 90s: think of Chicks on Speed, some early Le Tigre, etc. Then sometime in the mid 00s white female party rappers (think Peaches, then of course Ke$ha, even Uffie to a certain extent) started using more conventional rap expressivism. So, while I don’t have the time to examine this more right now, it’s definitely worth asking (if somebody hasn’t already) after this 90s indie-white-girl rapping aesthetic. Why did it take this shape? What encouraged white indie female musicians to deliver raps in this way?