Diddy "Jack U (Felix Da Housecat Mix)"
"Jack your body to the bass / Jack it all over the place / Don't let no one get in your way / Tonight's your night / Today's your day / I'll jack you / I'll jack you / I'll jack you / I'll jack you."
If you don't know specifically what it means to "jack your body," it may seem Diddy's foray into house music finds the sexless-up-to-this-point mogul switching all kinds of teams. It's almost disappointing to report that men will not be getting the full-release treatment from the Did (disappointing, not because he's hot, but because that'd be, y'know, funny). On "Jack U," a track that bounced around DJs' sets and mixes for over a year before being issued last month on Germany's International DeeJay Gigolos, Diddy is instead telling (and perhaps showing, depending on how much you like the track) you that he'll make you move old-school style, like they used to in Chicago in the mid-'80s at places like the Music Box and the Warehouse. "They" being mostly gays and "moving" meaning "jacking," a dance that crossed simulated stand-fucking with acting electrocuted. Maybe Diddy's getting in touch with his homo side, after all (the resemblance to Amanda Lepore only tends to support the theory).
But really, I doubt he even pays that much attention to what he's saying -- the often-useless Felix da Housecat at least knows his old-school house and it's possible that he directed this whole affair (he's certainly more aware than dim Diddy, who stumbles over the names of dance subgenres at the start of "Jack U" before declaring, "I just know good music, man. I just wanna hear some shit that's good music"). A master wordsmith Diddy is not, and even if he were, it's doubtful that he could even come up with the nonsense lyrics of "Jack U." Instead, he's essentially remaking
Jungle Brothers' "I'll House You" from 1988. "I'll House You" is one of the earliest examples of the (commercially) successful merging of rap and house music, a style that would come to be called hip-house, and then, just as quickly, would come to be laughed at.
Hip-house is the red-headed stepchild of house music, a subgenre that drummed up very little respect while thriving (its popularity peaked in '91 when Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch hit No. 1 with "Good Vibrations," and that says a lot) and gets even less respect now. And that's with good reason, really. Hip-house marked one of, if not the, earliest examples of rapping taking a back seat to its musical backing. Hip-house vocalists didn't need to be proficient or clever because the main idea was to get people to move, and of course, the track's rhythms were much more propulsive than any voice. The hip-house rapper, then, was mostly an ornament -- at best, he (and in rare cases, she) was a hype-man; at worst, a relic of novelty.
And that's exactly why Diddy's "Jack U" works so well -- it only makes sense that such a deficient rapper (I mean, does he really even have what you'd call fans? If you're a fan of Diddy, please speak up -- I have many questions for you) should choose such an undemanding genre. And really, what is he if not a hype man? "Jack U" might be the least pretentious thing he's ever done because by doing it, he's essentially saying, "Look at me: I have nothing to say and I can't even say it well. So, chuckle at me -- I'll even get a little camp. And most importantly: move!"
If I sound anti-hip-house, I'm not doing my taste justice. Truth be told: I love the stuff. Its charm is in its stupidity and there's always room for stupidity. This record is among the most prized in my collection:
I mean, god, look at them. They took this shit so seriously. For further proof, check out the essay in the album's liner notes:
God, did they know how right they were with that last line?
The funny thing is that although the DJ International Crew were attempting to draw the divide between hip-house and "rap house," it's not really clear what constituted what. Certainly, the track this essay credits with starting the genre,
Fast Eddie's "Yo Yo Get Funky", provides little help: "Hip-house is a new style that I created / All around the world they're devastated / By the hip, which is short for hip-hop / And by the house, which is rising to the top." Uh, thanks, Eddie. Further in-song definitions would prove just as unspecific, either spelling things out via influences ("Hip-hop house, hip-hop jazz, with a little pizazz," says Queen Latifah in 1989's "Come Into My House," perhaps the finest hip-house record ever as it was delivered by someone who could actually rap) or defining via exclusion ("It's not hip-hop or hop-hip, it's hip-house," says Fast Eddie in a song that followed "Yo Yo Get Funky," "Hip House").
Maybe there is no real difference between rap house and hip-house, and really, who cares? Certainly not Diddy, who can't be bothered to pay attention to "definitions an' shit." Maybe what the DJ International Crew were really going for was a brand, a minor distinction that they could call their own. Diddy's spiritually (or soulessly, whichever) with them right there, too.
Even if he has no idea of its history, Diddy's bold for taking up such a maligned genre in such a broad way (is it any wonder that the version above is relegated to the B-side of the 12", while DJ Hell's more electro-fied -- thus cooler -- rub is on the A?). He is as willfully unhip as his mohawk in his picture above. Current mainstream rap barely flirts with hip-house (though Rah Digga's too-slow-for-house
"Party & Bullshit 2003" came close -- she gets my undying respect for referencing not one, but two Chicago classics -- Farley "Jackmaster" Funk's "Beat That Bitch With a Bat" and Cajmere's "Percolater"). Gone are the days when almost all mainstream hip-hop was jingling, if not dancey. What passes as "club" music in hip-hop is barely worth dancing to (as most hilariously illustrated in last year's would-be-banger "Lean Back" by Terror Squad -- not even the song's rapper, Fat Joe, wanted to dance to it!). But then, Scott Storch is no Todd Terry, and really, Diddy is no Fast Eddie. But goddamn, moving from Bad Boy to just plain bad is about the most natural thing Diddy's ever done musically. Welcome to hip-house, Diddy. Welcome home.