MC Hot Dog
Ghetto Superstar/2009-2012 Best Singles Collection
“I am so ghetto,” declares MC HotDog (熱狗) on Ghetto Superstar. For all of the braggadocio and bombast of the title track, this latest album from the 34-year-old rapper is fun to listen to.
HotDog started out as a local underground hip hop pioneer over a decade ago, offering a raw and refreshing antidote to the stale output from Chinese American wannabe-rappers that embellished R ‘N’ B-tinged Mandopop, perhaps the closest thing Taiwan had to hip-hop at the time. Today, Hot Dog is a darling of the party crowd as Taiwan’s top rapper.
Ghetto, a collection of singles recorded in the past several years, is full of HotDog’s usual bratty punk humor, delivered in witty and clever rhymes. But HotDog’s music is more polished and pop-friendly than ever. The production values on the album are of a high quality, with well-chosen beats and solid backing tracks recorded by studio musicians.
Though the album’s vibe gravitates towards party music, there is enough variety to keep listeners interested.
The title track, full of hip-hop swagger, kicks off the album with an aggressive groove, but things immediately get goofy and mischievous with the following number, No Breakfast For Hip-Hoppers, a biting parody that takes aim at happy-go-lucky pop-rocker Crowd Lu (盧廣仲).
Lu has a popular bubble-gum rock song with a line that goes “eating breakfast is very rock n’ roll;” HotDog takes a dig at Lu and the song, asking “What does breakfast have to do with rock n’ roll?” (到底吃早餐和rock n’roll有什麼關係), and immediately concludes that “not eating breakfast is a hip-hop thing” (不吃早餐才是一件嘻哈的事).
(If not for a smooth cameo by fellow rapper Soft Lipa (蛋堡), the song might come across as mean-spirited.)
HotDog switches to being tender on the Mandopop-soul ballad Woman 27 (輕熟女27), which features a brilliant, sultry performance by female singer Miaca Kuan (關彥淳).
A handful of tracks feature HotDog’s ever faithful sidekick and collaborator, Chang Chen-yue (張震嶽), who sings the chorus hooks on the disco-funk number Bored to Death (好無聊), the angst-filled Out of Here (離開) and a dance club techno-ditty High High Life (嗨嗨人生).
Chang’s contribution, and his stature as a former pop star, will definitely please the party crowd — but I find it boring. Skip towards the end of the disc and listen to Party Like Hot Dog, a raw-sounding track which revolves on a cool sample riff of a recording of a classical Chinese string ensemble and blends with some nasty synth sounds.
The closer, I’m Rich (老子有錢), is catchy in all the right ways. The backing track is a 1960s-sounding rock guitar riff with a breezy chorus that beckons you to sing along, never mind the mindless lyrics, “I’m rich, I’m a rich daddy.” (老子有錢當大爺). For HotDog, it’s probably half the fun and fantasy of hip-hop.
Orbit Folks (世界軌跡) is back with an elegant follow-up to their Golden Melody Winning 2010 album The Missing Link (失落的環節).
The quartet, the brainchild of Belgian-expat bassist Martijn Vanbuel, is a jazz group that draws from a non-conventional palette of sounds. The members on this recording include tabla player (Toshihiro Wakaike), pianist Mike Tseng (曾增譯) and violinist Stephane Huang (黃偉駿), accompanied by a string quartet on many of the tracks.
As an ensemble, their sound is gentle and even delicate, given the lack of horns and the relatively minimal use of a drum kit, but they still emphasize groove.
Chordophones stays on the path that the quartet took with The Missing Link, making jazz arrangements out of European folk music and other world music traditions. Vanbuel, who composed eight of the nine tracks and directed the ensemble, holds a strong interest in Balkan folk and gypsy music, influences that trickle into this recording from all ends.
But Chordophones is not world-beat as much as it is jazz infused with classical sensibility and spiritual drive. A prime example is the album opener, Sulukule, an homage to a historical gypsy settlement in Istanbul, which flows with hypnotic and seductive minor key melodies played on the violin and viola, buoyed by a pulsing, Latin-flavored groove by Vanbuel on bass and Wakaike on the tabla drums.
Vanbuel writes that the album title literally means “the sound of strings and chords” in the liner notes, which explains the lush string sections that adorn these recordings. A string quartet guides the shifting moods of Rahu, a beautiful suite co-written by Vanbuel and Waikaike. It begins slowly with a melancholic, tension-filled introduction that forms into a wistful melody and breaks into a Romani dance rhythm.
On Clockwise, a number with a strong Celtic folk flavor, the group is joined by guest flautist and singer-songwriter Paige Su (蘇珮卿), and Cody Byassee, who also plays percussion and drums on half of the album’s tracks. Su and Byassee, who both come from jazz and classical backgrounds, share Vanbuel’s eclectic tastes (they’re both long-time students of Indian classical music), as well as a penchant for borrowing from different musical traditions. Together they create a distinctive spark on this piece.
Vanbuel loves playing with odd rhythm meters, and Chordophones ends with a twist on a familiar number. The group serves up Duke Ellington’s Caravan in 15/4 time, a playful and fitting closing to an album.