In praise of: ‘Books of War’ MF Doom & RZA (2015) prod. Omegah Red/PoiSoN FLoWeRZ

(He’s a shady character, what’s his name?
Ah wait a minute, I’ve got his card
Oo yes! here it is, DOOM......... I see.)

.... It ain’t nuttin’ like... Hip Hop music...

Bandcamp tags: Experimental, Shinjuku …

Quite appropriately considering the artists involved, there is plenty of mystery surrounding this track. Using an instrumental from the 2013 record, Doom is for the Children Instrumentalz by Japanese producer Omegah Red, also known as PoiSoN FLoWeRZ, the verses come from two earlier releases. Is it a fan mash-up? It seems it might be, but reliable info is hard to come by. Was it ever officially released? 

No matter about any of this, though, as it is perfect, delicious in its grace, lyrical conceits and when it comes to RZA’s contribution, in its tough-minded history lesson, delivered deadpan (in his gorgeous, guileless accent): a jewel in the morass. 

To talk about simple beats, well, this is a very simple beat with what appears to be only one sample …

It’s taken from a 1970 recording of a Cambodian singer, Ros Serey Sothea. Omegah Red does very little to it, in terms of adding tricks; he plays around a little with the beat, especially after 4’30” but throughout it remains understated, pausing at times, stop-starting it, to allow some space, some air. 

Omegah Red’s simple production is smart. First, because the sample itself has a kind of power, not surprising maybe when you know something about the life of the singer, Ros Serey Sothea – the artist King Norodom Sihanouk gave the honorary title, ‘Queen with the Golden Voice.’ Ros Serey Sothea disappeared at the age of 28, or 29 during the Pol Pot regime: 

Like everyone else when the Khmer Rouge took over, she was forced to leave Phnom Penh. There are many speculations regarding her fate from a variety of witnesses.
Sothea was initially able to hide her identity well as she was from the Cambodian countryside and adjusted well, contrary to most of the “New People”. The survivors from her camp didn’t even know she was amongst them until she secretly confided with them. Eventually she was discovered and was forced by Pol Pot to marry one of his assistants in 1977. As a prolific singer, Sothea was forced to exclusively perform songs for the new regime.
Her new marriage was an unhappy one marred by physical abuses. Eventually the disputes got out of hand and the Khmer Rouge cadre of her village decided she was more trouble alive. She was told that she and her family would be moved to another village and she was last seen by survivors departing by ox cart. She then disappeared under typically mysterious circumstances and is almost certainly dead.
— Wikipedia

Keeping it pared-back musically is also wise considering the highly controlled style of the emcees. MF Doom and RZA are matched by their deadpan delivery and the sharp intelligence of their rhymes (yes, Doom is seen to be one of the genre’s wild mavericks, but if you spend time looking at his rhyme sequences you quickly see the method in the so-called madness).

I’ll let you read/appreciate the words in the video above, no need for me to cut and paste bits and pieces here; suffice to say, both verses are incredible. Doom’s verse comes from ‘It Ain’t Nuttin’ from The Herbaliser’s 2002 record, Something Wicked This Way Comes, which in contrast to this track is positively jaunty. 

While RZA’s verse first appeared on the 1997 Gravediggaz single ‘The Night the Earth Cried’ from The Pick, the Sickle and the Shovel.