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April 04, 1996 - Image 19

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The Michigan Daily, 1996-04-04

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The Michigan Daily - c4e4e.4d, eU. - Thursday, April 4, 1996 -7B

Combustible Edison sets lounge music scene on fire

By Heather Phares
Daily Arts Writer
Lounge. Exotica. Cocktail Music.
*all it what you like, but until a few
years ago, it was called unhip: the prov-
ince of grocery stores, dentists' waiting
rooms and grandparents' record collec-
tions worldwide.
Now, hip and square have come full
circle. Classic lounge composers like
Martin Denny, Les Baxter and Esquivel
are celebrated by tastemakers like
Quentin Tarantino and Matt Groening.
Current bands who don lounge's
ushed-velvet smoking jacket, like
hode Island's Combustible Edison,
make music for cocktail hours cool
again. As the Edison's Mike the Mil-
lionairesaid in a recent interview, their
brand of lounge is "Sexy! Sexy but
unnerving."
Their music certainly is unnerving
in a time when people's eardrums
have been deadened by grunge and
alternative music's bombast - songs
'ke the Henry Mancini-inspired
"Alright, Already" and lush, torchy
"Bluebeard" startle because of their
utter lack of noise, screaming and
angst. Their latest album,
"Schizophonic!", uses vibraphones
and pianos instead of buzzsaw gui-
tars, chirped or crooned vocals in-
stead of tortured wails, and the odd
jungle sound effect to convey Com-
bustible Edison's unusual nature.
Also unusual is the way the group
9es about business matters. Each mem-
ber of the group is responsible for han-
dling one facet of the Combustible
Edison entertainment empire. The Mil-
lionaire explained: "Aaron
(Oppenheimer) is the computer whiz of
the band, and he's responsible for
Internet vresence of Combustible

"It took about
six to nine months
after we
completed the
project for me to
say, 'Whoa! That's
amazing! We just
did the soundtrack
to a Ollywood
movie!'
- Mike the Millionaire
Combustible Edison
Edison, and monitoring the ether for
things that may be of use to us. Lily
(Banquette) is the soul of the band, and
she's also the bookkeeper and stylist.
Peter (Dixon) has a lot of video connec-
tions, and a lot of media access. Nick
(Cudahy, the Millionaire's brother) is
the master musician of the band." He
added with a chuckle, "And I'm sort of
the editor, the artistic director, and the
guy who gets on the phone and does all
the interviews - the minister of
disinformation, the mouthpiece."
Theirdistinctive style extends to their
choice of places to play on their current
tour. According to the Millionaire, their
itinerary includes "Rock clubs and some
fabulous temples of opulence. I lean
more toward the temples of opulence;
the mood of the whole evening is very
important and everything contributes
to that. We've been working, from the

very beginning, on a low-rent, hand-
made version ofvirtual reality. We have
to be sure that every sense that comes
into play, for the audience, is being
stimulated in the correct way. When we
can find someplace that's appropriate,
we go for it, even if it holds less people."
This time around, part of the Com-
bustible Edison virtual reality includes
a film from Rhode Island filmmaker
Guy Benoit instead of an opening act.
"(It's) intended to get people off their
guard and get them in some kind of
mood. It's kind of hard to describe.
Since we realize that it's going to be
shown in nightclubs, we wanted to make
it nonlinear so that people wouldn't
walk in on the middle of it and say
'What happened?"'the Millionaire said.
He continued, "So it's kind of a non-
linear, narrative allegorical set in this
dystopian city where the forces of dull-
ness and drabness are at the top and
have forced the wicked and the fabu-
lous underground. It's sort of a twisted
odyssey through this world, seen
through the eyes of three lady escorts
and a hired butler, their pal Satan, a bad
stage magician and a vanquished lady
wrestler." Sexy, unnerving, unafraid of
the downright weird -that's Combus-
tible Edison.
The band was also just involved with
another film, the indie-director showcase
"Four Rooms," which featured install-
ments by Quentin Tarantino and Allison
Anders and a soundtrack almost entirely
done by Combustible Edison.
While the film received decidedly
mixed reviews, the soundtrack is a soli
and, of course, bizarre work, with em-
phasis on work: The Millionaire called
the experience "Exceedingly difficult.
Not only do you have to write and
record an album's worth of material

within a fifth of the time you would
normally do so, it's written to spec -
you have to do things that match the
action andfit in the right amount oftime
and capture the mood of what's going
on. It took about six to nine months
after we completed the project for me to
say, 'Whoa! That's amazing! We just
did the soundtrack to a Hollywood
movie!' It just happened so fast that
there was no time to reflect."
All in all, things have been going
swimmingly for this group of swingers.
The only thing that even slightly both-
ers Mike the Millionaire is the percep-
tion that his band and his music are
steeped in irony. It's an understandable
view; after all, a group so heavily ad-
dicted to kitschy music surely must
spend a little time laughing at it?
Apparently not. The Millionaire said
of Combustible Edison's music, "It's
totally genuine. There's no irony what-
soever. There's hopefully some humor,
as there is in any artistic endeavor of
any worth. But we're not making fun of
or parodying what we're doing. I hate it
when bands that are fun start taking
themselves seriously. Fun is our busi-
ness! We're supposed to be fun and
enjoyable for our audiences. We're not
going to be doing any operas or song
cycles," he added with a laugh.
About the public's misperceptions of
his music, the Millionaire is literally
philosophical: "Wheneveryou put stuff
out in the public, it's out of your con-
trol," he sighed. "It's like the three
blind men and an elephant story. Three
blind men are standing around an el-
ephant, and one guy is by its leg and
says, 'This animal is thick and solidjust
like a tree trunk,' and one guy is by the
tail and says, 'This animal is rough and
thin like a rope,' and the other guy is by

The elegant members of Combustible Edison can be heard In the film "Four
Rooms."

the trunk and says. 'No, no, you're all
wrong. This animal is muscular and
sinuous and prehensile like a snake.'
They all have their own opinion of what
the elephant is like, and each of their
perceptions are completely different."
He continued, "Basically, we're just
embracing our cultural heritage and
fulfilling our genetic imperative. Once
we recognized where we were coming

from and embraced it, it was just our
duty. Originally we were just doing it
for ourselves, and then we said, 'Why
don't we do this in front ofsomepeople?
That would be fun,' and now look!"
Combustible Edison: Fulfilling their
genetic imperative to be wicked and
fabulous, sexy and unnerving, in the
face of the dull and drab. Lounge never
had such a good purpose.

DJ Yella, formerly of NWA, speaks out on rise and fall of hardcore rap

A

By Eugene Bowen
Daily Arts Writer
The stormy breakup of Compton's
Niggaz with Attitude (NWA) has been
the stuff of rap music legend. Alleged
ismanagement and unscrupulous ac-
'ons:by member Eazy-E led then-mem-
bers Ice Cube and Dr. Dre to leave the
group in '89 and late '91, respectively.
These three members' constant heckling
of each other was as public as it was
pote t. Yet throughout this time, Antoine
Carraby - better known as the light-
skinned DJ Yella -had remained virtu-
ally silent. Until now.
Yella released his first solo album ever
9 March 26 ("One Mo Nigga Ta Go,"
Scotti Bros./Street Life Records), a trib-
ute to the late Eazy-E on the one-year
anniyersary of the rapper's AID- related
death. With this release, Yella, always
seen as NWA's quietest member, has
beguhnto speak out, offering a fresh per-
spective on the rise and fall of hardcore
rap's most influential group of yester-
year.
"The reason behind the breakup was
┬░mple: Egos started getting in the way,"
J Yella said. "NWA started making too
much money, so everyone wanted more
money. Eazy made more money 'cause
he owned the label NWA was on (Ruth-
less Records) and had other groups under
him making money. But everyone didn't
see it that way."
Already friends from DJ-ing at the
same club in L.A. for awhile, Yella's and
Dr. Dre's first performance experience
with the Wrecking Crew. "But we
' eren't getting paid. So we were looking
for a way out. And Dre already knew
Eazy. So we waited for the right time and
left the Wrecking Crew to start NWA in
'86. Originally, there was six of us in
NWA-me, MC Ren, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre,
Eazy-E and Arabian Prince. But Prince
was around for only the first couple of
songs; he was just doing his own stuff, I
guess. He dropped out a little after we
k the picture for the 'Straight Outta
mpton' album.
"Ruthless Records started right at
NWA. I'really had nothing to do with the
business side; that was Eazy's territory. It
was his money that started it. Ren was one
ofthe best rappers in NWA, on account of
his strong voice. He wasn't a producer,
though. Cube was just a writer; he just
happened to write some of Eazy's first
few songs.
"NWA was really about street music. I
n't think NWA started West Coast, but
I think we made the name for it. We was
rapping about what we lived around, saw

seems to me that they would be there. I'm
glad I was there from day one to the last
day. Wherever he is, he can know I was
down with him even through the tough
times. Them, I know they have regrets."
As for rumors about making an NWA
reunion video, Yella comments, "I heard
about it, but no one has yet to talk to me.
Now that Dre's left Death Row, maybe
we can talk about it." And anything that's
done, if DJ Yella has his way, will most
certainly contain a million references to
the group's founder.
"When I say Ruthless Records now, it's
just a name," Yella said. "Eazy was Ruth-

less. It seems that people's just forgetting
abouthim, andhedidsomuch forsomany."
That's why Yella demanded, successfully,
that Ruthless Records allow him to produce
Eazy-E's posthumous "Straight off Tha
Streetz of Compton." And that's why,
throughouthis debut LP,Yellafightstokeep
Eric Wright's music alive.
"I wanted to do something and dedicate it
all to him. Losing him was like losing an
arm. I wish times when me and him were
talking business we could've talked about
other things. I wish we'd done more things
together -just go fishing, anything. Just
spend time together."

D.J. Yella, shown here next to the grave of Eric "Eazy-E" Wright, just released his first solo album, "One Mo Nigga Ta Go."

and what could happen. We was talking
about real stuff in the ghetto, and that
ghetto can be any ghetto, notjust Compton
... Nothing phony; we just rapping about
real living. We never changed in that
respect, even when we began to cross
over.
"Our music started crossing over, I
think, when MTV banned our 'Straight
Outta Compton' video (in '88). Records
sales took off with no radio play, no
nothing. It was a trip because when we
toured back in '89, 80 percent of the
crowd was white. It shocked us, but back
then the only way for a record to go gold
or platinum was if it crossed over ... We
had nothing against nobody. We wasn't
racist ornothing like that. I guess they was
buying our records 'cause it was stuff
they never heard about. They wanted to
know about Compton. Our music opened
their eyes to the ghetto."
Their music also opened the NWA
members' eyes to the threat of censor-
ship. With the release of their "Fuck the
Police" single back in '91, NWA earned
the wrath of everyone from the FBI to
United States Representatives. "We based
this song on us, on how police were in the
ghetto," Yella said. "We didn't know
how the police in the suburbs were, but in
the ghetto that's how they treat you. They
treat you likenothing, yaknow,just'cause
they got a badge or something.
"We was just making a song about
what police do all the time: Stop you for
nothing, have you outside of the car sit-
ting on the curb, harassing you just be-

cause you're black, dress a certain way,
whatever. Onetime oranotheryou wanted
to say 'fuck the police' for some reason.
Not all cops are bad, but a few bad ones
make everyone look at police in a bad
way.
"We expected a little flack for 'Fuck
the Police,' but not as much as we got.
Concert places were kind of scared of us,
as if we were causing riots. I don't know
why; nothing ever happened on our tours.
Nothing. No fights or anything. But we
agreed to not perform that song at con-
certs."
Looking back at the start of NWA,
Yella can't help but to be surprised him-
selfby how such strong love can turn into
such livid anger. "Dre and I was like
brothers. We was tight, real tight," Yella
said. "Them first few years we was all like
family. Even when Cube left, the rest of
us was like family ... When he left, we all
talked about him, even Dre. That's when
all those albums came out. Then Dre left
and did an album with Cube.
"I remember when Dre told me he was
leaving NWA and invited me to leave
with him. I told him I'dgetback with him.
To this day I haven't gottenback with him
to tell him no or yes. Eazy hadn't cheated
me out of anything; I can't get mad at Eric
just'cause Dre's mad at him. Ijust stayed
neutral. I was still with Eazy, but I never
was in the videos where he dissed Dre
either."
Allegations of Eric "Eazy-E" Wright's
swindling money from the other NWA
members have always run rampant. Yella

fights this, saying, "I know he didn't
cheat nobody. He never cheated me. Put
it like this: You living in a million-dollar
house; Eazy'slivingin a$2 million house.
How can he be cheating you if you living
in a million-dollar house? I mean, Eazy
was supposed to make more money. He
owned the label NWA was on, and he had
other acts making money on his label,
too."
DJ Yella truly believes that after the
first couple of albums were released, the
tension between the different members
had ended. "But the press kept talking
about it and playing it out.
"After Dre left, MC Ren sorta drifted
off on his own some time in '92. By this
time we didn't think about an NWA al-
bum anymore. We just concentrated on
Eazy's next solo album. Me and Eric was
going to do an another album, but then he
died.
"I found out the night before the press
conference about Eazy (testing HIV posi-
tive). In fact, that statement they read, he
didn't even write. He was already on the
machine by then. A buddy of ours, Big
Man, told me everything. None of us
(former NWA members) met up even
then. We each saw Eric at different times,
and MC Ren never showed up. After that
his wife wouldn't let anyone else see him.
That was messed up.
"I was the only (NWA member) at
Eric's funeral. The excuse I heard from
Cube was he was out of town, but they
have planes flying all the time. As for the
other two, I haven't the slightest idea. It

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