Hell On Wheels, Vol. 2

Hick-hop wunderkid DJ P (Danny Phillips) has been confounding and amusing underground hip-hop heads with his unashamed mix CDs of hardcore rap and unlikely ’80s cuts for the past four years. On 1999’s Uneasy Listening Vol. 1, he and DJ Z-Trip mixed the Pharcyde’s “She Keeps On Passing Me By” over Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield.” On 2001’s Old School Gangsta Shit Vol. 1, P went from Ice Cube’s “Nigga Ya Love To Hate” to Howard Jones’ “Things Can Only Get Better” before a finale of “Boyz N’ The Hood” dialogue over a breakbeat to Christopher Cross’ “Sailing.” While blunted heads may not think there’s any more to P’s mixes than bugged-out song selection, there is a narrative cohesion evident: Both Pharcyde and Benatar sing about broken hearts; Jones and Cross both offer a little optimism and escapism from relative claustrophobia of street life. As Jones sings “And do you feel scared?/I do … Things can only get better …” he’s voicing every gangster’s private thoughts.

In Hell On Wheels, Vol. 2, P fashions a Halloween-themed mix that samples liberally from horror movies (Evil Dead, Friday The 13th, etc.). At first, P is up to his old, oh-no-he-
didn’t tricks, bumping unlikely jams up against each other. Notable sections include P’s mash-up of the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s “Sweet Transvestite” with a breakbeat, an as-funny-as-it-is-good, two-turntable scratch-fest of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” as well as a dizzyingly inventive mix of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” with Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and Metallica’s “Sad But True” that segues into a creepy horror rap by fellow turntablist DJ Swamp. Late in the mix, P distinguishes himself on the more narrative tip as he mixes a breakbeat cover of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” with Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” between snippets of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

But P’s real resonance as an artist and not just a novelty comes when he strips rap tracks away from their usual hip-hop surroundings of bravado and triumph and gets to their core emotions of fear and vulnerability. The highlight of the mix is when he cuts between Biggie Smalls rapping “Big up big up/It’s a stick-up stick-up” and Mystikal’s “Danger,” only to touch down with the Beatles’ “Help” over a two-step jungle beat. It’s a moment as enjoyable as it is transcendent: Gangster rap is like a horror movie, only now, instead of identifying with the gun-toters, P uses MCs John, Paul, George and Ringo to let us empathize with the victims. OK, so Hell on Wheels Vol. 2 isn’t this deep even half the time, but put this baby on at a Halloween party and watch the whole shack shimmy.

E-mail Hobey Echlin at [email protected].

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