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November 12th, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

A little while back, during the KWUR executive staff potluck, we were sitting around listening to Wu-Tang Clan and Mikey challenged me to name the sample in the Wu-Tang song “Tearz” Although I have listened to that song many a time (it includes the fantastic line “then / like a whammy / he pressed his luck”), I did not happen to know the sample. I was like a deer in headlights. My life flashed before my eyes. I had been disgraced as a man, and more importantly, as a soul DJ. When I reached home and finally stopped crying, I swore that I would never rest until I could name that sample. Luckily for me, it took me about five minutes to find the sample, thanks to the miracle of the Internet, and more specifically, the Wikipedia page on “36 Chambers”, which lists every sample for every song on that album.

There are basically two types of hip-hop beats, if you ask me. The first is the kind where a lot of different tracks (some that sound absolutely un-funky on their own, unaltered) are skilfully spliced together to form a beat (examples include Kanye’s beat for Jay-Z’s “Takeover”, RZA’s beat for “Can It Be All So Simple”). The other kind are beats based around one, impossible funky sample (examples include Kanye’s “Stronger”) that even complete garbage flow would sound good over. I tend to be in awe of the first kind more, since it requires considerably more skill and creative energy. However, the second kind also takes skill. To pick a really good sample, you have to find a small snippet of a song that’s really danceable but not instantly recognizable, and this requires a great deal of crate-digging, which, as a soul DJ of some sort, is something I have a lot of respect for.

“Tearz” is the second kind of beat. RZA is a crate-digger par excellence, and this one is a real gem. The song sampled in “Tearz” is “After Laughter (Comes Tears)” by Wendy Rene. Wendy Rene was one of the artists in the Stax-Volt stable, originally part of a group called The Drapels with her brother, Johnny. AllMusic has this fun little tidbit to share about Ms. Rene (originally Ms. Frierson):

A tour with Rufus Thomas included an appearance at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, NY. Rene returned from the Big Apple, to the dismay of her parents, with a monkey she purchased at a pet store there. Arguments over the monkey messin’ up the house became the predominant topic; Rene was still a teen and lived at home. Monkeys were a status-symbol in the ’60s for some. You dressed them, tuxedos were the vogue, and drove around in convertibles with the critters riding shotgun. Soul singer Edwin Starr, among others, briefly owned monkeys. Get a hit, buy a drop top and a monkey.

Which, coincidentally, is more or less how I roll. After releasing just two singles with The Drapels, “After Laughter (Comes Tears)”, although recorded with The Drapels, was credited entirely to Wendy Rene, in Phil Spector style, and released in 1964. The track’s a real doozy. RZA doesn’t have to do much to the sample, just adds a little backbeat. The vocal delivery is exuberant and heart-felt, typical of mid sixties Memphis soul. But the real neat thing about the song is the instrumentation, which is a weird, minimalist proto-Isaac Hayes (who probably wrote the thing, come to think of it) composition. Check it out:

That clip, btw, is from the movie “Head-On”. Another neat thing I found in the course of my research (i.e. dicking around the internet) is that Wendy Rene is still around and still doing gigs. Hell, she even has a MySpace. It’s funny; you tend to think that after the sixties, all these soul people died or disappeared off the face of the earth, but a lot of them are still around, still doing shows. KWUR Week, anyone?

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