A mashup album combining David Bowie’s great glam manifesto with incredible hip-hop? Now this one caught me TOTALLY off guard.
I had my “come to Man-Cat” moment in the winter of 2007, when I was living in Boston in extreme poverty and had zero to look forward to. I often read the free magazine, titled Stuff, that was handed out in the cafe where I worked; and one day I saw a single-column review of a free album available for download. The rest is history.
The Rise And Fall Of Thuggy Stardust And The Hustlers From Mars is, well, here, let Man-Cat’s video explain it to you:
I’ve talked about my deep-seated love of David Bowie before, but I haven’t quantified the different feelings I have for different albums of his. Low, for example, is to me a spiralling, gorgeous evocation of mental illness; Heathen is a meditation on ageing and the way the world shifts over time; Scary Monsters and Super Creeps is terrifyingly prescient and just a little bit unhinged. These are all intellectual assessments. This is not the kind of assessment that I can make for Ziggy Stardust.
I learned to apply makeup by watching old videos of Bowie on tour for this album. I am no longer afraid of glitter or tight pants. Ziggy Stardust is the cultural document that helped me break down a lot of gender barriers, both those that applied to me and those that I unconsciously applied to other people; for that I will always cherish it. Also, Mick Ronson is a guitar god who plays his solos in Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture one-handed, which is a useful skill to have (snigger).
So Bowie had already handed me my freak flag and showed me how to wave it, years before I heard Man-Cat’s reinterpretation of Ziggy. When I read that review, there was no way I was passing up the opportunity to hear Ziggy Stardust remixed. The guy had even created a new genre ““ GlamHop. I could not resist.
And I’m so glad I didn’t, because Man-Cat’s bizarre car-crash of an album got me into rap.
I had never listened to rap before. I’d heard it, whizzing past it while switching between alternative radio stations, but I’d never listened. I’d bought into the idea that the public, down-and-dirty media image of rap is what rap actually is; you know, with the bitches and the money and the “no homo” and stuff. And I was so, so wrong.
Thuggy Stardust incorporates eleven different hip-hop tracks, by eleven different artists. Some of these artists I’d heard of: Tupac, Biggie, Jay-Z, Missy Elliot ““ the only woman on the album, incidentally, who lends her flow to “Lady Stardust (Is A Bitch).” Others were completely new to me: Blackalicious, Nate Dogg, and the truly exceptional Jurassic 5 (more on them later).
Ziggy Stardust opens with the song “Five Years,” which is introduced by a slow fade-in drum beat and a thundering piano chord; the lyrics deal with Ziggy/Bowie’s paranoid fear that he will die in five years’ time. Man-Cat begins Thuggy Stardust by mashing this song with Blacklicious’ “Sky Is Falling,” a scorching polemic against the poverty of inner-city communities and the lack of opportunities available to black youth. With these lyrics front and centre, “Sky Is Falling In Five Years” is suddenly not merely about one man’s death, but the end of the world.
Contradictions abound. In “Can U Daydream,” Tupac exhorts a woman to leave her abusive lover, while Bowie croons and shrieks “Put your raygun to my head.” Nas howls with anger on “Hang On, Hate Me Now” at those who doubt him, while the Spiders chant, “We’re really got a good thing going” in the background. Political and social justice mark many of the rap lyrics; by contrast, the original songs are more existential, less concrete in their aims. The contrasts are exceptional, and bring out layers in all the tracks that didn’t exist before.
The jewel in the crown of the album is probably “Jiggy My Ziggy,” which incorporates lyrics Jay-Z and Bowie into a call and answer format thirty years apart. Mick Ronson’s guitar licks punctuate Jay-Z’s verses with a punch that it’s hard to imagine could be bettered; Man-Cat’s never mixed a better song. But it’s still not my favorite; that title has to go to “Star Quality,” in which the (arguably) weakest song on Ziggy Stardust (“Star”) is transformed into a sonic backdrop for the cleverest, twistiest, tightest five minutes of rap (“Quality Control”) I have ever heard. Jurassic 5’s “contraband lyrics” thunder along over the insistent piano line and Bowie’s keening, and the effect is pretty magical. Hearing this song made me go out and obtain the Jurassic 5 album Quality Control, and even today I have time for anything Chali 2na is doing.
The best part? The entire album is FREE TO DOWNLOAD ““ yes, free from the pocket of Man-Cat himself ““ at thewilltotruth.com. GO. LISTEN. Spread the gospel of Man-Cat.