An article about trip-hop pioneer Tricky from Wax Poetics magazine, Nov. 2, 2010…
Trip-Hop Troubadour Tricky Returns with Mixed Race
Trip-hop pioneer Tricky is back. But really, to his longtime fans, he never left. When critics were searching for the oppressive beats and dark menace he brought with his 1995 debut, Maxinquaye, true fans knew that to Tricky, life is music and music is experimental. If you’re looking for concepts, or categories, or something linear, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Tricky’s latest album, Mixed Race, is a culmination of ambiguity, pure musicianship, and feeling. It’s full of two-to-three-minute snippets of intensity that you want him to stretch out, but he refuses, unless the feeling strikes him. Which, unfortunately, it doesn’t. He says it’s a visual album, much like cinema.
“[Mixed Race] reminds me of when I first heard Public Enemy — very visual,” Tricky says by telephone from his home in Paris (he recently moved back east, first to the UK and then to Paris to be near his daughter). “I think this album mirrors new music. It reminds me of Public Enemy.”
And that works, if you think of the album as scenes from a movie. Just don’t expect the movie to follow a logical or chronological formula of having a beginning, middle, and end. Musically, Tricky leaves no stone unturned, touching on disco, rock, classical, Irish folk, electronica, reggae, house, jazz, hip-hop, gospel, and the sounds of a New Orleans brass band. And he lets his guests — Terry Lynn, Bobby Gillespie, Blackman, and MC Marlon Thaws, Tricky’s brother — lead the way.
Mixed Race starts off with “Every Day,” a soul-and-blues-influenced ride with steady, muted vocals from the haunting sensuality of Franky Riley over a steady, loping beat, creepy sounds, and tambourines.
“Every time I do an album, I want it to sound different,” says Tricky. “I experiment. Some people like it, some people don’t. I’m still growing and still experimenting and trying to find out where I’m going. I want to do some of the best music I can and I think the only way I can do that is by constant change.”
Tricky’s well-documented background has been a firestorm of change. Born of Jamaican and British heritage in a White ghetto, he never knew his father and his mother committed suicide when he was four years old. He was raised by his grandmother, who encouraged his interest in horror movies, and a White uncle who influenced him to listen to soul greats like Sam Cooke and Al Green. He was raised by family members of different races, spent time in prison and in the States, and has worked with the RZA and other giants in the hip-hop world. As a result, he says, he is able to move fluidly through many different worlds.
“I could be with Jamaicans in the Bronx and not hear an American accent for months,” says Tricky. “Or I would hang out in clubs in Bristol and be the only Black guy there. There are so many different worlds I can move in and out of. I think that sometimes defines me.”
That chameleonic quality also defines Mixed Race. One standout track is “Early Bird,” a jazzy gangster anthem with muted trumpets and cymbal brushes. It features an intoxicating, lustful, symbiotic duet between Riley and Tricky.
“It’s a jazz song, but done my way,” says Tricky. “It’s about growing up and nearly being a thug. Watching my friends do it, being mixed race, being angry when I was a kid about my living conditions. But I don’t want to glamorize it, ’cause there’s nothing glamorous about it. I was lucky I had music.”
“Hakim” is a painfully short Irish-folk-music-inspired track with fiddles and cellos and a Middle Eastern beat that flows under it. The lyrics are in Arabic, and sung by Algerian rai guitarist Hakim Hamadouche. Even Tricky doesn’t understand what he’s saying, but his flow is beastly.
“I listened to it after our day in the studio and I was like, ‘Fuck! I haven’t got a clue what he’s on about,’” says Tricky. “But he told me that it was about how that mad, homeless guy on the street we all meet actually knows more than we do.”
The first single, “Murder Weapon,” is a remake of Echo Minott’s dancehall tune with Riley on vocals. “I moved into my sister’s place years ago and some people from her estate hated people from my estate. We went into this shop and one of the guys who had problems with my friends started singing ‘Murder Weapon’ to me as a threat. I’ve never forgotten it.”
This mixing of sounds and samples with gender-bending and the ambiguity of race works in Tricky’s favor. He does this because he can. He’s made unpredictability not surprising. If you’re looking for more, wait for the next album. And know, of course, that with Tricky, nothing is certain.
Ericka Blount Danois