iTunes Diaries, entry #22: “War” by Cunninglynguists

I was once a little…um, okay, terribly obsessed with iTunes.  I got my first iPod in 2004 and became immediately entranced by Apple’s seeming infinite lists of music for sale.  Over the years, I spent way too much time on iTunes and spent way too much money on music, some of which was great, and some of which was not.  In 2011, for the sake of my sanity and my bank account, I went cold turkey.  I suspended my iTunes activities and completely stopped visiting site.  With the iTunes Diaries, I take a look back, highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly in music that I just had to have in the moment. 


As I’ve said here and elsewhere, my decent into the worlds of rap and hip hop is a fairly recent one, and one that wouldn’t have happened with Atmosphere’s Seven’s Travels. That’s not to say the genres were complete foreign to me before, say, the early 2000s, but they simply weren’t in my musical wheelhouse for a number of reasons. I discovered though, through various means and over a few years, that neither rap nor hip hop were walled off to a nerdy white girl with no skillz. The only obstacles to them were ones that I had built out of unwarranted preconceived notions. And once I broke through them, there was no turning back. Of all my Pandora stations, the “Atmosphere” one gets the most regular play, and that’s how I stumbled upon Cunninglynguists and their phenomenal song “War.”

P. S. The video below plays two of their songs “War” (ends around the 3:40 mark) and “Karma,” which appear concurrently on the album Southernunderground. When I first heard “War” on Pandora, both songs were played and I mistook them for a single song. Silly me, but they do blend rather interestingly.

I used to not be as picky about my music as I am now. In the days when you could join the BMG Music Club (are they still around??) and get ten tapes for the price of one (with some obligation), I took full advantage of getting anything and everything. Most of my choices were based off singles I heard on the radio, and rarely did I think about the concept of the “full album.” If I liked everything on it, great. If not, eh, I didn’t fret about throwing away my pennies. But now, with the musical world being what it is, individual songs reach heights of fame that their albums wish they could achieve. And I love it because, let’s be honest, I don’t have commit. If I like a single song, I can simply purchase it without committing to an entire album.

But every now and again, a band comes along that makes me want to commit. Like a serious, hard want. Those bands end up on my short list of those for which I feel that, at some point, I must obtain every album in their arsenal. Atmosphere is a good example of this, as is the Mushroom Jazz series, which I’ve been slowly collecting. I’ve started doing the same with the Sound Providers, Brother Ali, and someday I’ll be knee deep in Cunninglynguists’s music as well.

The  thing that immediately attracted me to “War” was that piano intro onto which was dropped a glorious beat. And then it was taken over by a little guitar and then, with the sample and some turntablism, the organ. I can’t help it. There are sounds that I adore, and the organ is one of them — church, baroque, polka, doesn’t matter. Organ is organ and it is awesome. And the sound of “War” struck such an incredible chord with me that I simply had to have more, know more.

A little bit of digging revealed two incredible things about “War.” First was that its intro with all that magnificent organ was inspired by Deep Purple’s “April.” And if you’re not familiar with these prog rock legends, then oh lordy, just listen!

The second bit of magic came from that sample: “there’s a war going on outside no man is safe from.” This came from Mobb Deep’s “Survival of the Fittest.”

I love music, and I love the way some people can compose with it like a painter uses paint. How some people can hear things so seemingly discordant and be able to drive them together nonetheless. That’s the genius behind “War” and Cunninglyguists. They heard these samples and thought to make them one and…well, that was just pure creative genius. Frankly, I can only wish that I had hearing so deft. It’s that ability to create from both what exists and what doesn’t that makes the music of hip hop so intriguing. Like a really great recipe — take a little of this and add in a little of that, and hopefully you’ll churn out a great meal. It doesn’t always work out, but when it does, you have nothing short of a masterpiece. “War” is brilliant in its simplicity as well as its complexity. It’s chill and provocative and madly fantastic all at once. And that defines the group as well. I’m saving a very special space on my iPod for more of Cunninglynguists’s grand design.

Cunninglynguists - Southernunderground (2003)
Cunninglynguists – Southernunderground (2003)

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