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Bending it like only Beck can

September 17, 2006|Chris Lee | Times Staff Writer

FOR Beck, the process of shooting a "homemade" video for every song on his October album "The Information" was a typically low-key, lo-fi affair.

"We borrowed two video cameras toward the end of work on the record," explains the singer-songwriter, who has built a platinum-plus career by turning castaway cultural influences into absurdist hip-hop/white boy funk/alterna-folk sound collages. "We found a $100 video mixer from the '80s on EBay. We went up to the Hollywood toy store and got costumes, went to the wig shop and then invited a bunch of people down."

He adds: "It was almost like a school project."

The videos (to be included on a DVD packaged with the album) are peopled by sword-fighting women, rapping grizzly bears, hirsute band members in drag -- Devendra Banhart turns up in one video wielding a giant comb. Halfhearted lip-syncing, crude fade-outs and pixelated imagery abound.

Think of it as the visual counterpoint to Beck's willfully eclectic new collection of music, described by its producer, Nigel Godrich, as "a hip-hop album."

Not that Godrich is positioning himself to be the next Timbaland, mind you.

With a demonstrated ability to turn songwriter ennui into pop gold, Godrich was the man behind the console on the singer-multi-instrumentalist's introspective 1998 and 2002 albums, "Mutations" and "Sea Change" (and Radiohead's seminal "OK Computer" for that matter). But as Beck points out, "He loves 'Odelay.' " That is, Beck's Grammy-winning 1996 album, a sample-laden miasma of yowling rap-folk-rock produced by the Dust Brothers. "He wanted to get back to that."

Although "The Information" puts break beats and raps squarely alongside -- and sometimes in the same song as -- folkier compositions and sung vocals, the Angeleno MC voices some misgivings about his early career choice to rock the mike. "At this point, if I was making my first album [over again], I wouldn't make any hip-hop songs," he says. "It's something I had the naivete to do when I was 21."

He has remained open to other flights of youthful fancy, however: Puppets are a major part of his recent live performances. On tour, puppeteers mimic the movements of Beck and his backing band while they perform in front of puppet imagery projected on movie screens. The action is part of another ongoing video project.

"In every city we're in, we make a video: the puppets causing trouble," Beck says. "We did a tour with Radiohead where the puppets went and trashed Radiohead's dressing room and stole all of their beer and money. They get away with stuff we wouldn't be able to do."

Beck will open for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers at Chula Vista's Coors Amphitheatre on Sept. 27 and will headline the Detour Festival in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 7.

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Rhymes for reason in the Middle East

NORTH CAROLINA DJ Waleed Coyote and New York MC Michael "Serch" Berrin are teaming to produce "Peace in the Middle East," a hip-hop compilation featuring Arab and Jewish artists. Coyote, a DJ of Arab descent, and Serch, who is Jewish and a former member of the '90s MC duo 3rd Bass, aim to raise awareness in the rap community about Middle East unrest -- but also to engender cross-cultural understanding through hip-hop.

"I am very proud of all the artists that are involving their time and energy to talk about peace, talk about the importance of living together, being peaceful together and coexisting," Serch told Allhiphop.com last week.

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Method Man on his madness

WHEN rapper-actor Method Man talks about the "beauty and the ugliness" of hip-hop, he knows of what he speaks. He's reached the heights of rap success -- two albums that have sold nearly 1.5 million copies combined, a sideline in movies, impeccable street bona fides, an assured spot in the hip-hop hall of fame as a member of Wu-Tang Clan -- but also recently has tasted the flip side.

In the months leading up to his latest, "4:21 ... the Day After," hip-hop media and radio seemingly closed ranks on Meth. Neither the CD, which came out Aug. 29, or its lead single, "Say," generated much excitement.

As the rapper sees it, things went sour for him after his last album, "Tical O: The Prequel," caused fans to question his hard-core persona (it came out on Diddy's Bad Boy Records label, after all); his buffoonish 2004 Fox sitcom, "Method & Red," further tarnished his image.

"I've been caught outside my character as far as the acting thing, and I was caught way outside my character on the last LP," the MC concedes. "Instead of fighting it, I listened to fans. The spots they felt I was lacking in, I tried to improve. And instead of putting my album in critics' hands, I hit the Internet, my MySpace.com page, and I let fans be the critics this time."

That strategy has led to mostly positive Web-based buzz for "4:21," which takes its name from the day after April 20 -- that is, "stoner new year" or National Pot Smoking Day.

"I needed to let my fans know that it's a moment of clarity for myself," says Method Man, who plays the House of Blues in Anaheim on Oct. 16 and the chain's West Hollywood location the next night. "To me, the day after 4/20, you wake up and before you smoke that blunt, you think, 'If I smoke this right now, I'ma get high and all this is going to start all over.' In that moment, you reflect on everything you did the night before. I needed something symbolic to that."

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chris.lee@latimes.com

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