There is this British musician who I have been a real fan of for some time, Tricky. He’s not really a rapper, but he does use some rap influences, he’s not dub, per-se, but there is dub-trip-hop-club styles to his backbeats. Tricky is certainly not a pop singer in the traditional sense of the word but many of his songs have pop hooks. Tricky is one of the few musicians who I’ve found myself following more and more closely as time has gone on. The dark, ambient sounds emanating from his tracks used to just play on in the background of my CD deck mixes. Tricky is constantly challenging me and challenging himself to come up with new, better, smarter ways of doing what everyone else is trying to do.
Tricky is of mixed race. He had dark skin, several prominent tattoos, and wound dreadlocks. Tricky is from Knowles West and he says of himself; “I grew up in a white ghetto and could to go a Jamaican club where there’s no white people, and a white club with no other black people. I never noticed.” It’s that duality which is always infused in Tricky’s music. A casual listener never knows if he’s listening to old, re-mastered blues, dark, aggressive gravely-voiced music, or something else which falls somewhere in between.
Tricky’s influences are all over the map. He had cousins who used to play him music like Parliament and T-Rex and of course he had his “Uncle Ken who brought me up (and was) a white guy who got me into black music – he used to play Al Green, Sam Cooke, and other legends all the time.”
The great thing about Tricky and his music is that it escapes definition. Just when you think you’ve got it pinned down, it leaps away from you in some total other direction and it does so without notice. Says Tricky, “I’ve been blessed because no one can put my music in a box – it’s not black, it’s not what, it’s not female, it’s not male.”
That last statement about the gender of his music may have to do with his prominent pairing with a number of fine female vocalists including Martina Topley-Bird, Bjork, and Neneh Cherry.
Tricky is minimalist and even though few words are uttered on many of his tracks the questions he asks and the statements he makes still are profound in their own way. On his song “Christainsands” he begins
“My defenses…become fences,
Now I’m stumbling, I change my faces…”
As he’s singing about this girl he’s met. Later still this song asks many of the base questions,
“You and me, what does that mean?
Always, what does that mean?
Forever, what does that mean?”
If only we all could go back to the first time we met certain people and asked those hard hitting questions from the get-go, imagine the time and effort we’d have saved.
Another favorite Tricky track of mine comes from his debut record “Maxinquaye” and is entitled “Hell is Round the Corner.” In this song he’s trodden familiar turf; the lies we tell each other, the lies we tell ourselves.
“If you believe and deceive common sense says shouldn’t receive,
Let me take you down the corridors of my life,
And when you walk, do you walk to your preference
No need to answer till I take further evidence
I seem to need a reference to get residence
A reference to your preference to say,
‘I’m a good neighbor, I trudge, so judge me for my labor
Lobotomy ensures my good behavior'”
He then goes on to sing of his confusion and his self-described ‘insanity,’ ending on the tune on the quizzically rational sounding line: “Heat from the sun somedays slowly passes, until then, you have to live with yourself.”
Tricky is an enigma and his music is as hard to pin down as he is. His latest record, the aptly titled “Mixed Race,” is another sonic turn for the musician and one which fans have largely applauded. His earlier stuff is the best though, “Maxinquaye,” “Nearly God,” and “Pre-Millennium Tension.”
While we may have passed into the new millennium without incident, the tension is still so thick in the air you can cut it with a knife. Give Tricky a listen and he’ll make you feel all right.