For some musicians, songs are almost exclusively about the music, whether it's beats, harmonies or a hook in the chorus. For the Madison hip-hop crew dumate, the music's important, but so is the message.
The deep-thinking dudes tell a tale about poverty and mental illness -- and the humanity of these problems -- with an air of spirituality in "Ups & Downs," one of the tracks on their brand-new album We Have the Technology.
The song's not just a laundry list of social problems and people's less-than-enlightened responses to them, though. As in many cases of mental illness, the events taking place the behind the scenes -- the "social environment," as a caseworker would put it -- are at least as important as what's presenting on the surface.
What's going on in the background is important to the song, too, in a literal sense: A sample of a woman singing "Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down," layered over a slightly disco-flavored beat and a funky bassline, ties together the many narratives that make up the song, shrinking the boundary between dreams and lived memories in the process.
Another figure in the background is Sam Cooke, whose music makes a dreamer (the voice of emcee Dudu Stinks) realize he's not living the story of death and hardship he's tossing and turning over -- not at the moment, anyhow. Other characters in the story aren't as lucky, such as the woman who's the subject of the song's opening rhyme: somebody who might be labeled a deadbeat or a nutcase because of the way she looks.
"Looks can be deceivable, when perceived, believable," points out DLO, the other emcee. This woman may be hypnotized, he warns, but she's also at least a little wise.
As such, he urges listeners to look beyond the surface, both to what's inside this woman and the forces that helped create her circumstances: "She's living life in a state of hypnosis / She's cool to live around these mice, rats and roaches / She's contained the situation," he explains. He's not saying the situation is a favorable one, but that you've got to understand where she's coming from, which is a hell of a lot worse.
But just being wise isn't enough to change a giant problem like bipolar disorder, a possible source of her psychological ups and downs. It takes strength to forge ahead, something that other people and even those you pray to aren't necessarily going to provide.
It's something written on the soul -- and the DNA -- that help people weather these chronic storms, says Dudu Stinks. As he puts it: "You have it in your blood to survive."
An MP3 of "Ups & Downs" is available in the related downloads section at right. More music by dumate is available on its MySpace page, and learn more about the crew in the Isthmus article "Backpack or Something Like It" published in April. The group will play this song and others from We Have the Technology at a CD release party at the Memorial Union Terrace on Friday, July 24.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.