It shouldn’t come as a surprise when one sees “Beck” and “rap” in the same sentence outside of the context of a Kanye mashup in light of the recent Grammy events. Despite Morning Phase’s melancholia and the recurring motif of a “Tomorrow Never Knows” mysticism, Beck has proved multiple times in his esoteric career that he can spit. One can look to Guero’s “E-Pro” as a notable example of Hansen’s ability to drop rhymes. Guero also contains “Hell Yes” and “Que Honda Guero,” both some of the strongest entries in Beck’s career, and two tracks that give credence to Beck’s rapping ability (the latter in another language, no less.)
While Beck’s later forays into the realm of hip-hop are admirable, they pale in comparison to the groundbreaking “Loser.” Generally speaking, “Loser” seems to get dumped solely into the category of alt-rock – a claim that is not untrue – without receiving any hip-hop recognition. From the opening slide guitar riffs that bleed into the lines “In the time of chimpanzees/ I was a monkey/Butane in my veins/So I’m out to cut the junkie,” it packs as much as punch as “Sabotage,” a West Coast answer the early 90’s white twenty-something rap game.
Loser’s lyrics are deceptively irrelevant; “With the rerun shows/And the cocaine nose-job/the daytime crap of the folksinger slob/he hung himself with a guitar string/slap the turkey neck/and it’s hanging from a pigeon wing.” After’s Loser’s success TV spots would showcase Beck’s ambitions of eviscerating commercial Los Angeles by way of acting like someone who truly didn’t give a fuck. However, despite throwing a phone at Thurston Moore and yelling into MTV’s cameras, Beck’s true early persona was fashioned less like a young Rollins and more like Eazy-E.
Even the music video for “Loser” features Beck as more of an MC than singer-songwriter. Rather than donning a Stetson and sitting on a barstool, Beck is tromping around L.A. with existential speed-inspired images juxtaposing his surroundings. The fact that the song arcanely samples a 1960’s psychedelic Dr. John tine and includes audio samples mixed with Beck wailing over his own poetry predates even Outkast, yet isn’t any less indicative of the freak-rap movement to come.
“Loser” is a seminal 90’s hip-hop track. While the past 10 years have seen Beck inch away from any sort of hip-hop whatsoever, it’s important to remember where he came from – a psychedelic rapping punk that tripped through LA and went by one name. Solid.