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Bing Tha Ruckus

Derek Walmsley

My recent Invisible Jukebox with Wu-Tang Clan's The RZA (featured in The Wire 292, which has just hit the streets) involved a train spotter's paradise of sample-spotting and internet researching as I looked into the building blocks of the great Wu-Tang albums of the mid-90s. One sample I missed, sadly, was that "Ice Water" from the RZA-produced Raekwon album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx featured a vocal sample from none other than Bing Crosby, singing "White Christmas". The langorous, grandfatherly "I'm...." from the first line is cut off just before the second syllable, leaving only a deep voice and wide vibrato that sounds like it's emanating from the depths of the pyramids. It's one of the most gothic moments in the whole of hiphop, using good ol' Bing's disembodied tones as an unearthly, weirdly non-gendered siren call.

It's odd to think of a sample fiend like The RZA getting a kick out of Bing's voice, but dig deeper and there's a strange kinship between the pair. The RZA recently invested a large amount of his own money in vinyl-to-digital scratch technology; Bing Crosby was instrumental in developing early tape technology, by investing $50,000 in the fledgling Ampex company.

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