A Runner’s Take on De La Soul’s “Are You In?”
May 11, 2009
Joining the ranks of A-Trak, LCD Soundsystem and Aesop Rock to create Nike-commissioned running mixes, De La Soul has just unleashed their 45-minute epic “Are You In?” to iTunes this past week. Being that I’m a runner who’s about to start training for his second marathon (goodbye again, social life), I figured it was only right that I purchase (italicized for a reason) the MP3 and give it a spin during a 6 miler yesterday. So for all you critics and writers out there that are too damn lazy to step away from your computer and listen to a mix intended for play during exercise, here’s a runner’s take on how the mix really fares on a legitimate workout.
I headed down to Jerz this past weekend to celebrate the day we call “Mother’s,” convincing the madre to join me for a Sunday morning jog through the wilderness (literally so – the town is so barren that its focal point is the General Store). The route began and ended at my rentals’ abode, spanning two towns and covering over 6 miles of terrain, the perfect opp to put “Are You In?” to the test.
But right from the start, I knew there would be issues jogging to this marathon mix. There are a few essential components a song and/or mix must have in order to qualify as a good running soundtrack, the most obvious being its pace. As impressive as it is that De La Soul maintained a steady tempo for a solid 45 minutes, the BPM of “Are You In?” is either too fast or too slow. From the beginning of my jog, I tried running in time with the opening song “Mornin’ Rise” featuring Raheem DeVaughn, but it was going approximately 10 miles per hour or 4 miles per hour (depending on if you tried to double time it or not). For all you non-runners out there, an acceptable running pace is between 6 and 7 miles per hour, so De La’s speed mix wasn’t going to cut it. I tried catching up to the beat, but that had me moving at a speed impossible to maintain for more than 30 seconds, let alone 6 miles. Then, I tried slowing down to try to catch the beat again, but it put me at a walking pace. By this point, I’d already accepted that the next 45 minutes would be spent jogging to music that fought against my natural running pace.
Aside from pacing, a good running mix has to be motivating, built on invigorating instrumentation and inspirational lyrics, and it’s here that De La Soul’s composition truly did the trick. Throughout the run, I consistently found myself inspired and pushed forward by both instrumentation and rhymes. Being that this course was a series of back-to-back hills, I needed motivation to help get me through the rough points (you know, those trying moments where your legs are telling you to quit when you’re only a quarter way up the hill). “Mornin’ Rise” helped ease me into a smooth rhythm, gradually getting grimier as fatigue started to take over and “Good Morning”‘s sour synthesizers kept me moving.
At around the 2-mile mark, “Good Morning” bled into “Big Mouf,” a straightforward rap track that would have fit nicely on an album like The Grind Date. Here, the group spits braggadocio rhymes (“Do a whole collabo together and call the joint ‘Business Class’ / Then run up in first so the biz can last”) over a clunky industrial smattering of keyboard samples. By the end of the segment, the three were chanting the first truly inspiring moment of the mix, rapping, “Shout, talk about it, say something / Ya heard that? / Louder, it’s the big mouf.” As the trio repeats the hook, the instrumental transformed into an ’80s-tinged rock confection with clanging cymbals and rapid-fire drum fills, something along the lines of a montage accomplice to the training portion of a Rocky sequel.
At this point, I needed a pick-me-up. The night before was filled with Johnnie Walkers and Amstels as far as the tongue could taste, and I was fighting against inner gravity (note to self: cut self off after the first few rounds). Then, out of nowhere, De La Soul starts egging me on, commanding me to “Pick up the pace” and dropping ruminations on existence like “Life is just a race.” Encouragement and metaphors? What more could I ask for??
But seriously, I was lagging at this point, and was just reaching the worst of the run. You know, that part of the land that God purposely made hilly just to fuck you over? With De La chanting on full blast, I actually listened to what they were saying and pushed harder. I’m not usually inspired by musical commands (having Beyonce tell me to check up on it while I’m at the halfway point of my run usually doesn’t jive), and De La definitely did a nice job of running their mouths on the appropriate up- and downbeats of “Pick Up the Pace (Run).”
Soon after, though, this turned into a jazz-brushed scratch-fest, right at the middle of my workout. Fortunately, I didn’t need as much musical juice to do the relatively downhill portion of the jog, and the breezy instrumentation served as a nice complement to the fresh surroundings (would you believe me if I told you I was running past horse farms in the middle of New Jersey alongside a trickling stream? I knew you wouldn’t). While I zoned out to the DJ cuts, the mix gradually blended into the Flosstradamus-produced “We O.D.” where the group O.D.’s on electronic synthesizer melodies as they rap about food. At this point, I was basically envisioning the gorge-fest awaiting at home, and just needed some coasting music to get me through the worst. Then came the rocking hair metal guitar of “Victory Laps,” a track that recalled C&C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” and topped with some gushy rhymes.
The mix was coming to an end and the finish line for the run was in sight. Unfortunately, the trail ended with a hill tilted at a 70 degree incline (now that is what I call an FML moment, for all you acronym abusers out there), and “Are You In?” decided to slow down, completely ignorant to the hell that laid ahead of me. Digressing into a greasy soul number dubbed “Forever,” De La Soul straight up assumed that everyone uses the end of their workout to slow their roll, and as I shouted at myself to keep moving (don’t worry, I looked around to make sure the local hicks didn’t think I was a animal hunting target), the music was working way too hard against me.
Fortunately, I made it over the hill and the mix melted into silence, leaving me to scramble to flip on Jacki-O or some shit as I jogged to home base and headed straight for the stocked refrigerator. So how did De La rank on the running tip, you ask? As an experienced runner, I’d have to say that they did a pretty good job. The music was impressively kept at a constant pace (even though it was a pace unmatchable by any human other than Paula Radcliffe), and it managed to continously build and peak at all the right places. I’ll admit that only fools like myself would wait until the end of the run to charge up a monster incline, but had I done what normal people do and abided by the golden rules of running, De La would have served me incredibly well. Would I run to this again? You betcha. And it’s not just because I shelled out $9.99 on iTunes to have it on my iPod: it’s because it’s genuinely good.