Reading Tim Lawrence’s pretty decent Arthur Russell bio I quickly became overwhelmed by/inured to all the famous people Arthur knew and worked with. This one, though, stood out:
Although Tom Lee says his partner was never enthused about the project, Arthur attempted to produce a straight-up hip-hop track when Gary Lucas introduced him to a young rapper called Mark Sinclair as work on World of Echo drew to a close. “Mark was this mixed race guy who lived in Westberth and worked at Minter’s Ice Cream Store on Hudson Street, right around the corner from where i was living in the West Village,” recalls Lucas. “He used to rap and breakdance in front of the store when things were slow, so i thought, ‘Ha! This is pop! Mark and Arthur could be a genius collaboration!’” The ensuing studio session was a disaster because Sinclair was used to rapping a cappella, and Arthur selected a particularly difficult rhythm track. “Arthur used a tape of one of his patented avant-garde irregular beat grooves,” remembers Lucas. “The ‘one’ [downbeat] kept drifting all over the place, and the staggered off-beats were overly high in the mix. Arthur also kept starting and stopping the tape at random places for each aborted take. It was no wonder Mark Sinclair had difficulty rapping. The groove kept getting yanked out from under him”
Arthur struggled to stay calm – “You really have to sing on the beat, Mark!” he instructed. Eric Liljestrand shared Arthur’s frustration. “This guy just could not find the beat,” remembers the engineer. “Then he started hitting David Van Tieghem’s marimba with a hammer. The session was full of please-don’t-do-that moments. I just wanted to put a gun to my head.” Already fed up with his long hours and low pay, Liljestrand called Mark Freeman and quit when Arthur called it a night at 3:30 a.m. Sinclair would go on to be reborn as the buffed-up Hollywood action-hero Vin Diesel, and the surviving tape of his studio work with Arthur suggests he chose his career path wisely. Yet the recording session was not without significance; a seemingly innocuous aside made during the course of the stop-start evening became it’s lasting legacy. “Arthur told me, ‘You should be making music full-time, as you’re happiest with a guitar in your hands,’” remembers Lucas “This hardened my ambition to leave CBS and to do music full-time and became a turning point for me.”
In case you didn’t catch it in the block-quote: Arthur Russell recorded a hip-hop track with Vin Diesel. Yes, the world is that awesome.