You would think that in this era of content-content-content, the Internet wouldn't hesitate to give every album's 20th anniversary a proper acknowledgement. Turns out, this isn't the case, as evidenced by July 18th of this year that came and went without acknowledging a certain record's big 2-0. No, not Ramones' final album Adios Amigos, that one was properly given tribute. As was Monica's debut Miss Thang. Even the Clueless soundtrack got its fair share of write-ups. Coincidentally, the one album that got so largely overlooked is the one which would probably make the biggest splash today.
It's high time you and I had a discussion about The Bloodhound Gang's debut album Use Your Fingers.
Now, if you're a Generation X weirdo, you probably think I'm referencing their 1996 release One Fierce Beer Coaster, which featured their alternative rock hit “Fire Water Burn.” If you're a Millenial weirdo, chances are you're conjuring up memories of “The Bad Touch” from 2000's Hooray For Boobies and softly singing to yourself about “the Discovery Channel.” But the very reason that neither of those are what I'm talking about is what warrants Use Your Fingers to be revisited.
Be forewarned, outside of lead vocalist Jimmy Pop and guitarist/turntabilist Lupus Thunder, the Bloodhound Gang we're about to discuss is a very different band in the most literal sense. A different line-up, a different sound, but the shock remains the same. With no shortage of gleefully offensive humor, lyrically you would probably be able to identify the running themes with their later work.
But what makes Use Your Fingers worthy of re-examining two decades later is how much this album not only shouldn't exist from a legal perspective, but how it managed to predict so much of the 20 years of musical trends that followed it. It's a scary thought, but their “no reason to live, but we like it that way” mantra has inadvertently caught on and manifested itself in the cultural Crockpot without anyone taking note.
First, let's talk about what happens when you load up Use Your Fingers and press play. Imagine you've seen the Bloodhound Gang on The Box, found their beats infectious, their back-and-forth lyrics catchy and want to hear more. Guess what? Starting you off is 83 seconds of eccentric comedy icon Rip Taylor performing his trademark schtick that has nothing (and, I guess, everything) to do with the rest of the album. Once Taylor calls out the crew, we dive right into “We Are the Knuckleheads,” a painstakingly precise pastiche of hip-hop sample-based production littered with 80s references and pitch black humor.
The album continues with Jimmy Pop and partner-in-rhyme Daddy Long Legs (who Juggalos and Howard Stern Show fans may be more familiar with today as the leader of horrorcore group The Wolfpac) exchanging lewd double-entendres and well aged sitcom and commercial nods in between skits lifting bizarre excerpts of dialogue from obscure films and two hard rocking covers in their takes on Kim Wilde's “Kids in America” and the theme song to the show K.I.D.S. Incorporated.
And it was released by Columbia.
While that aspect may be the most baffling of all, the bizarre series of trump cards that is Use Your Fingers' existence continues with that the Sony owned record label CLEARED THEIR SAMPLES. Plus, this isn't just a case of a few loops, but rather a Paul's Boutique-meets-Bomb Squad onslaught of samples that's as eclectic as it is eccentric. We're not that long removed from the infamous Biz Markie vs. Gilbert O'Sullivan ruling that set a precedent for all samples to be paid for, so Sony picking up the tab for U2, Duran Duran, The Doors, KC and the Sunshine Band, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and (after a cease-and-desist that was settled) Quincy Jones' music to be heard on the the album. In fact, the only two artists who refused to grant permission were The Cure (who get dissed in “She Ain't Got No Legs'” linear notes for their reluctance) and Eric Clapton.
And this is the same label that, one year prior, released Illmatic.
We're also one year removed from Vanilla Ice, a future Bloodhound Gang collaborator, attempting to reinvent himself with his dark Cypress Hill-meets-G-Funk album Mind Blowin', and the only respectable mainstream white rap outlet being The Beastie Boys, who the Gang here sound closest too. Thematically, this was also a time when fellow multi-genre experimental jokers Ween were on a major label with a shared love of bodily fluids. The very middle of the mid-'90s were a strange time when something like Use Your Fingers on one of the most powerful record labels in the world could actually happen.
Perhaps the most absurd aspect of Use Your Fingers is how the same aspects that critics discarded them for in '95 would perhaps be the same things to get the album embraced today. For all the rappers born in the '90s who spent the early part of the 2010s attempting to emulate elements of the '80s they weren't around for, Use Your Fingers is a cornucopia of that '80s pop culture. Maybe being only five years removed from the decade of decadence made a post-grunge society hesitant to revisit it, but from toothpaste commercials to Mr. Hooper's Broom, anything and everything '80s gets covered. And these references are never dwelled upon either, often delivered as stand-alone lines with the brevity and pacing of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff and then on to the next one.
As for the pitch black and often shocking humor, the various racial/religious/cultural allusions delivered with almost an understated intonation is such where five years ago I would have called the Gang something of a proto-Odd Future. Today, I'd say these same comments would earn them positions as Donald Trump speech-writers.
Then there's the hidden bonus track, a 47 second-long audio recording of what sounds like a gay pornography film.
This is an album released nationally by Columbia.
Use Your Fingers is such a unique entry in the hip-hop canon from a sampling production standpoint, an impressive assortment of acknowledgments from a pop culture junkie standpoint, and overall one of the rare albums whose sheer existence is just as bizarre as the music it contains. The only think I can definitively say Use Your Fingers isn't, is something that should be ignored for another 20 years. While the band themselves seem to somewhat disown it/attempt to keep their distance (their recent Best Of album only contained one track from Use Your Fingers on the overseas release as a bonus track) that doesn't mean you should as well.