Jesse Thorn

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Jesse Thorn hosts the public radio program Bullseye and is behind the popular podcast network Maximum Fun. From the hip hop that gets him pumped to the gentle guidance of Curtis Mayfield and the funky affirmation of Sly and the Family Stone, he takes us through his musical inspirations in his Guest DJ set. Jesse brings Bullseye to Hollywood Forever for a live show tonight, October 15.

For More:


1. Digable Planets - "The May 4th Movement"
2. Sly and the Family Stone - "If You Want Me To Stay"
3. Devin the Dude - "Do What You Wanna Do"
4. M.O.P. - "Ante Up"
5. Curtis Mayfield - "People Get Ready"

Eric J. Lawrence: Hi I’m Eric J. Lawrence and I’m here with Jesse Thorn. He’s behind the popular Maximum Fun podcast and radio show network, as well as co-hosting his own comedy podcast as well as the public radio program Bullseye. Today, we’ll be talking about some songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Jesse, thank you so much for coming down.

Jesse Thorn: Thank you so much for having me here.

EJL: So what’s the first track you got for us?

JT: Ok, so this is a Digable Planets song called “The May 4th Movement,” and it’s the first song on their second album, Blowout Comb.

I bought this album when it came out, I was 13, and this is still one of my top couple of favorite records. I think, what’s really special about it, is that none of the members of Digable Planets are exceptional rappers. They’re all perfectly good rappers. But it’s sort of a textural record, more than anything else and it has a sound that is very hard to find, even in hip hop, and is very rich and full. There’s a lot of fullness in this kind of low, mid-range that I just think is exceptionally beautiful. And to me the album is just one long song, so I picked the opening track.

EJL: Well here it is, the introductory song from Digable Planets’ 1994 album Blowout Comb, “The May 4th Movement”.

Song: Digable Planets – “The May 4th Movement”

EJL: That was Digable Planets with “The May 4th Movement”, selected by our guest Jesse Thorn. What’s the next track you got for us?

JT: So this is Sly and the Family Stone, and “If You Want Me to Stay”.

At this point in Sly and the Family Stone’s history, Sly and the Family Stone was basically Sly Stone, because, among other things, he had taken out a contract on the life of his bassist Larry Graham. So after he did that, Larry Graham decided to quit the band.

And, essentially, what this song is about is staying true to yourself, and, believing in the things that you believe in. And it’s not a defiant song, I mean, it’s, I think, a very loving song, in a funny way. And I think that’s a very unusual thing, to have a song that’s about being true to yourself that’s not about, either uplifting or defiance.

And so when I feel lost, this is the song that means the most to me.

Song: Sly and the Family Stone – “If You Want Me To Stay”

JT: This is a later period Sly record. And as Sly sort of went off the rails, and the world sort of went off the rails in the late 1960’s, things got a lot darker, but Fresh, which is the album that the song is on, it’s not about revolution or changing the world. It’s Sly turning inward, as, you know, as he falls apart.

And I think for that reason, there’s something very sweet and beautiful about it because he was always someone who believed so strongly in, what is this classic Bay Area value, right? Which is if you get a bunch of men and women together from every race and create music together, the world will be a better place.

And by this point in his career his sister and brother are the only people who are sort of willing to work with him anymore. And the whole dream has fallen apart, but he still has this sort of ache inside of him. And, you know, and I think this song is about trying to deal with being in that place.

EJL: That was Sly and the Family Stone with “If You Want Me to Stay”, as selected by our guest Jesse Thorn. What’s the next track you got for us?

JT: So this is a song by my favorite rapper of all time, Devin the Dude.

Devin is not a super famous rapper, especially outside of Houston, but Devin’s lyrics are basically about three things: one is getting high, one is drinking, and one is having sex.

But they’re very different from most songs about those things in the hip hop world.

And what I love about Devin is that, despite his sort of, like, hedonistic themes in all of his, I mean literally every one of his songs, he is really a humanist, like he is a really sweet guy.

And he’s just like a wise friend, you know, like even if he’s a wise friend who’s learned that, who it is that he is, is a guy who hangs out and gets high. You know, I don’t even, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke weed, but I think there’s a sort of wisdom in Devin, and in the kindness and humanity he shows through his, you know, through his ridiculous lyrics.

Song: Devin the Dude – “Do What You Wanna Do”

EJL: That was Devin the Dude with “Do What You Wanna Do”, as selected by our guest, Jesse Thorn. What is the next track you got for us?

JT: Ok, so speaking of hardcore hip hop, it’s “Ante Up” by M.O.P.

I grew up terrified of getting stuck up, I never got stuck up with a gun but certainly many times with a knife, or at least numerous times with a knife. It’s terrifying and horrible, but if people ever tell you that hip hop doesn’t ever glorify violence, A, they’re mistaken, and B, if they ever tell you that it’s not sometimes awesome when hip hop glorifies violence, they’re also mistaken.

This song is like, oh man, like I don’t care what you’re getting pumped to do, you can listen to “Ante Up” you can get pumped about anything. You can get pumped about making... I bet that dude from Momofuku, what’s that dude called, David Chang, Chang? That dude gets pumped about making the perfect ramen by listening to M.O.P.

They’re just yelling about different stuff, it’s awesome.

Song: M.O.P. – “Ante Up”

EJL: That was M.O.P., or Mash Out Posse, selected by our guest Jesse Thorn. Now, moving away from stick-up hip hop to finally a classic from soul legend Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, it’s “People Get Ready”.

JT: Yeah, I wrote a piece about this on my show Bullseye. We have this segment on the show, it’s the last segment where I like, recommend something, it’s sort of a personal essay. I wrote one about this song.

The thing that I admire the most about Curtis is, you know, he was making protest songs in the early to mid 1960’s -- before anyone else was, before anyone else had the courage to, he was getting banned from radio.

And what animated these records is, you know, Curtis just believed that if you have faith -- whether it’s faith in God, or just faith in goodness -- that the world will be changed by that.

I mean that’s just something that I believe in, you know. It’s like I believe in Curtis Mayfield the way I believe in Mr. Rogers.

That if you show love to the world, and if you face the world with kindness, that, ultimately, it is what will make your life better and the lives of the people around you.

And I’m not unerring as I’m sure Curtis wasn’t, you know Martin Luther King wasn’t. But if you take that as the choice that you make, that’s what I learned from Curtis, and that I hope I can share with my kids.

EJL: Well here it's a powerful coda from Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, “People Get Ready”.

Song: Curtis Mayfield – “People Get Ready”

EJL: That was Curtis Mayfield and his 1965 hit “People Get Ready”, as selected by our guest Jesse Thorn. Jesse, thank you so much for joining us here.

JT: Oh no problem. Thank you so much for having me.